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Priceline won't thank you for booking any more than you need to do.

So use the techniques here to ensure you're bidding the lowest necessary rather than going way over the trigger price.

 
 
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How Much to Bid for a Priceline.com Hotel

Save massively by following these guidelines
 

Don't get caught by 'auction fever'.

Carefully plan your bidding strategy so you know how much to start with, what your maximum should be, and at what rate to increase your bid.

Part 2 of a series on How to book hotels at the lowest price on Priceline - please also visit

1.  An introduction to Priceline
2.  How much to bid
3.  How to rebid in less than 24 hrs
4.  The true cost of a Priceline bid

 

 

Priceline has the potential to save you huge amounts of money on your hotel stays, but if you don't bid carefully, you'll end up paying much more than you need to, while getting no extra benefits or bonuses in return.

While Priceline tries to obscure what the minimum successful bid may be for your stay, it provides some clues.  Best of all, two independent websites are full of information about what other people have bid and won hotel rooms for.

Using these information resources will massively reduce the amount you need to pay for your hotel stays.

When Are Rates Lowest on Priceline

This is a question that - of course - neither Priceline nor the hotels that sell their rooms through Priceline want you to know the answer for.

However, there are some general answers to this question that are probably correct.

The rates on Priceline depend on whether or not participating hotels think they will need extra help to sell their rooms.  If they expect to be full, they'll not even put any rooms on Priceline.  If they expect to be nearly full, they might put a few rooms on Priceline, but not at very low rates.  And - of course - if they believe their hotel will be not nearly full enough, they'll put low priced rooms on Priceline.

So the question becomes - when will hotels perceive if they will be full or not full on any given night?

Clearly, at some times of year a hotel knows for sure if it will be full or not full.  A corporate hotel knows it won't have many people staying at it over Thanksgiving.  A leisure hotel knows it will be full over long weekends.  If a hotel has a booking from a large group, it knows it will be full.  And if there is a special event in the area, the hotel again expects to have more guests than normal.

But for much of the rest of the year, hotels (just like airlines) make use of sophisticated computer modeling programs that project ahead to make estimates about likely occupancy levels.  The closer to the actual night, the more accurate these estimates become.

Generally, it seems that most hotels don't start to discount their rates until perhaps six months prior to the date of stay - before then they don't necessarily have a very accurate understanding of likely occupancy levels prior to then, although if there is something like an overabundance of hotel rooms in the area and depressed economic conditions, they can guess that they'll be low (and, to the opposite, if the economy is booming, lots of people are traveling, and all hotels are usually full, they can confidently expect to be full).

There are also some other events that impact on a hotel's perception of its occupancy levels.  Some hotels allocate a portion of their rooms to travel companies, and require the travel companies to 'give back' rooms they won't need at certain points (usually starting at three months and then more at two months and one month), and as these reviews and potential givebacks occur, they get a more clear understanding of what their actual occupancy levels will be.

Bottom line - generally, rates don't get very discounted until perhaps the last three months prior to the date of stay.  Once you're within 90 days, rates start to become better, and when you're within a month, hotels are then starting to offer their best rates.

On the other hand, there is a danger that, as you get closer to the date of stay, hotels might have sold all the extra rooms they need to sell, and then start to withdraw their best rates.  So there's an element of swings and roundabouts.  I've watched availability and rates sometimes improve, but sometimes also get much worse, and there is no obvious way of predicting which way things will trend.

There's one other issue to consider.  Remembering that Priceline bookings can not be changed or canceled, you probably don't want to book very far in advance for fear of something happening that might interfere with your plans, or perhaps because some other better deal might come along in the meantime.

So our feeling is that the best rates and best compromise, while still giving you some flexibility can be found in the last two months, and probably better still within the last month prior to your planned date of stay.

And, to take matters to the extreme, we've also had good experience bidding for great rates even only a day before travel (and on one occasion, on the actual day of travel itself), but in general, you probably want to have your travel details confirmed sooner than that.

This also ties into how much time you'll need to make multiple bids through Priceline for your hotel room (discussed in part 3).  If you are in a situation where you can do multiple bids, one after the other, you don't need as much lead time as if you're in a situation where you can only bid two or three times a day.

Time of Day to Bid

Some people wonder if there is a better time of day to bid, or a worse time of day to not bid.

As best we can tell, there seems to be no difference at all in terms of times of day to bid or not bid.

How Much Does Priceline Pay for the Rooms?

Occasionally a hotel has accidentally disclosed how much Priceline is being charged for the room I'm staying in, and I'll show such information here.

Before I wrote the series I found out that Priceline had about a 15% margin on a hotel room in Vancouver.

In November 09, I had a bid accepted to stay one night at the Doubletree Hotel at JFK Airport (terrible hotel, by the way), with my winning bid being $90 plus $26.64 in taxes and fees.  An earlier bid, immediately previously, for $85 was not accepted, so the $90 bid was obviously very close to the bottom line price that would be accepted.

The hotel accidentally gave me a copy of the invoice it was sending to Priceline.  It was charging Priceline $90 a night, too, but only $16.78 in fees.  So Priceline's entire profit was in the fees - $9.86.  That is still a good profit for Priceline, while being a very good price for me (the hotel's lowest rate online elsewhere was about twice this).

How Much to Bid

Priceline doesn't want you to read this, and seeks to obscure the information we're passing to you as much as possible.

Priceline, and the hotels it is representing, naturally want you to pay as much as possible for the hotel rooms you're bidding on.  It encourages you to bid high by limiting the number of bids you can make, and by presenting information on typical rates that hotels might be selling their rooms for without Priceline type discounts (to encourage you, by implication, to bid higher than perhaps you need to).  Priceline also doesn't give you any information about what other people are successfully bidding for hotel rooms.

If you bid an amount higher than the minimum that Priceline and one of its hotels would accept, you still have to pay the full amount of your bid.  Priceline does not say to you 'Good news - you bid $150, but we only want $125 for this hotel room night'.  Instead, it takes the full $150.  Sure, if the room normally sells for $250/night you might be pleased to get it for $150, and probably you might never know that it was available for $125.

For example, recently one person placed a bid of $120/night which was accepted to stay at the Westin in Seattle.  A second person placed a bid to stay at the Westin, for the same night, but at $70, and this was also accepted.  Don't you want to be the person paying $70/night rather than the person paying $120?

Generally it seems that most bids are accepted for rates in the order of 25% - 60% off the regular hotel rates you might see on Expedia or Orbitz.  But that's a very big range of bid levels, isn't it.  That means a hotel which normally sells for $150 might be available for as little as $60, or might cost as much as $115.

Warning - sometimes you might find that Priceline offers no discount at all, and due to the addition of their fees on top of the apparent rate you are paying, you actually could end up paying more for a hotel through Priceline than you would if booking directly.

You not only need to know what sort of realistic minimum to set your bid pricing at, but you also need to know the going market rates for hotels ordinarily.

Read on for advice on how much to start your bidding at.

Knowledge is strength - see what other people are paying

Fortunately, there's a wonderful help to all of us who wish to maximize our savings on Priceline.  There are two different websites which collect and display information from people who have successfully bid for rooms on Priceline, and you can see from their postings what types of bids are proving to be successful.  These two sites are BetterBidding.com - you can directly access their calendar of successful bids here, and BiddingForTravel.com.

Go to the listings of successful bids, at both sites, for the destination you're planning to stay at, and see how much people are paying to stay on the dates you're planning to visit.  It is important that you find information on exactly the place and also exactly the dates you wish to stay yourself - there's not necessarily any link between the rates a hotel will accept on a different date and the rates the hotel will accept when you want to stay - indeed, if you read through the messages, you'll see a wide variety in successful bids, even for the same hotel.

Understand also that hotels not only have always varying levels of occupancy, but also will typically have some days, every week, when they have higher occupancy levels than others.  Corporate hotels will be busiest on Monday - Thursday nights, so you'll get the best rates at such hotels on Friday - Sunday nights.  The opposite is true for leisure hotels, who will fill their weekend nights first.

So if you see a midweek low rate for a leisure hotel, but you want to stay on a Saturday night, don't expect to pay the same low rate.

Another reason for this variety in successful bid rates is that some people have bid better than others - as mentioned above, I saw on one occasion two people successfully bidding for the same hotel and the same date, but one paid $70 and the other paid $120.  Which leads to an important part of how to analyze the information in these messages.

Some of the posts on these two websites are more helpful than others.  When you see information on a successful bid for the dates you are planning to stay, this does not necessarily tell you the minimum bid that would be successful - for example, if a person simply says 'Got the Sheraton for $100/nt' while this does tell you that a $100 bid was successful, you don't know if maybe a $90 or $80 bid would also be successful.

On the other hand, the more helpful posts tell you the person's bidding history - eg 'Bid $80, rejected; bid $85, rejected; bid $90, rejected; bid $100, accepted'.  Now you know that the minimum bid is somewhere between $90 and $100, so perhaps you might start bidding at $92 yourself.

Note that of course the bid levels that Priceline will accept vary from day to day - hotels may increase or lower their rates depending on how anxious they are, and maybe some hotels might sell out and stop selling through Priceline.  So these messages are helpful but not necessarily 100% accurate.

One last very important thing - when you've completed your own Priceline experience, go back to these two sites and post a helpful message about your own bidding experience.  What goes around, comes around, and by helping keep these two sites alive and helpful, you'll in turn benefit when you need to use them yourself.

Priceline's own 'helpful' suggestions - 1

Priceline will tell you the median retail price of hotels in the area you're bidding on, and suggest you use this to calculate your bid amount.  But should you bid at a rate that is half this number, or two thirds, or what?

The best advice is to ignore this number entirely and instead use the information from the two websites above.  But if you really want to know, we've had bids accepted for considerably less than half this rate, so if you have no other information to go on, perhaps you should start your bidding at one third the retail rate and slowly go up from there (depending on how urgently soon you need to get a hotel room confirmed and how many bid combinations you can try).

Priceline's own 'helpful' suggestions - 2

Sometimes you may find Priceline comes up with a warning message after you've entered your bid amount.  This message will either say 'Based on recent data, your price has only a small chance of being accepted.' or it might say 'Based on recent data, your price has almost no chance of being accepted.

If you get the message about almost no chance of being accepted, you should probably heed this message and not waste a bid at what is probably a foolishly low price.

If you get the message about there being only a small chance of being accepted, keep adjusting the price until you see the point at which this message is/is not triggered, and perhaps - if you have no other information to guide you - you might want to start your bidding at a price slightly into the range where this message occurs, and then grow your bid up from there as necessary.

I've never had a bid accepted after getting either warning message, and I've had plenty of bids not accepted even though no warning message at all was generated, so these warnings are probably both valid rather than just being 'shill' messages to try and trick you to increase your bid.

Priceline's counter-offer

Sometimes you'll find your bid is refused, but Priceline will come back with a suggested higher 'counteroffer' price that they say would probably be accepted.

It seems that you can usually bid slightly less than halfway between your bid and the counteroffer and have a high chance of having your bid accepted.

By way of example, recently (Sept 09) I bid $70 for a hotel room.  Priceline responded and said I could rebid at $92 and might be more successful.  The halfway point would of course be $81.  I rebid at $78 (using the strategy in part 3) and the bid was accepted.

How Long Does a Priceline Bid/Booking Take to Complete

It used to be that Priceline did not answer your bids instantaneously, but this has now changed, and you can expect your bid to be responded to with an acceptance or rejection almost immediately - within a minute or so of you sending the bid in.

Read more in the rest of this series

This is part 2 of a series on How to book hotels at the lowest price on Priceline - please also visit

1.  An introduction to Priceline
2.  How much to bid
3.  How to rebid in less than 24 hrs
4.  The true cost of a Priceline bid

 

If so, please donate to keep the website free and fund the addition of more articles like this. Any help is most appreciated - simply click below to securely send a contribution through a credit card and Paypal.

 

Originally published 14 Aug 2009, last update 02 Jul 2017

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 

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