By Jim Donovan
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Have you made your spring break or summer vacation plans yet? How would you like to stay in a four or five star hotel for half price?
One popular website, Pricline, let’s you pick your rate, but it can be intimidating.
For step-by-step instructions from Checkbook.org on how to make Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” option work for you, visit: www.checkbook.org/cbs3/priceline
An Orlando resort for $97 a night. A room in Chicago for $84. Sleep soundly in Seattle for $77 bucks. Kevin Brasler of Checkbook.org says you, too, can stay in a four- or five-star hotel room at prices that can’t be beat.
“For major metropolitan areas, we found that we were usually able to get rates that were half the going rates…If you do it right, we found that for hotel rooms that normally cost $150 at most websites, we could get it for $75,” he explains.
You can do that by using Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” feature, which allows travelers to bid for rooms. William Shatner has been the company’s pitch-man for years.
Using the “Name Your Own Price” bidding option, you can’t choose a specific hotel, just a geographic zone where you want to stay and the star level of the accommodations. Before bidding, you first want to click through each zone of your destination city and jot down what types of accommodations you have to work with.
For example, I wanted to book a four-star hotel room for next month in Fort Lauderdale. Priceline divides the Fort Lauderdale area into 11 zones. When I checked, six of those zones offer four-star hotels. The five remaining zones have hotels rated three-and-a-half stars or less. I wanted to stay in zone 10, and only in zone 10 — an area Priceline calls West Fort Lauderdale – Plantation.
I started my bidding at $40 for a four-star hotel room in zone 10. The bid was rejected almost immediately. Normally, if a bid is rejected you have to wait 24 hours to rebid at a higher price, but there are exceptions.
“The thing with Priceline is that you can add geography and rebid right away,” Brasler says.
But there’s a secret to success. This time, while bidding for Zone 10, I also added Zone 1, which Priceline defines as Coral Springs. While the computer thought that I was broadening my search, in my initial research before I began bidding, I found that there aren’t any four-star hotels in the Coral Springs area. So in actuality, Priceline’s computer was just giving me another shot at where I really wanted to stay.
I boosted my second bid to $45 and within 30 seconds, it too was denied. Strike two, but I hadn’t given up just yet. I just continued to add zones or combinations of zones to my search as I boosted my bid price, making sure that the additional zones that I was adding didn’t have any four-star hotels.
After several attempts, I got a match. Securing a room for $55 a night at the Renaissance Hotel in the West Fort Lauderdale – Plantation area. It was a room advertised on most websites for $179 a night, a 69 percent savings!
Checkbook.org recommends using Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” option only when bidding on four- and five-star hotels. That way, you’ll be sure to end up in a reasonably nice place.
They also say that the lowest bid that Priceline normally accepts for most high end hotel rooms is $60, so I guess that I had beginners luck! Maybe you will, too.