Monday, August 24, 2009

Money Monday: Saving Money on Hotel Stays (Priceline Review)

On Friday, I wrote about eating on road trips and many of the tips I gave also will help your budget. Today, I will share how we saved money on our hotel stays, including the cute lodge-type hotel, Oasis Inn(review in upcoming post), we stayed at in Oacoma/Chamberlain, SD.

I can sum this up in one word: Priceline. I had grabbed some of the motel coupon booklets from the rest stops and checked their prices. They were definitely reasonable, but I wanted to see if using Priceline and their Name-Your-Own Price feature could get us a better deal. We were in South Bend, IN (actually Mishawaka, IN) and I learned that the Martin's grocery store offered free WiFi (more on this in a later post), so we stopped there and I went to work. I told Priceline that I wanted a 3 star hotel for $5 less than the cheapest motel price in the coupon book. They accepted my price and we stayed at a really nice Courtyard by Marriott in the business area of Mishawaka. The next day, we found the motel that we would have stayed at if Priceline had fallen through. It was run down and was located in a not-so-nice area of town. Now, we could have saved more money by offering less on a 1 star hotel, but we had decided we wanted a nicer place to stay. It is all up to what is important to you. We had similar luck in several other cities as well, such as Salt Lake City, Boise, and Orlando (on a different trip).

Some tips when using Priceline, Name-Your-Own Price feature:

- You can use this feature to get a room for the same night as long as it is before 11PM EST. After 11PM, you can only request a room for future nights. It is important to remember that it is EST as well. We had gotten used to being able to get a room at 9PM at night, but when we went looking for a room near Seattle at 9PM, we were unable to use the Name-Your--Own Price feature. You can still use their discounted prices though and those are still decent. The hotel pictured above was booked through their discounted price around 11PM CST for a total price of $77, higher than I like, but breakfast was included and we were there at the end of Sturgis week, when prices are high.

- Be reasonable in your request. Priceline will tell you the average price for the type of hotel you are requesting in that area. By all means offer less, but don't offer too little or it will be rejected. If your price is rejected, you will need to either change your location, date(s) of stay, or number of stars for the hotel you want. In bigger cities, changing the location is often easy as they divide the city into several areas and you can just choose another area (they still look in the original area as well), but in smaller cities and towns, you will often not be able to change your location without choosing another city/town all together. If you exhaust all your options, you can still use their "regular" discounted prices.

- Only choose one area and the top number of stars you want for your first request. This gives you some wiggle room if your offer is rejected. If you choose a 2-star, they automatically will check for star levels above that. It is nice, but if your price is rejected, you will have to choose a lower star level than you originally chose.

- Understand that you do not get to pick your exact hotel, only the area and star level, when you name your own price. If you have a hotel loyalty card, you cannot use it.

- You are guaranteed a room for 2 adults. Bed size and smoking preference are assigned at check-in. We were able to get what we wanted every time (2 beds, non-smoking). Many hotels also offer cribs/Pack N' Plays, just ask at check-in. Also, if traveling with children, some hotels offer a king-size bed with a sleeper sofa. This is much nicer for the adults than 2 double beds;0)

- Be prepared to pay more than your offered price. Taxes and Priceline's fees tend to run about $12-$14 on a $50-$75 room. Also, in the more upscale hotels, breakfast is not always included so be prepared to buy it. Parking is also sometimes an additional cost, but in the many times we have used Priceline, we have only ended up paying for parking three times and it was in big cities (Orlando, Chicago, and Salt Lake City). The plus is, it is often a patrolled-lot or a parking garage. The total amount is still less than you would have paid normally. If you do not want to have to pay for breakfast or parking, choose hotels that are 2-star or less, as the majority of them tend to include breakfast and rarely charge for parking.

- Use Priceline's Name-Your-Own Price for other travel needs as well. You can Name-Your-Own price for flights and car rentals as well. They also offer discounted prices on cruises, vacation packages, and attractions.

- If you have time, research your other options as well so you know at what price to walk away from naming your own price. Not every hotel uses Priceline and I have yet to find a bed-and-breakfast listed on there. It is possible that you could find other acceptable options on your own or through other travel web sites, especially if you are not able, or choose not, to use the Name-Your-Own Price option.

What tips do you have for saving money on hotels? Do you have any great deals you have snagged through Priceline or other travel websites?

Side note- Although this seems to be an all out commercial for Priceline, I was not asked by Priceline or anyone else to write it. This is my opinion and is all based on my actual experiences. I have not been paid for this review and we paid for all our stays on our own.

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