Fisherman's Wharf

J ust because something doesn't do what you planned it to do doesn't mean it's useless. -- Thomas A. Edison

I've gone to great lengths to explain how to save money on hotel rooms by naming your own price on Priceline. Clearly, I'm a believer. But, I will freely admit that bidding for hotel rooms using Priceline does not work in all situations. Search the web even just a little bit and you will find plenty of Priceline "horror" stories - all ending with the author stating that they will never use Priceline again - and neither should you.

Truth? Baseless? Well, somewhere in between, actually. Basically, it depends on your personality and circumstances. So, I present to you the following list. Do NOT name your own price for a hotel room on Priceline if...

You need a specific hotel

With Priceline, you are bidding on a general zone, which may contain dozens of hotels that match your bid criteria. Therefore, (ignoring power users) you won't know which specific hotel you'll end up winning.

You need a room with two separate beds or want a room with a single king/queen bed

Priceline guarantees that you'll be awarded a room with double occupancy. That's it. This may mean two beds or one bed, maybe even one full/double size bed in certain older hotels. (The 4-star 100+ year-old St. Francis hotel in San Francisco is a well-known example of this.) Most hotels use the standard room configurations of either one king size bed or two doubles. But, there are exceptions. If you are traveling with someone who you don't feel comfortable sharing a bed with, either bid for separate rooms or don't bid at all.

You need a smoking/non-smoking room

In the United States, smoking rooms are hard to come by. So, for non-smokers targeting the US, you should be fine. However, if you are targeting a city in Europe or other non-US city, you might get stuck in a smoking room. If you are targeting 4-star hotels and better (considering that the higher quality levels are populated with a lot of chains such as Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, Sheraton, etc.), regardless of locale, your odds of getting a non-smoking room are pretty good.

Do NOT name your own price for a hotel room on Priceline if...

There's a decent chance you'll need to cancel your stay or change your check-in/check-out dates

Priceline is unforgiving. Priceline will not refund a successful bid. If you need to cancel your trip or change your dates because of a death, illness, or schedule conflict, don't expect Priceline to provide you any relief. Also, you must check-in on your check-in date or you risk losing your reservation. You can't check-in a day (or more) late.

Priceline offers you the option to purchase travel insurance during the bid process, but I can't offer any advice regarding this. Personally, I find the terms and exclusions for all travel insurance to be full of way too many gotcha's.

You are targeting a city that Priceline doesn't cover well

If you are trying for a hotel in a big metropolitan city in the United States, you're good to go. But, take a look at Warsaw, Poland and you get one zone.

Priceline bidding for Warsaw, Poland only shows one zone.

Try Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and you don't even get a map.

Priceline bidding for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil shows no map.

Small cities and towns suffer similarly. Without multi-zone coverage, you lose the ability to re-bid by adding unmatchable zones. And, without good coverage, you lose the ability to research past successful bids. You can definitely bid on these cities, but you'll be going into it a little blind. Just be aware.

You think your successful bid should be your total cost

Don't get over-enamored with your bid. Priceline will add various taxes and fees to your bid amount. They aren't exorbitant, but they are noticeable enough that they may turn a great price into just a good price, or maybe even a somewhat bad price. Priceline will show you this total price before allowing you to commit to a bid, but bidders tend to gloss over it.

Priceline bidding total includes taxes and fees.

Do NOT name your own price for a hotel room on Priceline if...

You're easily flustered, prone to making mistakes, or in a hurry when bidding

Priceline is unforgiving. (It's worth repeating.) Once you submit a winning bid, there is no going back. And they make the process just convoluted enough that it breeds mistakes, especially if you are in a hurry. You need to double-check every step and do your research, especially regarding the zones, their boundaries, and what quality levels they contain.

You are bidding on lower quality star levels and are picky

There is no universal guidelines when it comes to hotel star levels. Priceline uses their own grading, which may not align with your expectations. And that doesn't even take non-US hotels into account, where standards are somewhat lower. If you bid on anything lower than 4-stars, be prepared to be a little unimpressed with what you get. Generally speaking, you should only venture down into the sub-4-star levels once you get some successful bids and stays under your belt.

You expect to be treated like you paid full price, even though you got a deal

Officially, you should not be discriminated against because of the fact that you obtained your hotel room via a Priceline bid. Unofficially, you very well might be. After all, hotels are run by people, not robots. While not systemic, individual hotel properties and/or employees may take it upon themselves to make you suffer a bit in exchange for (what they consider) you "getting away with something".

Stories abound of winning bidders being given the smallest rooms in the hotel, next to the freight elevator or ice machine, denied routine perks, and/or treated a little rudely. Personally, the worst I've had happen is getting put in a small room in a boutique hotel in San Francisco - next to the freight elevator. πŸ˜› But, I got it for a great price. In my mind, no biggie. You may feel otherwise.

Furthermore, if something bad happens (such as the hotel getting overbooked) and some guests need to be turned away, as a Priceline bidder, don't be surprised if you get the short end of the stick. In such a situation, the hotel will probably favor those guests that booked directly through the hotel or their parent. And why shouldn't they? You, the Priceline bidder, treated the hotel like a commodity. As such, don't be surprised if they treat you like a number.

Do NOT name your own price for a hotel room on Priceline if...

You think there's a good chance you'll need help from Priceline customer service

If you search the web just a tiny bit, you'll find plenty of horror stories about disgruntled Priceline "name your own price" customers being treated rudely (if at all) by Priceline customer service. They won't offer any help, hope, or sympathy. Expect the worst and you won't be disappointed.

You don't want to do your homework

Priceline is unforgiving. (I can't say it enough.) You need to pay attention to their rules and read up on Priceline beyond priceline.com. Of course, simply by reading this article and other posts on this blog, you are doing just that. πŸ˜ƒ

Naming your own price for a hotel using Priceline is a fantastic way to save money, but, sometimes, you just shouldn't do it. If any of these circumstances I've listed above apply to you, don't use Priceline to bid on your hotel. At the very least, think twice.

Have you had a bad experience bidding for a hotel on Priceline? Did your situation fall outside any of the circumstances I've listed here? Please let me know in the comments.