Priceline Works Great, Except When It Doesn’t

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.


2 thoughts on “Priceline Works Great, Except When It Doesn’t

  1. bucolic burlington

    I’ve found that it is worth the effort to check Hotwire in these circumstances where Priceline is coming up short.
    There are often properties in Hotwire that are not on Priceline, especially where there is limited supply. Not quite the bargains that are possible on Priceline, but good as a backup.


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