I’m no slouch at getting bargain hotel rooms on Priceline, but I have to cede the floor here to the husband, who is truly an ace. Once again, I give you Don Stacom:
In the past year, Priceline bids have gotten us rooms in Boston ($61 for the Harborside Hyatt, $64 for the Hilton at Logan), Detroit ($71 for the 54th floor of the Renaissance Center Marriott), and Montreal ($85 for the four-star Le Centre Sheraton).
On a recent weekend, a $40 bid ($51.40 with fees and tax) got a room at the Doubletree along the Merrimack River in Lowell, Mass. It was a spacious room with king bed, and the indoor pool and hot tub were a nice diversion the next morning. Not 20 miles away, a notorious bargain-basement motel was advertising $55.99 as a walk-in rate.
A few weeks ago, I got the Marriott at Philadelphia’s airport for a bid of $70; taxes and fees brought the final bill to about $87. Orbitz and Travelocity were offering the identical room at $149, and Marriott’s own Web site quoted a pre-tax rate of $142 – even with a AAA discount.
All of which explains why I’m convinced Priceline is one of the last great mass-market travel bargains around. I know of no other way to frequently score uptown rooms at downtown prices. Of course, the “Name Your Own Price” strategy is a gamble that periodically loses:
Before we headed to Montreal last weekend, I tried to bid for a Friday evening stopover in Plattsburgh, N.Y. We were just looking for somewhere to get some shut-eye, so a two-star property would have been fine.
No success. It took several hours over three nights to determine that Priceline’s inventory had nothing appealing anywhere remotely nearby that night – Burlington, St. Albans, St. Johnsbury, even Saratoga Springs. Montpelier was sold out altogether. As with any auction, you have to know when to stop chasing an imaginary bargain and walk away.
When a region is in high season or hosting conventions, you’re likely to be out of luck. Priceline is about selling rooms that otherwise can’t be sold; the hotels have no reason to do fire sales when there’s no fire. Also, last-minute bidding can backfire badly: Nothing is left, even at non-bargain prices.
That’s what happened when I tried to get that Friday night room. Simply no dice. I ended up paying the rack rate at a very pleasant Comfort Inn in Montpelier – more than I paid for the fancy hotel for the Saturday and Sunday nights in Montreal.
Back in May, I’d bid for a four-star property and Priceline got us into the Le Centre Sheraton in Montreal. Here, the reception clerk was terrific, and assigned us a remarkably comfortable, quiet room on the 30th floor with a view of downtown and the St. Lawrence River. A bellman delivered bathrobes the first day. We could have spent the whole weekend at the sixth-floor fitness center, which has a marvelously designed indoor pool, ornate 10-person hot tub, well-equipped gym and a sunbathing terrace.
All for $103 a night, tax included.
You just never know.