Is It For You?
by Jennifer Marx, Author of PassPorter Travel Guides
OK, 'fess up!' Have you used Priceline? I'm willing to bet that a good number of you have, but many more are afraid to try it or perhaps aren't even familiar with it. I've used Priceline successfully, most recently for an upcoming trip with my mother. While I'm no expert on Priceline, I'd like to share my research and experiences with you.
First, just what is Priceline? In essence, it's an online consumer clearinghouse of excess travel inventory -- hotel rooms, flights, packages, etc. Priceline.com is located at http://www.priceline.com. Big discounts are very possible through Priceline. But there's a catch to those big discounts. Unlike other travel discount programs where you browse through availabilities and pick the one you want, Priceline requires a commitment to a particular category and price before you even know what's available. That's right. With Priceline you pick your category, location, and class of travel, name the price you want to pay, dole out your credit card info, and then commit to irrevocably accepting whatever Priceline finds within your parameters. That's just a tad scary when you aren't sure what you can end up with. But with some knowledge, research, and a bit of confidence, Priceline can do wonders for your vacation budget.
Next week I'm going on a "Mom and me" trip -- we're staying at Walt Disney World and going on a Disney cruise together. Airfares were pricey on the day we wanted to return, so we decided to stay an extra day to get a lower fare. That meant we needed to find a low-priced hotel room in order to make it worth the effort. Yet we wanted to stay on Disney property or nearby, and in a reasonably nice hotel. We called Disney to check on a room at All-Stars -- it would have been over $100/night, even with the Disney Club discount. Ouch. So I suggested we try Priceline for our hotel room. And then the fun began.
Before I rushed over to Priceline.com and bid on a hotel room, I did some research. First I visited MouseSavers.com ( http://www.mousesavers.com/nondisney.html ) where I'd seen a bunch of great tips on using Priceline for hotels near Walt Disney World. This is required reading for anyone contemplating Priceline for a Disney trip. Then I visited AllEarsNet ( http://www.wdwig.com/priceline.htm ), which offers an excellent primer on how to bid on Priceline -- even though I'd used Priceline before, it gave me a great refresher on how it works. I also highly recommend this. My next stop was DisneyDollarless.com, where I searched the messages for recent experiences with Priceline -- reading other's success (or failure) stories is very helpful. My last stop was BiddingForTravel.com ( http://www.biddingfortravel.com ), which is an active site devoted to bidding strategies and experiences with Priceline. They have a number of highly useful FAQs and, best of all, a forum dedicated to Orlando/Walt Disney World bidding. Through this forum I learned about recent successful bids and the strategies used to get them.
This column is too short for a thorough examination of the ins and outs of bidding for a hotel room on Priceline, but let me share a few tips:
* BiddingForTravel.com has a list of the Orlando hotels that are available of each of Priceline's hotel quality classes -- from 1 star motels to resort hotels. While new hotels may show up on Priceline at any time, this list will give you a great idea of what is possible. If you can accept staying at any of the hotels in the class you're planning to bid for, then you'll be okay. If not, don't do Priceline.
(In our case, we wanted the Resort class, and we were happy staying in any of the hotels available in that class -- Swan, Dolphin, Hilton, Marriot World Center, Gaylord Palms, or Wyndham Palace. Of course, we really wanted the Swan or Dolphin, and the Hilton was our third choice, but all were okay with us.)
* Once you know what hotels are possible within the class of hotel you plan to bid for, do some research on their going rates. Not only do you want to be sure you can't get a better deal on your own, but you need a starting point for your bid. Find out what others have bid in the past by reading DisneyDollarless.com and BiddingForTravel.com.
(We learned that the Swan and Dolphin had been successfully bid at $70-72/night, on average, with the Hilton going a bit lower and the other resorts going higher. Since we had our hopes on the Swan and Dolphin, we decided to start our bid at $71.)
* You're only allowed one bid in a 72-hour period, but you can re-bid if you change at least one parameter, such as your zone or quality level. This is significant when you're bidding at the Resort level for the Orlando/Walt Disney World area because (at the time of writing) all the resorts were located in the Walt Disney World area only. This means you can add in other zones in Orlando on a re-bid without worrying that you'll actually get a hotel outside of the Walt Disney World area.
* Read the Priceline web site thoroughly before you place your bid. Make sure you read the terms and conditions carefully, and get well-acquainted with each of the screens. Double- and triple-check your vacation dates. This saves you from the "oh no, did I forget to check that thing?" feeling you can get right after you put in your bid.
In the end, I took a deep breath and put in a bid for $71/night for a Resort class hotel room in the Walt Disney World category. Then I waited, and waited. I will admit my heart was beating just a tad faster during this pause. And then, at least, a result -- my bid of $71/night had been accepted! Hooray! Alas, no, it wasn't for the Swan or Dolphin -- we got the Hilton. But you know what? We're very happy with it! Not only do we get to stay just across the street from Downtown Disney at a great rate, but I now have the opportunity to review the Hilton for you in our next newsletter. Now is that a deal or what?
Priceline is not for everyone -- you have to relinquish some control and do some research -- but it does work for many. I would use it again and recommend it to anyone willing to put in the research time and accept the outcome.
Good luck, and happy bidding!