Warning: When To NOT Bid For Hotels Using Priceline

by Michael Scepaniak on January 8, 2011 in travel

Fisherman's Wharf

Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless.
— Thomas A. Edison

I’ve gone to great lengths to explain how to save money on hotel rooms by naming your own price on Priceline. Clearly, I’m a believer. But, I will freely admit that bidding for hotel rooms using Priceline does not work in all situations. Search the web even just a little bit and you will find plenty of Priceline “horror” stories – all ending with the author stating that they will never use Priceline again – and neither should you.

Truth? Baseless? Well, somewhere in between, actually. Basically, it depends on your personality and circumstances. So, I present to you the following list. Do NOT name your own price for a hotel room on Priceline if…

You need a specific hotel

With Priceline, you are bidding on a general zone, which may contain dozens of hotels that match your bid criteria. Therefore, (ignoring power users) you won’t know which specific hotel you’ll end up winning.

You need a room with two separate beds or want a room with a single king/queen bed

Priceline guarantees that you’ll be awarded a room with double occupancy. That’s it. This may mean two beds or one bed, maybe even one full/double size bed in certain older hotels. (The 4-star 100+ year-old St. Francis hotel in San Francisco is a well-known example of this.) Most hotels use the standard room configurations of either one king size bed or two doubles. But, there are exceptions. If you are traveling with someone who you don’t feel comfortable sharing a bed with, either bid for separate rooms or don’t bid at all.

You need a smoking/non-smoking room

In the United States, smoking rooms are hard to come by. So, for non-smokers targeting the US, you should be fine. However, if you are targeting a city in Europe or other non-US city, you might get stuck in a smoking room. If you are targeting 4-star hotels and better (considering that the higher quality levels are populated with a lot of chains such as Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, Sheraton, etc.), regardless of locale, your odds of getting a non-smoking room are pretty good.

Do NOT name your own price for a hotel room on Priceline if…

There’s a decent chance you’ll need to cancel your stay or change your check-in/check-out dates

Priceline is unforgiving. Priceline will not refund a successful bid. If you need to cancel your trip or change your dates because of a death, illness, or schedule conflict, don’t expect Priceline to provide you any relief. Also, you must check-in on your check-in date or you risk losing your reservation. You can’t check-in a day (or more) late.

Priceline offers you the option to purchase travel insurance during the bid process, but I can’t offer any advice regarding this. Personally, I find the terms and exclusions for all travel insurance to be full of way too many gotcha’s.

You are targeting a city that Priceline doesn’t cover well

If you are trying for a hotel in a big metropolitan city in the United States, you’re good to go. But, take a look at Warsaw, Poland and you get one zone.

Priceline bidding for Warsaw, Poland only shows one zone.

Try Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and you don’t even get a map.

Priceline bidding for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil shows no map.

Small cities and towns suffer similarly. Without multi-zone coverage, you lose the ability to re-bid by adding unmatchable zones. And, without good coverage, you lose the ability to research past successful bids. You can definitely bid on these cities, but you’ll be going into it a little blind. Just be aware.

You think your successful bid should be your total cost

Don’t get over-enamored with your bid. Priceline will add various taxes and fees to your bid amount. They aren’t exorbitant, but they are noticeable enough that they may turn a great price into just a good price, or maybe even a somewhat bad price. Priceline will show you this total price before allowing you to commit to a bid, but bidders tend to gloss over it.

Priceline bidding total includes taxes and fees.

Do NOT name your own price for a hotel room on Priceline if…

You’re easily flustered, prone to making mistakes, or in a hurry when bidding

Priceline is unforgiving. (It’s worth repeating.) Once you submit a winning bid, there is no going back. And they make the process just convoluted enough that it breeds mistakes, especially if you are in a hurry. You need to double-check every step and do your research, especially regarding the zones, their boundaries, and what quality levels they contain.

You are bidding on lower quality star levels and are picky

There is no universal guidelines when it comes to hotel star levels. Priceline uses their own grading, which may not align with your expectations. And that doesn’t even take non-US hotels into account, where standards are somewhat lower. If you bid on anything lower than 4-stars, be prepared to be a little unimpressed with what you get. Generally speaking, you should only venture down into the sub-4-star levels once you get some successful bids and stays under your belt.

You expect to be treated like you paid full price, even though you got a deal

Officially, you should not be discriminated against because of the fact that you obtained your hotel room via a Priceline bid. Unofficially, you very well might be. After all, hotels are run by people, not robots. While not systemic, individual hotel properties and/or employees may take it upon themselves to make you suffer a bit in exchange for (what they consider) you “getting away with something”.

Stories abound of winning bidders being given the smallest rooms in the hotel, next to the freight elevator or ice machine, denied routine perks, and/or treated a little rudely. Personally, the worst I’ve had happen is getting put in a small room in a boutique hotel in San Francisco – next to the freight elevator. πŸ˜› But, I got it for a great price. In my mind, no biggie. You may feel otherwise.

Furthermore, if something bad happens (such as the hotel getting overbooked) and some guests need to be turned away, as a Priceline bidder, don’t be surprised if you get the short end of the stick. In such a situation, the hotel will probably favor those guests that booked directly through the hotel or their parent. And why shouldn’t they? You, the Priceline bidder, treated the hotel like a commodity. As such, don’t be surprised if they treat you like a number.

Do NOT name your own price for a hotel room on Priceline if…

You think there’s a good chance you’ll need help from Priceline customer service

If you search the web just a tiny bit, you’ll find plenty of horror stories about disgruntled Priceline “name your own price” customers being treated rudely (if at all) by Priceline customer service. They won’t offer any help, hope, or sympathy. Expect the worst and you won’t be disappointed.

You don’t want to do your homework

Priceline is unforgiving. (I can’t say it enough.) You need to pay attention to their rules and read up on Priceline beyond priceline.com. Of course, simply by reading this article and other posts on this blog, you are doing just that. πŸ™‚

Naming your own price for a hotel using Priceline is a fantastic way to save money, but, sometimes, you just shouldn’t do it. If any of these circumstances I’ve listed above apply to you, don’t use Priceline to bid on your hotel. At the very least, think twice.

Have you had a bad experience bidding for a hotel on Priceline? Did your situation fall outside any of the circumstances I’ve listed here? Please let me know in the comments.

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

Deborah Silverman April 16, 2011 at 4:17 pm

Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us. πŸ™‚ Your blog is very helpful and very informative. Keep up the good work Scepaniak!

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Fishing4Deals June 10, 2013 at 11:49 pm

I have had very good luck using Priceline. Even when I did not get the property I was hoping for, I have been able to discover a new place with a charm of its own. Hotels have sometimes given me upgrades when checking in as a Priceline customer.

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Michael Scepaniak June 11, 2013 at 6:55 am

> Hotels have sometimes given me upgrades when checking in as a Priceline customer.

Really!? That’s great information. I’ve never heard anyone report that they’ve received preferential treatment as a Priceline customer. I guess it just goes to show that you never know. However, I certainly wouldn’t expect it when making the booking.

Mike….

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Renee April 4, 2014 at 8:02 pm

I love using Priceline NYOP and have used it for years, although I have also recently started using SkyAuction for longer vacations at timeshare resorts. You can score some amazing deals on 7 night stays (no tax, no resort fees, etc). We have a child now and need separate sleeping areas or it’s not a vacation, lol!

We have been upgraded several times with NYOP – always at a Sheraton. The first time we tried an early check in and a room wasn’t available. We knew it would be late when we got back so I asked if they would please make sure we got a king room. When we got back at 10:00 that night they had put us on the club level in a suite. Another time they put us in a room that hadn’t been cleaned so the bellhop had us wait while he went back to the front desk and again, club level suite (we ended up giving the bellhop a nice tip). Club level equaled free breakfast, afternoon cocktails and unlimited snacks and non alcoholic drinks any time of day.

I worked front desk at a hotel through college and I am always very nice to the staff.

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Michael Scepaniak April 5, 2014 at 8:16 pm

Thank you for chiming in, Renee. πŸ™‚

Mike….

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FA November 7, 2013 at 10:33 am

Hammered w $25 taxes/fees after winning a $105 bid, $12 cheaper than their Express Deals offer for the same hotel. I should have started about $20 lower. It’s a real trial and error process with PL. You must pay your dues in the beginning as you get up to speed.

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RaflW November 28, 2013 at 2:37 pm

I’ve almost always been treated fairly, or even well, when traveling on Priceline bid stays.

Like Mike, I generally bid 3.5* or above, and at that level most good chain hotels I think know that a PL bidder may well be a corporate or regular price leisure traveler another day. Giving you the worst room is a short-sighted strategy and often unnecessary unless a hotel is full.

It also helps to be flexible. I’ve twice gotten an awesome upgrade to a suite in Vail, CO, but it’s right next to the elevator. I happily accept the space and amenities of their hard-to-sell-at-full-price suite and just use a white noise app on my tablet and sleep well knowing I got it for 75% off the rack rate for a standard room!

And, not to be snobby, but one strategy of mine that may help (I don’t know how to really test it) is that I always present my Amex gold when checking in, to pay for incidentals. And I always arrive with a smile and a open, upbeat demeanor. Expect the best at check-in. I think it can work.

I’ve also, on rare occasion, asked very nicely for a room change. My favorite was a Marriott in Denver. I was given a room with no view at all. I went back to the desk and said “I just arrived from very flat Minnesota, any chance I could get a mountain view?” She said, well, it’s just the foothills.
To which I laughed and said “that’s way better than Minnesota!” and she gave me a much, much better view room.

Remember that the desk clerk is a person working a job where people focus their disappointments and problems. Make it their pleasure to give you what you want anyway.

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Michael Scepaniak December 19, 2013 at 8:04 pm

Awesome attitude and great tips! Thanks for sharing. πŸ™‚

Mike….

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Ja March 7, 2014 at 11:35 am

No AmEx Gold to flash here.

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Mary May 17, 2015 at 9:16 am

I just had the most horrible experience with Priceline when I booked and prepaid for a NON-SMOKING room for my son in Dunn, NC. I didn’t bid on the room because I didn’t want to take any risks and isntead I used the “express deals”, the only thing I was looking for was a nice clean and Non- smoking room for my son (21 years old), who suffers from asthma and who is coming from college and needed a room on his way home after driving 12 hours. Once he arrived at the hotel he was given “the last available room in the hotel” and guess what , it was a smoking room! He couldn’t stay there and he refused to check in and the hotel refused to do anything saying that We should solved it through Priceline, and Priceline said they were t able to do anything , no refund , no credit voucher for future staying or anything. I told them that I felt it was a “rip-off”, especially if I had a written itinerary that came along with the receipt and it showed clearly it was made for a non-smoking room. I felt so helpless because at the end my son couldn’t stay at this hotel and had to go at 11 pm and find another hotel with a non- smoking room. THE SOLUTION: after thinking on what to do, I contacted the claims department from Bank of America and they contacted Priceline and fought for us once they verified everything I told them. I gave them all the proofs they needed. Hopefully in 2 or 3 days this will be solved and neither Priceline or this hotel will get away with this. They can not advertise and sell something they are not able to honor. It is not a matter of “money” but a matter of doing things the “right way”. Needless to say, I will never use Priceline again.

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Michael Scepaniak May 17, 2015 at 10:21 am

Mary,

From what I can tell, neither Priceline or the hotel did anything wrong here. I’ve never used their “Express Deals” option, but after a quick walk-through, I see the same sort of disclaimer they put on their NYOP option:

“All rooms will accommodate up to 2 people. Requests for bed types (King, Queen, 2 Doubles, etc.) or other special requests (including preferences for smoking or non-smoking rooms) should be requested through your confirmed hotel and cannot be guaranteed by Priceline.”

Nobody guaranteed you a non-smoking room. You got what you paid for. As I wrote above, Priceline is unforgiving.

Mike….

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dave June 21, 2015 at 7:43 am

lol, I’m sitting here in my handicap room with a double bed. I saved $20 a night!

Next time I won’t be so cheap. πŸ™‚

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Michelle July 15, 2015 at 11:40 pm

A question about Priceline express. I selected a hotel region and selected an option which allowed for 2 queen beds. When I arrived at my hotel I was given a 1 bed room even though the option I selected was for 2 beds. They told me at the desk that was all they had left. I called Priceline customer service and I was telling them this. I got no help and when I finished the call my itinerary no longer shows the 2 queen beds. Could they actually change it? This is terribly disappointing. If I hadn’t selected the option on the 2 beds I wouldn’t have expected it. Any advice?

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Michael Scepaniak July 23, 2015 at 8:09 pm

Michelle,

So, you’re saying that you selected an Express Deal with a “Bed choice available”, but Priceline did not follow through with that selection? That sucks, but is good to know. I wasn’t even aware of the bed choice option until you mentioned it.

Priceline offering the bed choice is odd because their “Special Requests” disclaimer page (http://bit.ly/1fq99h0) explicitly states “Priceline.com has no control over which room a hotel will assign to you”. Seems to be at odds with their implication that you can select your bed type.

This thread over on BetterBidding sort of echoes my thoughts:
http://www.betterbidding.com/index.php?showtopic=194495

Unfortunately, I don’t have any good advice for you with regard to this booking. You could have taken a screenshot of the booking with the two beds specified. However, once you’ve gotten on the phone with Priceline customer service, you’ve already lost. πŸ™ You would have had proof of your selection, but that would not have necessarily altered the outcome.

I’m sorry to say that it looks like the following statements apply to Priceline Express Deals as much as they do to Priceline NYOP:
– “If you are traveling with someone who you don’t feel comfortable sharing a bed with, either bid for separate rooms or don’t bid at all.”
– “Expect the worst and you won’t be disappointed.”

I’m sorry Priceline let you down, Michelle.

Mike…

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Michael Alan August 13, 2015 at 1:15 pm

You give not a few but a whole lot of reasons why one should not use Priceline. I have used Priceline for 15 years now but for all the reasons you mention above, I have decided to stop using Priceline all together. The winning bids are not as good as they used to be. I can remember winning $40 bids on 4-star hotels that had a rack rate over $200 per night. This type of winning bid does not happen anymore. The risks involved are no longer worth it. The winning bids are not that good anymore.

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Ken Lee September 14, 2015 at 8:29 pm

I have been a Priceline believer for years. Obtaining some great hotel rooms in good locations for very cheap price. Having used Priceline for years, I think I have a good idea of how to best use the service as well as its pros and cons. However, recently I seem to be having increasing trouble getting the same type of deals that I have gotten in the past. In fact on a number of occasions after having spent a good deal of timing trying to get a hotel by bidding on Priceline,I have had to resort to simply getting a hotel through a normal reservation service. Is there anything going on at Priceline or in the hotel market generally that is causing me to strike out so often or have a just hit a string of bad luck?

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Michael Scepaniak September 29, 2015 at 7:56 pm

Ken,

Unfortunately, I’m not able to corroborate your experience. This isn’t because I’m having luck with NYOP whereas you aren’t. Rather, it’s because I haven’t used Priceline NYOP for, I think, years. Instead, I’ve been booking accommodations on airbnb.

While both Priceline NYOP and airbnb both allow for cheap(er) lodging options, airbnb also frequently allows for somewhat intimate interaction with locals and escaping the circuit of cookie-cutter hotels.

Actually, maybe airbnb’s rise is a partial cause of the issue. Fewer bidders begetting fewer rooms sold begetting fewer rooms listed. This is nothing but off-the-top-of-my-head speculation, but who knows? πŸ™‚

Regardless, thanks for chiming in.

Mike…..

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Mike October 11, 2015 at 10:39 pm

Many hotels allow animals. You don’t have a choice, like smoking or non smoking. Animal hair everywhere, desk, drawers of bureaus, bedspread, chairs, etc…

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Michael Scepaniak November 1, 2015 at 3:37 pm

That’s a caveat I hadn’t thought of or come across. Thanks, Mike.

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Bill October 3, 2016 at 6:36 pm

Priceline is terrible just returned from Toronto,room was so small,bathroom was larger.Iron leaked water like Niagara falls,hot tub disgusting,filthy.Complained to Priceline and hotel front desk with no results,worst room ever ,Crowne Plaza,Toronto East,worse ever.

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Michael Scepaniak October 9, 2016 at 7:34 am

Bill – I’m sorry to hear you had a bad experience. Looking at Priceline and Expedia, the Crowne Plaza you cite looks to be a 3 1/2 star airport hotel. In the future, you might want to set your lower boundary to 4 star hotels. FWIW.

Mike….

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Kimberly November 24, 2016 at 10:33 am

Priceline is getting sloppy over the years, I have been a valued customer for 10 years never a issue… until this morning !!! Yes it true they have certain rooms for Priceline guest. I called Priceline it’s possible to get a refund on the no cancellation policy .. I let them kno how I suppose to get a 3 star hotel with at least 7 Out of 10 review .. the first 10 mins they said how they could not help me .. I let them kno how embarrassed they should be , false bull crap and so on .. the lady refunded my additional days .. I really will not use them any more.

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CJ February 19, 2017 at 11:16 pm

Nicely done article, and I have used priceline for years happily. I’ve gotten less desirable rooms, which is perfectly reasonable, but have never been treated poorly. Like some other posters have mentioned, I stumbled upon his old article because I was trying to see why I don’t get good deals anymore. I’m finding myself using priceline less and less. It’s almost like they really don’t want opaque business anymore. That 15% discount is definitely not enough to keep me. They’re messing with star levels unfairly too. Dumpy Extended Stays at 2.5 stars, and even a Comfort Inn at 3 stars! It’s not worth using anymore.

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Michael Scepaniak February 21, 2017 at 6:00 pm

Good intel, CJ. Thanks for commenting.

Mike…

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