How Do You Know How Much To Bid For Hotels On Priceline?

by Michael Scepaniak on December 24, 2010 in travel

Discovery Point Club - Grand Cayman

What’s the right amount to start your bidding at when naming your own price for a hotel room on Priceline?

In my previous post about how to bid for hotels using Priceline, I somewhat glossed over the topic of how to determine your initial bid amount. I did that because the topic deserves its own post.

When bidding, Priceline tends to lead you astray with median retail hotel rates and warnings that your bid is too low.

Priceline median retail price advisory

Priceline low chance of bid being accepted warning

Priceline low bid confirmation

And, by advertising that you can save up to 50% and 60% off, they lead you into figuring that maybe you can just take 60% off the median retail hotel rate and use that as your bid. But, going with that strategy will either cause you to over-bid or fail to score you a room. There’s a better way.

What you really want to know is what bids people have won with – for your preferred check-in/check-out dates, zone, and quality level. If you know that, all you have to do is start your bidding $5 or $10 below their bids and you’ll have a pretty good chance of scoring a room on your second, third, or fourth bid.

Priceline’s Winning Bid Lookup Tool

Priceline offers a winning bid lookup tool to help you determine a bid that is likely to win.

Priceline winning bid lookup tool

You just specify the city you’re interested in and Priceline suggests bids for each zone and quality combination in that city. It’s convenient, seems to work pretty well, and you can’t ignore the fact that the suggestions come straight from the source. Who’s gonna’ know better than Priceline which bids have won? (Personally, that last part gives me some pause. Not to be cynical, but it’d be easy for Priceline to skew the suggested bid amounts to the high side.)

Combine this with Priceline’s Bid Alerts (via email), and the convenience is amplified. When you sign up for bid alerts, Priceline will email you winning bids so you don’t have to keep coming back to look them up.

Priceline bid alerts

Unfortunately, Priceline’s tools are missing two valuable bits of information:

  1. the check-in and check-out dates of the winning bid
  2. the specific hotel that the bidder won

Priceline winning bid lookup tool results

The check-in and check-out dates are especially valuable, since hotel rates rise and fall throughout the year. (Y’know – high season and low season.) Imagine it’s July and you are bidding for a hotel in Chicago in January. Using the bid amounts provided by Priceline’s winning bid lookup tool as a guide might cause you to over-bid, since those winning bids might be for stays in the warmer months of August and September, when hotel bargains are more difficult to come by.

The other thing to keep in mind is that the winning bids shown are exactly that – bids that have been won. You have no way to determine how the successful bidder arrived at their bid. It’s possible that they were savvy about the bidding process and did a good amount of homework beforehand. It’s also just as possible that they simply subtracted 25% from Priceline’s suggested median retail price and bid blindly.

Alternatives

Fortunately, there are other, independent, grass-roots sources of suggested bid amounts:

All of these sites provide the same fundamental information:

  • Winning bids for specific hotels on specific dates.
  • Lists of hotels won in each Priceline zone.

But, some of the sites are better than the others. Let me go through each and explain why.

Update: A new web site has emerged to upend the somewhat manual process I explain below. At this point, the sites and method(s) I explain here are your best option. But, my post about how The Bidding Traveler might be a game-changer explains how my recommendation could soon change.

BetterBidding

BetterBidding has been around for a long time (since 2003, at least) and is the best site of the four for hotels. Why? Primarily because it has the most active forums – full of people posting their winning bids. On the home page, scroll down and find the US state or country where your target city is located.

BetterBidding forums grouped by US state

The US state (or country) will be further sub-divided into Priceline bids and Hotwire bids. Click the Priceline link for the US state or country you are targeting (e.g., “Priceline – Illinois”).

Inside, you’ll find a forum filled with a list of posts (sorted newest to oldest), most of them reporting winning bids. Each winning bid post includes the hotel name, quality level, and Priceline zone, plus winning bid amount and check-in and check-out dates.

BetterBidding winning bid post title

Some of the more helpful posters will also include the whole bid history, including starting and intermediate bids. (Click on the post link to see this additional detail in the post itself.)

BetterBidding provides lists of specific hotels won (in each forum), grouped by Priceline zone and sorted by quality level. The list is compiled from winning bid posts, which means that it isn’t necessarily a list of every hotel that you could conceivably win through Priceline.

BetterBidding also provides a handy “Calendar of Wins”. It’s a nice idea. One of the tedious parts about looking through the forums is that the posts are sorted by posting date, not check-in/check-out date. Imagine “Joe Bidder” wins a stay at a hotel in Chicago in May, but he posts that winning bid to the forum in December. By the time you come to the forum in March looking for winning May bids, that winning bid Joe Bidder posted back in December will be buried several pages deep.

The BetterBidding “Calendar of Wins” addresses this by allowing you to search through the forums by zone and check-in/check-out date. I’m not sure how accurate it is, but it seems to work pretty well.

On first blush, it would appear that BetterBidding is lacking when it comes to non-U.S. destinations. BetterBidding has forums specifically for Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean, but the rest of the world gets relegated to an “Other Countries” forum. This isn’t very helpful. However, the “QUICK SEARCH” box at the top of every page allows for filtering by city (or even Priceline zone).

BetterBidding quick search

Using the “QUICK SEARCH” box, you can find winning bids for not only foreign cities (e.g., Barcelona, Warsaw, Istanbul, etc.), but also smaller, less popular cities (e.g., Annapolis, Toledo, etc.) and individual Priceline zones (e.g., Baltimore BWI, Chicago MDW, etc.). It’s very handy – when it works.

Unfortunately, the “QUICK SEARCH” doesn’t seem to be very robust. For example, at one point while I was writing this post, searches for “Sacramento”, “Reno”, and “Madrid” all gave me back the error “Sorry, the board administrator has enabled search flood control. Please wait at least 20 seconds before trying again.”

BetterBidding quick search error

Those same searches are working fine now, but the experience can be frustrating. It’s in such circumstances that some manual categorization of countries outside of North America would be nice (as a fallback).

BiddingForTravel

BiddingForTravel has been around the longest of the four (since at least 2001) and sits just behind BetterBidding as the second best of the four for hotels in North America. I say that primarily because its forums aren’t quite as active. The number of winning bid posts isn’t quite up to the level you’ll find on BetterBidding. Furthermore, BetterBidding has managed to assert some uniformity over their winning bid post titles, which makes them very easy to scan. In comparison, on BiddingForTravel, the winning bid post titles are less uniform and harder to scan.

BiddingForTravel winning bid post titles

However, if you are focusing on locations outside of North America, BiddingForTravel is a compelling alternative to BetterBidding. While, as I noted earlier, BetterBidding relegates everything outside of North America to an “Other Countries” forum, BiddingForTravel has individual forums for a relatively large number of non-North American countries. And, since using these forums requires a lot of scanning and BetterBidding’s search isn’t always reliable, having more countries broken out into separate forums can sometimes be a big help.

As with BetterBidding, BiddingForTravel provides lists of hotels won, grouped by Priceline zone and sorted by quality level. The list is compiled using the same methodology as BetterBidding, but the results appear to be less comprehensive and the presentation leaves something to be desired.

Aside from the better international support, another thing that distinguishes BiddingForTravel is the depth of information and tips it provides. The author(s) really knows the ins and outs of how Priceline works and shares that knowledge.

However, I must mention that, within the community of hotel-bidding “junkies”, BiddingForTravel is the source of some hard and bitter feelings. The site’s owner has been criticized for controversial actions and behavior. Conversely, I’ve never seen a cross word directed at BetterBidding.

BidLessTravel

BidLessTravel is a fairly new site, getting its start probably around 2009. Unfortunately, it isn’t very useful. What makes it different from BetterBidding and BiddingForTravel is that it isn’t forum-based. Rather, the winning bids are well structured and uniformly laid-out, sortable by any of the bid criteria, including winning bid, check-in date, zone, quality level, etc. But, there’s only a smattering of winning bids listed.

Unlike BetterBidding and BiddingForTravel, you won’t find a separate list of hotels won here. But, that’s because it isn’t needed. The fact that you can sort the winning bids by hotel accomplishes the same thing, with better accuracy. Of course, since the number of winning bids is so low, the list of hotels won is incomplete (at least compared to what you find on BetterBidding and BiddingForTravel.

There isn’t much in the way of discussion on the site (although the functionality is there) and the associated blog has been silent for nearly a year. However, one blog post mentions the ability to submit winning bids via email (although I haven’t tried it). That’s a nice feature. You can’t deny that the site just looks nicer than its older siblings. But, in this context, activity and participation trump looks and features.

HotelDealsRevealed

HotelDealsRevealed is, like BidLessTravel, a fairly new site, probably getting its start in 2009, as well. To be honest, I don’t understand why it exists. It feels very similar to BetterBidding, but without anywhere near the same level of user participation. It’s forum-based, with some uniformity asserted in the winning post titles.

It, too, provides lists of hotels won with bids, organized by Priceline zone and sorted by quality level. But, as with BiddingForTravel, the results appear to be less comprehensive than BetterBidding’s. And, now that I think about it, I really have to question how HotelDealsRevealed compiles their lists, since the volume of posts is so low.

There’s a smattering of discussion here, along with bidding how-to’s and tips. The presentation here is better than on BiddingForTravel, but, like I said before, activity and participation trump looks and features.

iBidLow

I should probably also mention iBidLow. But, that’s just to be comprehensive. It doesn’t really provide any unique (or particularly useful) functionality, not to mention winning bids. It does provide a list of hotels that you might win on Priceline, but how they construct this list, I have no idea. The site doesn’t say.

Conclusion

If you’re in a hurry, not very demanding, and/or not bidding months and months in advance of your check-in date, Priceline’s winning bid lookup tool gets the job done. However, BetterBidding‘s level of forum activity, visibility provided regarding check-in and check-out dates, comprehensive lists of hotels won, uniformity of winning post titles, and searchable “Calendar of Wins” makes it the go-to source to determine your correct starting bid amounts for hotels in North America. For its part, BiddingForTravel comes in as a capable second choice for hotels, and possibly the first choice for non-North American hotels. BiddingForTravel also stands out for providing some great, in-depth educational material.

Go to BetterBidding or BiddingForTravel and find the forum for your target state or country (or, for BetterBidding, use the “Calendar of Wins” or “QUICK SEARCH”). Scan through the winning bid posts for your target zone, quality level (3 1/2 or 4-stars is recommended), and check-in/check-out dates. You may not find a winning bid that matches up perfectly with your desired criteria, but try to find close matches.

If and when you find some comparable winning bids, note the bid amounts. If you don’t find any comparable winning bids, look-up your city with Priceline’s winning bid lookup tool and note those bid amounts. Go to Priceline and start your bidding $5 or $10 below those winning bids. You’ll improve your odds of scoring a winning bid on your first few tries without, conversely, missing on all of them.

What’s your favorite resource for determining your starting bid amounts? Any resource or strategy I missed?

Mike
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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Romelle June 22, 2011 at 10:45 pm

Mike,

I liked this article and your others, and appreciate your clear personable writing style. But I can’t agree with this paragraph:

“However, if you are focusing on locations outside of North America, BiddingForTravel should be your first choice. BetterBidding has forums specifically for Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean, but the rest of the world gets relegated to an “Other Countries” forum. This isn’t very helpful. In contrast, BiddingForTravel has individual forums for a larger number of non-North American countries. And, since using these forums requires a lot of scanning, having more countries broken out into separate forums is a big help.”

I’d also like to see more breakout in Better Bidding’s Other Countries area, but there is a very simple work-around available. The Quick Search box at the top can be used to select a specific city or even zone within specific city. Thus, “Istanbul” yields all posts on that city in a neat list. “Paris Defense” yields all posts on hotels in the Paris La Defense zone. No scanning necessary.

Romelle

Reply

Michael Scepaniak June 23, 2011 at 3:25 am

Romelle,

Thanks for the input! I did some quick testing to verify this. On first blush, it looks like you’re absolutely correct. I can search for “Vienna Centre” and get exactly the results I want. However, if I search for “Budapest Buda”, it blows up the engine. 😛 But, admittedly, that’s an edge case.

I’ll be happy to update the post, as appropriate. I also intend to add a mention of Priceline’s new hotel winning bid alerts.

Again, thanks for the critique!.

Mike….

Reply

Romelle June 23, 2011 at 10:38 am

Mike,

Thanks for your quick response!

I had to try your “Budapest Buda” – you are right, the search engine doesn’t like that.

However, it got along just fine with plain “budapest” or even the wild-card “buda*”.

I find I often use the Quick Search even for the US – smaller towns like Socorro, NM – “socorro”. It saves one from that scanning.

And then there is “portland pdx” for looking at just the airport hotel bids, or even “portland airport” if I can’t remember the airport code.

Sometimes it takes a little experimentation, but almost always works once one figures out the right search. A search on “new york” also pulls up Las Vegas’s casino New York New York. But just “mte” gets the specific New York zone, and “nyc” gets all the New York zones.

It really is a handy and powerful little tool after one gets the hang of it.

Romelle

Reply

Michael Scepaniak June 23, 2011 at 7:27 pm

Romelle,

Nice tips! I’ll definitely add some of this to the post itself. Thank you.

Mike….

Reply

Michael Scepaniak October 13, 2011 at 4:48 pm

For anyone keeping track, I have updated the post.

Mike….

Reply

Bob M July 18, 2013 at 9:36 am

Good information Mike. I love Priceline, and you’re right about sticking with 4 stars… you can expect most of them are on the aging side. But some of them are just great, non-national chain places (the Roosevelt Hotel in NYC comes to mind) you would not think of staying. Couple of questions:

> does bidding on multiple rooms help or hinder your bid results
> does adding a Sunday night help or hinder your bid results for a Monday night stay

Reply

Michael Scepaniak July 27, 2013 at 1:13 pm

Thanks, Bob. I don’t really know if greater quantities of rooms or days will hinder your chances of having a bid accepted (at a lower price). However, I’ll speculate…

While I can imagine it’s possible that Priceline has coded some policy decisions into their algorithm to reward such purchasing behavior, speaking as a software developer, I doubt it. 🙂 When it comes to bidding for hotel rooms, thanks to their patent, Priceline is the only game in town (http://news.cnet.com/2100-1017-220096.html). As such, they don’t have any incentive to optimize their implementation. Following that logic, I have to conclude that single-room reservations and shorter stays will find more matches in their inventory.

With that being said, your best bet is to try it out. If you aren’t having much luck with your bids, split up the rooms and/or drop off the Sunday night.

Thanks for the question!

Mike….

Reply

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