Travel

Tips From Priceline Pros

Here's how to get a good deal on a four-star hotel.

With the Fourth of July approaching, you might be thinking about a weekend getaway -- if it can fit into your budget, that is. My husband, kids and I are big fans of short trips to nearby cities. Luckily, we live in an area where several large cities worth visiting are about a 4-hour drive away (which eliminates the need for pricey airline tickets). And we keep hotel costs under control by using Priceline.

I know what you're thinking: Isn't it risky to use Priceline because you don't know what hotel you're getting until your credit card is charged and the deal is done?

Not really. You just have to know how to work the system. My husband frequently uses Priceline and always manages to score at least 35% to 40% off nice hotels in good parts of major cities. Kiplinger Editorial Director Kevin McCormally also is an avid Priceline user, especially when booking rental cars. He recently scored a full-size rental car for a week in Palm Beach, Fla., for $243 through Priceline, which said the lowest published rate on that vehicle was $590.

To be clear, they use Priceline's "Name Your Own Deal" service when booking at least three-star, but primarily four-star accommodations. If you opt for a lower rating, the price might be right but the hotel could be a dump. When naming your own price at Priceline, you can select an area of town where you want to stay and pick a star level. You do not get a list of hotels from which to choose -- you get the hotel that accepts your bid.

Here are their strategies:

Do some research first

-- Visit Yahoo! Travel to identify desirable neighborhoods in big cities.

-- Check the Web sites of hotels in those neighborhoods to see what the going rates are (don't rely solely on prices published at travel sites, such as Hotels.com or Expedia).

-- Learn about winning Priceline bids for hotels in the city you plan to visit at BiddingForTravel.com, a message board that also has answers to frequently asked questions about Priceline.

Ensure a winning bid

-- Use the "Name Your Own Price" tool at Priceline.com, not the site's general hotel search.

-- Determine which areas have four-star hotels -- and those that do not. Click on one area at a time and scroll down to step 2 to see whether four-star hotels are available there.

-- Select only ONE area that has a four-star rating and enter the lowest bid you think might be accepted (the minimum for four star is $40). If your bid is rejected, you'll be allowed to bid again as long as you change at least one of your search criteria.

-- Increase your bid slightly and add an area where you know there are no four-star hotels. You can continue doing this until you run out of areas to select.

The drawback to using Priceline is that it only guarantees a room with double occupancy, so you'll likely get a king-sized bed. If you're traveling with children, you might have to pay extra once you get to your hotel to get a room with two double beds.

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