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Want to book an awesome vacation on the cheap? Learn the essentials on how to bid like a pro and score a deal on your next vacation!

One of our favorite things to do as a family is travel. Even with little ones in tow, it feels good to take a getaway and break up our routine.

However with raising our kids and working towards financial independence, we really have to be savvy with our trips.

We have a couple of family rules about travel.

  1. Family trips are debt free. We may put the trip on a credit card (can't stand those holds!), but we schedule a payment as soon as the reservation is made. 
  2. We save for trips. We like to transfer to our general savings accounts. This helps us with cash flow.
  3. We hunt for deals before booking our trips. Some work up front means we either save money on the trip costs or we upgrade a bit without spending more. 

There are many ways to snag vacation deals. I want to share one of our favorites – bidding.  

Scoring an Awesome and Cheap Vacation

If you've follow me on Twitter, from time to time, you may have seen something like this:

I just got a 3.5 star Hotel in Los Angeles, CA for $50 on Priceline!! Find it here: Thank you @TheNegotiator!!

(Yeah, I tweet out deals because I'm a money nerd.)

We've been using Priceline for years and have found it to be a relatively easy way to save some cash. 

Ben from Smart Money Life asked a great question about the quality of the hotel you get when you bid on Priceline.

Want to book an awesome vacation on the cheap? Learn the essentials on how to bid like a pro and score a deal on your next vacation!

I'd thought it would be great to explain a bit more about the Name Your Own Price feature and tell you how we use it for our vacations.

Bidding on Priceline

I think the biggest bonus to using the bid feature is that you can get a good hotel for about half price compared to the deals I see online.

We tend to choose 3 1/2 star or higher hotels and the bid feature gives us some big savings.

While you can get some solid deals with bidding, there are some cons that you should know and weigh before you use it.

  • You don't which hotel you're going to get until after you've booked
  • You may not get points for some hotel programs.
  • You can only specify a zone for the city you want to stay in.

As you can see, Priceline's bid feature isn't really for everyone. Some travelers are very specific about the hotel they want to stay in or they may want to accumulate some points.

Priceline has all the terms spelled out before you go ahead and make you bid, so please review them to see if this is something that you want.

How We Bid for Hotels on Priceline

We try to be reasonable with bidding and we'd rather pay a little more to get a good hotel than just go for the very cheapest hotel. Here are some ways in which we've successfully named our own price and got a great hotel.

  • We focus on 3 1/2 or higher hotels. Since we can't choose the exact hotel, we do this to maximize our chances of getting a solid hotel. You tend to find more savings at the higher star levels.
  • We are specific with the city zones. Again, since we don't know what hotel will accept our bid, we choose the neighborhoods and areas we'd love to be in.
  • We bid low and slowly increase. How much do you bid? My rule of thumb is to at least go half of Priceline's median price listed. We went lower than that for or hotel bid, just to see if we could get it accepted and we snagged our deal.

If you want to get an idea of successful bids, try Better Bidding.

Search for your city and see if anyone bid for the dates that you're traveling. Be mindful, though, that you may not find the exact dates you're looking for.

It helps to start bidding at least 4 weeks away from your trip since you can only bid once a day and your first bid may not be accepted.

Use Name Your Own Price for Car Rentals and Flights

We've found a great deal on a car rental by basically following the same strategy with starting low and slowly increasing our bids. We snagged a rental car for $13/day.

You can try it yourself here and save some serious money.

I thought that the car rental office would try to tack on more fees, but when we picked up the car we only had taxes and regular fees with it.

They honored the deal and we walked away with an upgrade from an economy to a midsize car.

We manage to save some money on our flights. Priceline asks if you're willing to make adjustments to either the time you leave or the connections you take. By adjusting our schedule, we were able to cut the bill in half.

If you know how to bid, Priceline vacations can give you more bang for your buck.

Your Thoughts on Planning a Vacation

I love reading about tips and advice on traveling well and saving money. Art of Non-Conformity has tons of posts and two good resources that are well worth a look.

If you hunt on the web, you can find some fantastic information on getting great deals on flights and travel.

What about you? Are you planning a vacation soon?

About Elle Martinez

Elle Martinez helps families at Couple Money achieve financial freedom by sharing tips for reducing debt, increase income, and building net worth. Learn how to live on one income and have fun with the second..

6 comments add your comment

  1. Hi, I’m a new Yakezie member and first time visitor here and thought I’d say hello. I like your priceline tips! I travel a ton and I don’t know why I never thought to use it for a rental car, but I will now!

    Another good tip for you that I find works 2/3’s of the time and just worked for me this past weekend in Vegas….when i check into a hotel I slide a $20 under my credit card, chat the clerk up a bit, and ask if they have any nice rooms. You usually don’t have to beat around the bush and they’ll just come out and tell you that they will take care of you. A simple $20 can get you an upgrade worth a hundred or more if you’re staying a few days. This works best in Vegas, but I’ve had success in other big cities as well.

  2. Elle,

    That’s a great deal! I’ve never used Priceline’s negotiation feature because I really didn’t understand it. This helps shed some light. I have a few questions:

    – When you negotiate, how long does the bidding period last? (for airline flights)
    – Is your bid money placed in some sort of escrow account?

    My concern is you wait too long trying to negotiate and pass up another deal.

    How does that work?

  3. This feature is awesome and people just don’t make enough use of it… Hopefully a few more people will try after reading this article.

  4. Thanks Forest; I hope this post is helpful to some people!

    @Car Negotiation Coach: I never considered that when checking in. That’s definitely a tip to try out when we go to Los Angeles. I’ll update here if it worked or not. 🙂

    @Lakita: Thanks for asking these great questions.
    – You can negotiate repeatedly for your airline tickets
    – If your bid is accepted, you’re immediately billed from your debt/credit card.

    One suggestion I’ve read (if you have the cash) is make a regular reservation and still hunt for great bid deal. With regular reservations, many times you can cancel them, while you cannot with Priceline.

    That’s not something I do, I just plan ahead and try to get a deal 30-60 days in advances. I use Bing Travel and other sights to see the trends in ticket prices.

  5. I booked a hotel room with Priceline and afterwards when I talked to a represntative I found out that I had to pay additional taxes at the hotel when I got there, also I found out by using Priceline some of the amenities may not be available. The next day I went to the hotel’s website to look at pictures and found the room would cheaper if I went through the hotel. I cancelled the priceline reservation and booked through the hotel, now I don’t have to worry about hidden fees, not being able to use the amenities, and I know my room floor plan.

  6. Priceline does not honor their “Best Price Guarantee”. If you find a cheaper booking price for the same room at the same hotel for the same dates they will only cancel the reservation through them. They are supposed to give the option to cancel and re-book, or to supply the difference of the rooms, and with both these options give you a $50.00 coupon for your next Priceline booking (they will not give you the coupon) although it is stated on their website under terms and conditions under their guarantee. PLEASE BE CAREFUL THEY WILL NOT HONOR THEIR “BEST PRICE GUARANTEE” Their response was to me aws it “just depends”……that was it “it just depends” on what, I don’t know.