Do you want to stay in a good hotel on a budget? You’ve come to the right place – here are a few secrets to playing the Priceline game.
We stay at a fair amount of hotels throughout the year – whether it’s because I’m attending a conference, we’re traveling, or any number of other reasons.
While I like staying at a nice hotel, I also don’t like paying an arm and a leg, especially when we need multiple nights. I’d say about 95% of the time, we get our hotel booked through Priceline.
There are a number of websites out there that claim to have the best deals on hotels, but we prefer using Priceline. I can almost always get a nice hotel, typically with a free breakfast, for a very reasonable price – far below what you could get booking through the hotel, AAA, etc.
The best prices will vary depending on time of year, where you are going, etc. For instance, a few months ago, we went to Provo, and while we can typically find a great hotel between $40-$60 a night, this particular weekend there was NOTHING under $150. I believe there was some big concert going on.
Just this week, we were in Pasadena, California. By following these tips, we were able to stay at a 4 Star Westin for $82. When I checked elsewhere, the next cheapest price was around $150 (though most were over $200).
Priceline doesn’t release a lot of coupons…which makes sense, since they offer already discounted prices. However, occasionally you can get them. Typically they are just 5-10% off, but hey, every little bit counts, right?! I would first google “Priceline coupons (put month/year here)” to see if there happens to be one.
If there aren’t any, don’t worry! I’ve found that when you sign up for the email list, you usually get a coupon. Sometimes they’ll even send you one after you book a hotel room, so you can use it on your next time using Priceline. We’ve also occasionally gotten coupons through our email as well, so definitely sign up for their email list.
Check Website (on different computers) and Mobile App
Not everyone sees the same deals. For instance, a few weeks ago I was looking at the Little America in Salt Lake City. It kept giving me the price of $90, which is a great deal for that particular hotel. However, when I mentioned this to other people attending the conference I was going to, not all of them saw the same deal. A lot of them saw a price that was $10-15 higher. While I honestly couldn’t tell you the exact reason for this, I think it might have to do with two things:
- I had been doing a search for hotels in Salt Lake about every other day for about a month. I think it may have known I was interested and locked in those deals.
- I don’t live in Utah, so it may have been giving me a better deal.
Like I said, I don’t know if either of these reasons were true. A similar thing happened last year when we were in North Carolina – we were looking for a hotel to stay at, and I searched both on the mobile app and on the computer. I was able to find a better deal on the mobile app. So, moral of the story is – check the website in multiple places – different computers, the mobile browser, or even ask someone in a different area to do a search for you. You never know what kind of deal you’ll find!
Use the Mobile App
I just attended a conference in California, and there was actually a representative there (no, this post wasn’t written for them. I”m actually adding this tip months after the initial publication :). She told me that the mobile app has Express deals that are ONLY available on mobile. These are typically same day deals, and you can really save a bundle.
So I decided to try it out. I had been looking for a hotel for us to stay in during our last night in California, but none of the prices were looking too great for me. So I decided to wait until last minute, but instead of using the website, I checked the app.
Sure enough, there was a GREAT deal on a Westin Hotel that wasn’t on the website’s Express Deals, nor was it available the day before. We paid the same price for it that we were looking to pay for a one star, 2/10 user rating hotel in the same area.
Obviously, we went with the Westin. I’ve also been offered mobile only coupons before as well.
So, on Priceline Hotel Deals, they give you two different rates when you are looking at hotels – the star rating (which, in the United States, are decided by several different organizations on a variety of criteria) and then user ratings.
Personally, I rarely pay attention to the star ratings. We’ve stayed at 1 star hotels from Priceline that have been excellent, and then 3.5 star hotels that have been subpar (though, in full disclosure, we feel like the sweet spot is 2.5 stars – they are usually clean, comfortable, and have a free breakfast. Most 3+ star hotels don’t have free breakfasts!) The key is to look at the user ratings.
Personally, we like to stay at hotels that have at least 7+ average ratings from customer ratings. We’ve never been disappointed with a hotel that has over a 7+ rating.
If you aren’t a picky person, you can probably go below that…but definitely proceed with caution! Just last week we stayed at one that had a 5.2 average rating, and I’m personally shocked it was that high. It was one of the worst hotel experiences ever!
The user ratings are from people who actually stayed at the hotel. Sure, some of the people rating are probably biased, but for the most part, I’ve found the ratings to be fair. When we aren’t trying to bid for a hotel, or get one of the last minute deals (more on that in a second), I’ll take the time to read through the reviews to see why or why not a person liked a hotel. You can only do this if you are looking it the list view of available hotels (this typically aren’t the best deal, but they are cheaper than most anywhere else!)
Triple Check Dates (and get the $5 insurance)
Once upon a time, Forrest and I were trying to book a hotel for right after our wedding. Since we were poor college students, we turned to Priceline, where we were able to find a 4 star hotel for $80. Well, for whatever reason, I put the wrong dates down. And I purchased those wrong dates. And I was SO upset.
Usually, Priceline won’t let you change the dates or cancel if you make a mistake. Fortunately, some kind customer service representative made an exception for the crying bride-to-be who begged her to over the phone. However, they usually won’t do something like this, so TRIPLE check your dates and don’t book until you are sure of them. Unless you like paying for a hotel room that you can’t stay at.
Something that they did add is the $5 trip insurance. Basically this will protect you in SOME cases where you may need to cancel your trip.
When To Book
I’m not sure if there’s a specific time that’s best to book, but I have often found the best deals about two weeks before, especially on the Express Deals.
However, I’d start looking (if you have this much time) one month beforehand, just to see what prices are available, and check back every couple days to see if the prices drop. Then, at about two weeks, you can see the trends and decide when to book.
As of late, I have actually found some of the very best deals the day of. Hotels will often want to fill their inventory, and the prices may drop considerably. I’ve only seen these drops in the Express deals, but the past few times that we’ve traveled, we have gotten VERY nice hotels for cheap by booking the day of. However, this can be a bit risky, and if you have to be in a very specific area, I might not chance it.
Different Options for Getting a Hotel
There are a couple of different ways to get a hotel from Priceline, and I’ll talk about them here, starting with my favorite – Express Deals.
I believe this is the best place to get the best deal and knowing what you are getting. I think you can get similar prices with bidding, but this is a little less risky, because you know what you are getting (except for the actual name of the hotel.)
Anyways, Express Deals are typically $10-20 less than the prices listed on the first page of the Priceline hotels (where you can see the hotels.) The only difference is that they don’t tell you the name of the hotel. However, each deal shows you the star rating, the average user rating, the approximate location, and the guaranteed amenities. Really, that’s all you need to know in my opinion (unless you have to be at a particular hotel.)
This is another way to get pretty good deals, though it’s a little more risky. You can bid for hotels in certain areas, and you can require it be a certain star level or higher. However, you can’t see the guest ratings (which, as I mentioned, are crucial), and it can be a bit annoying!
I rarely bid anymore, but it’s all I did before they introduced the Express Deals. What I typically would do is look at all the hotels in a certain star rating, and then I would find the average price. Then, I’d start my bid at about $15-20 cheaper than that. Typically it never took my first bid, but it will typically give you a suggestion like “if you increase your bid by $5, you’ll get a room!” I typically would also try and pinpoint which hotels were available in different areas, decide which area had the best ones, and then just bid there.
Low Prices & Seeing the Hotel
This is a good option for people who like to have control and know exactly what they are getting before they get their hotel. If you need a specific hotel, or to be in a particular area, this is the list risky option. You won’t get the cheapest prices (and sometimes I do see better deals directly from the hotel websites), however, I think the deals are usually pretty competitively priced.
For instance, earlier I mentioned that I was looking at the Little America in Salt Lake City. The price they gave was at least $30 cheaper than ANY other place I looked. So definitely look around at different places if you are trying to find a specific hotel, but Priceline can really be a great option.
Factor in Tax
Finally, one thing to remember is that the price you see for a hotel doesn’t include tax. I usually end up having to pay about $12 extra in tax, so that $35 room suddenly because $47. This is just something to remember in case you have a really tight budget!
Bonus – What Hotel is the Express Deal?
One of the issues people may have with doing the Express Deals is not knowing exactly what hotel it is. As someone who likes to plan things, I can understand this frustration.
However, I’ve found that with taking a little bit of extra time, you can typically figure out what hotel it is.
When I’m looking at Express Deals, I also have a separate window open with the hotels that you can know the names of (but pay a higher price). After I’ve found an Express Deal that I like, I will look at the area it says it’s in, as well as the star rating.
At that point, I’ll go and narrow down the search results on the shown hotels to the same area and star rating. Then, I’ll just compare apples to apples – eliminate hotels that don’t show the same amenities, look at the guest rating, etc. With the exception of one time, I was able to figure out the hotel very easily.