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Discover how to Name Your Own Price? so you can get amazing travel deals!
Want to save hundreds or even thousands of dollars on your next vacation? Packed with expert tips and little-known techniques, this guide shows you how to cut costs by making the right bids on Priceline.com. Sascha Segan ...
Discover how to Name Your Own Price? so you can get amazing travel deals!
Want to save hundreds or even thousands of dollars on your next vacation? Packed with expert tips and little-known techniques, this guide shows you how to cut costs by making the right bids on Priceline.com. Sascha Segan helps you fearlessly navigate Priceline's policies so you'll get the lowest prices on airfares, hotels, and more!
Discover how to
* Build a successful bidding strategy
* Get great bargains on travel and financial products
* Snatch last-minute travel bargains
* Nab the best hotel rooms
* Solve common problems
Part I: What Priceline Can Do for You.
Chapter 1: Have We Met? Getting Acquainted with Priceline.
Chapter 2: Is Priceline Right for You?
Chapter 3: Knowing the Rules and Your Rights.
Chapter 4: The Basics of Bidding.
Part II: Up, Up, and Away! Buying Plane Tickets on Priceline.
Chapter 5: Straighten Up and Fly Right: Knowing Your Options.
Chapter 6: Building an Airline Bid Strategy.
Chapter 7: Bidding On and Winning a Flight.
Chapter 8: Dealing with Air-Travel Problems.
Part III: Nabbing a Hotel Room with Priceline.
Chapter 9: Taking Control of Your Hotel Options.
Chapter 10: Bidding Smarter for Hotels.
Chapter 11: Bidding On and Winning a Hotel Room.
Chapter 12: Solving Common Hotel Problems.
Part IV: Hot Wheels: Renting a Car through Priceline.
Chapter 13: Driving within Priceline’s Lanes.
Chapter 14: Bidding On and Winning a Rental Car.
Chapter 15: Fixing Rental-Car Problems.
Part V: More Priceline Products.
Chapter 16: No Bidding Required: Buying Priceline Vacations.
Chapter 17: Bidding for Mortgages.
Chapter 18: Using Priceline around the World.
Part VI: The Part of Tens.
Chapter 19: Ten Rules for Bidding.
Chapter 20: Ten Web Sites to Check before You Bid.
Chapter 21: Ten Top Domestic Hotel Cities.
Chapter 22: Ten Top International Hotel Cities.
In This Chapter
* Understanding how Priceline works
* Comparing Priceline to the competition
* Weighing the pros and cons of Priceline
Priceline doesn't want you to read this book.
Its system of super-discounted travel relies on mystery: You can't know exactly what flights you're getting or exactly what hotel you'll be sleeping in.
I'm blowing the doors off Priceline's vaults and pulling out its secrets. Okay, maybe not all of them - Priceline holds a lot of information very close to its virtual chest. But when you put down this book, you'll know a lot more than Priceline gives away on its site.
The folks at Priceline refused to cooperate with this book, but I like to think they're secretly glad I'm putting the word out. Priceline is a marvelous way to save money on travel. In exchange for a little bit of mystery, you'll be able to take trips you never thought you could afford and stay in hotels that you could previously only tour the lobbies of.
Priceline has been working hard to improve its service over the past few years, and now is a great time to jump in and save. This chapter introduces you to Priceline - I show you around and get you familiar with the way it does business. After you're familiar with how and why Priceline can save you money, you'll be ready to bid on and win that trip of your dreams.
What Priceline Is and How It Works
Everything most people say about Priceline is wrong.
Priceline isn't an auction. You're not competing against other bidders. You don't really Name Your Own Price, and Priceline doesn't shop your prices around.
Priceline sells hotel rooms, airfares, and car rentals really cheaply by hiding the details. Priceline's products have fixed prices just like everyone else's - but it hides the prices from you. You have to guess them.
Travel gurus call Priceline's deals opaque fares, because you can't see the prices. Priceline isn't the only seller of opaque fares, but it's by far the largest.
In exchange for all the mystery, travel suppliers give Priceline really low rates - usually lower than everyone else's. That's because they see Priceline buyers as the most desperate, price-sensitive travelers anywhere, willing to give up all kinds of convenience for the absolute lowest price. Priceline also sells regular airline tickets, hotel rooms, rental cars, and cruises. But the Name Your Own Price super-discounted rates are what made Priceline famous, and they're what you find out about in this book.
Building the mystery
Airlines and hotels want to sell their goods for as much money as possible. Fortunately for you, that's not always possible. Oftentimes, more airline tickets and hotel rooms are out there than people who are willing to pay high prices for them.
So airlines and hotels offer several levels of prices, depending on the hoops you're willing to jump through.
For example, airlines may have one, very high price for people who decide at the last minute that they absolutely need to travel. They have a lower price for people who can plan three weeks in advance. And they have an even lower price for people willing to stay over a weekend, because those travelers are probably bargain-hunting vacationers rather than cash-rich business travelers.
Even after all these discounts, though, some airline seats and hotel rooms are still left over. So the travel firms came up with the ultimate hoop: mystery fares and mystery hotel rooms. They decided to sell their last available seats and rooms at super-discounted prices to truly desperate bargain hunters, people who don't care what airline they're flying on or what hotel they're staying in.
Those fares and rates are called opaque, because you can't see through them and find out your flight or hotel details before you buy. Priceline is the king of the opaque fare services, selling more opaque fares than anyone else. Hotwire.com, formerly run by five airlines and now owned by the folks who run Expedia.com, is the number-two seller of opaque fares. Expedia also sells some opaque fares.
Opaque fares and rates are a great way to save money. But Priceline found a way to squeeze even lower prices out of airlines and hotels: Name Your Own Price.
Guessing Priceline's price
Name Your Own Price is a lie. The reality is more like "Guess Our Price." It's a trick, a game to balance customers' savings with hotel and airline profits. If you play the game well, you'll save thousands of dollars. If you play it poorly, you'll pay through the nose.
Priceline's computers connect to the Worldspan reservation system, which lists Priceline rates that airlines and hotels set for tickets and rooms. When you submit a bid, Priceline checks your bid against its partners' Priceline rates. It grabs all the rooms, fares, or cars you can afford, and then, using a complicated computer formula Priceline has never explained to anyone, picks one of the bunch to give to you.
Many hotels have three different Priceline rates for the same room, so you can't predict which hotel you get by how much you bid. Experts have guessed (because Priceline isn't saying) that Priceline also throws a random element into the mix.
The Priceline rates may change every day, or they may remain the same for weeks or months at a time.
If you bid exactly at Priceline's price, the hotel gets its Priceline rate; Priceline gets its transaction fee; you get your room, flight, or car; and everybody walks away somewhat happy.
If you overbid, though, Priceline and the travel supplier pocket the difference and don't tell you. This book helps you get as close to the real Priceline rate as possible, saving you money.
Because some people overbid, travel suppliers are often willing to give Priceline even lower rates than they give to Hotwire and other opaque-fare sites. The profits reaped on overbids make up for the losses caused by smart bidders getting the lowest possible rate.
It's a complicated strategy, but it works. Priceline sold $360 million in travel during the first three months of 2004, and made a gross profit of $43.4 million. According to the company's financial reports, it expected bookings to grow by 50 percent as it moved into the 2004 summer travel season. In other words, Priceline is here to stay.
Priceline grows up: Travel the traditional way
Priceline offers "normal" airfares and hotels, too. Last year, it bought Lowestfare.com and Travelweb, two online travel agencies that sell airfares and hotels just as Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz do.
During 2004, Priceline started sprinkling its Lowestfare.com and Travelweb rates around its Web site. If you want to buy airline tickets, for instance, you have to go through a page of normal fares from Lowestfare.com, as shown in Figure 1-1. These fares may be better than Expedia or Travelocity - then again, they may not. Lowestfare.com is a travel agency just like any other - no better and no worse.
Similarly, when you click on links to buy one-way airline tickets, you get shunted to the Lowestfare.com travel agency.
Priceline also sells cruises through a partnership with NLG (a travel agency specializing in cruises) and sells travel insurance through American Home Assurance Company (a major travel insurer).
Priceline around the world
Priceline's idea worked so well in the United States that the rest of the world wanted in on it. But Priceline didn't want to just let foreigners use the U.S. Priceline Web site. Different laws control purchases in different countries, so other countries needed their own sites.
Priceline.co.uk (priceline.co.uk), for U.K. residents, came first. That site is wholly owned by Priceline and works just like Priceline.com for Name Your Own Price hotels - except that you pay in British pounds, not U.S. dollars.
The Asian conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa made a deal with Priceline to run several Priceline spin-offs in Asian countries. Priceline Hong Kong (priceline.com.hk; shown in Figure 1-2), Priceline Singapore ( priceline.com.sg), and Priceline Taiwan (priceline.com.tw) all sell Name Your Own Price airline tickets from their home countries, along with hotel rooms all around the world. Because they're not entirely run by Priceline, they have their own quirks - you can demand nonstop flights, for instance, which you can't do on Priceline.com and Priceline.co.uk. They also offer hotel rooms in a slew of cities in Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and India, where Priceline.com doesn't sell rooms - so if you're heading to Auckland or New Delhi, you should check out Priceline Asia. Residents of more than two dozen countries are allowed to use Priceline's Asian sites (though if they're buying airline tickets rather than hotel rooms, they have to fly out of Hong Kong, Singapore, or Taiwan).
Non-Americans can also use the U.S. Priceline site by bending the rules. Priceline doesn't take any responsibility for what happens to you if you try, but plenty of Canadians have snuck across the barbed-wire border into the United States of Priceline. Jump ahead to Chapter 18 if you want to see the details.
How Priceline Stacks Up to the Competition
Priceline isn't the only travel agency on the Web. It's not even the only seller of opaque fares, or the only site where you can bid for travel. Hotwire, Expedia, Travelocity, and a whole bunch of smaller travel agencies all dabble in opaque fares, and SkyAuction.com and eBay both let you bid for travel.
But Priceline does let you get the lowest fares and rates for hotel rooms, the most often. An independent study by Consumer WebWatch, a spin-off of Consumer Reports, found Priceline had the lowest rates more often than any other Web site, with more than twice as many lowest rates as Hotwire.
Priceline would have done even better in Consumer WebWatch's tests if the testers had used the tips in this book. The people at Consumer WebWatch got a hotel room on their first bid 46 percent of the time. If you win your first hotel bid, you're probably bidding too much. One of my key strategies is rebidding (using several bids to start low and then come up to meet Priceline's lowest acceptable price). So Consumer WebWatch's researchers probably could have bid even lower and succeeded.
All opaque sites are opaque, but Priceline is more opaque than others. The advantage of booking with another opaque site, or another bidding site, is that you know a little more than you do with Priceline. With other opaque sites, you'll see the price before you buy, so you can comparison shop. Other bidding sites will tell you exactly what you're bidding for, down to the precise airline or hotel name. Priceline is the most confusing, most complicated, and most mysterious way to book travel. It can be the most frustrating. But it's also usually the cheapest. Knowing less means saving more. Of course, if you'd rather know more and save a little less, the sites covered in the following sections can often provide fares lower than regular rates.
They're like Coke and Pepsi, or Hertz and Avis. Hotwire (hotwire.com) is Priceline's number-one competitor, and it's usually the site to beat when you're looking for airfares, hotels, and car rentals.
Hotwire sells opaque flights, hotel rooms, car rentals, and vacation packages, just as Priceline does. Like with Priceline, Hotwire's reservations are strictly nonrefundable, and you can't figure out your exact flight times or the name of your airline or hotel before you pay. Also just like with Priceline, you choose your hotel based on a star level and a neighborhood zone.
Hotwire is clearer than Priceline in several ways, though. First, it tells you its prices in advance - there's no bidding, no guessing, and no mystery there. It also tells you more about its hotels than Priceline does. For example, it tells you which hotels have pools, which have spas, and which are all suites (as shown in Figure 1-3).
And if you're buying a weekend vacation package for the next two weekends, you can restrict Hotwire to morning, afternoon, or evening flights. Priceline gives you a Playtime Guarantee that you'll spend 44 or 64 hours at your destination, but it doesn't let you specify your flight times.
Hotwire often rates hotels a little bit more generously than Priceline does. So a Priceline 4-star hotel may be a Hotwire 4 1/2-star hotel. In other words, you can't always compare Priceline and Hotwire exactly.
Hotwire makes a great companion to Priceline, because you can check out prices on Hotwire, bid lower on Priceline, and then come back to Hotwire and accept its offer if Priceline can't beat it.
Want to know exactly what hotel you'll be getting with Hotwire? Better Bidding.com tracks the hotels people get on Hotwire. Of course, you could always get a hotel that's not on BetterBidding's list, but BetterBidding will help you narrow your possibilities.
Hotwire posts lists of all its airline and car-rental partners, and some of its hotel partners, on its Web site at hotwire.com/travel-information/ partners/index.jsp.
If you buy a domestic airline ticket on Hotwire, you'll fly on one of the following airlines:
Northwest Airlines doesn't participate with Priceline, so you'll probably have better luck finding low fares from Northwest hubs like Minneapolis and Detroit on Hotwire.com.
If you buy an international ticket on Hotwire, you'll fly on one of the following airlines:
Neither Priceline nor Hotwire uses low-fare airlines like Southwest, JetBlue, Independence Air, or Virgin USA, any of which may have the lowest fares for domestic flights.
Excerpted from Priceline.com For Dummies by Sascha Segan Excerpted by permission.
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