There are numerous online companies that claim you can “search one site” and quickly and easily get the “absolute lowest price” on a hotel stay. In addition to online searching sites, most hotels also guarantee that they will give you the lowest price if you book directly with them.
Although booking directly with a hotel can occasionally yield a really great deal, typically neither of these methods are the best way to really get the lowest price on a hotel. From my experience, it’s still sites like Priceline.com and Hotwire.com.
What I like about Priceline and Hotwire is that they really do get hotels for less than anyone else. But you usually have to do it “name unknown”. In other words, you don't know the exact hotel you'll be staying at until you've committed and booked. And it's non-refundable.
However, for lack of a better term, there are ways to “hack” their hotel price listings. What I mean is simply this: You can be pretty certain, and sometimes absolutely positive, what hotel you’re going to get before you complete your “name hidden” purchase. To hack sites like Priceline and Hotwire take a bit of time, and a lot of concentration while you compare, but removing nearly all of the trepidation of purchasing “name unknown” is totally worth it.
Priceline and Hotwire operate a bit differently but are very similar. In this article, I’ll use Priceline terms specifically, but the principles and techniques to hack Priceline can easily be applied to Hotwire.
When you're ready to hotel shop, open Tripadvisor.com in one tab first, search for the hotels list in your area of travel, and just leave it there for now. The reason for this is so you can look up the hotel reviews on Tripadvisor while you're narrowing down your choices from Priceline. You'll want to make sure you're getting the quality you want before completing your hotel stay purchase.
Next, open Priceline.com in another tab and choose the hotel section. Input your travel city, your dates, and the number of rooms you need. Priceline will start by giving you the standard low price they list for hotels, in a list simply named “All Hotels”. By each hotel name, you'll also get the general area the hotel is located within, the hotel's star rating, user rating, and more. Those exact details are your keys to figuring out which hotels are which when you're ready to shop a lower price, without the names revealed.
Now, look at the “Express Deals” tab in Priceline. It will be a smaller list, but as you begin to look through the Express Deals, you can now narrow the hotels by matching the things you know from the “All Hotels” list Priceline gives you.
- The specific area
- The specific star rating
- The guest rating
- The hotel’s amenities, such as whether or not they have free WiFi, free parking, free breakfast, a pool, fitness area, and so forth.
- The original price, and percentage saved, revealed by the Express Deal price
- And the mapped general area the hotel is guaranteed to be located within
By carefully comparing all these clues, back and forth between the “All Hotels” list and the “Express Deals” list, you can usually figure out which hotel is which. Of course, your certainty can vary some, especially if you are looking at a huge metropolitan area. But you can usually still narrow it down to a couple possibilities, so you can book with confidence.
Now, to pinpoint the hotel you definitely want to book for your stay, cross-reference to your ready Tripadvisor page. Using the hotel name that is revealed on the “All Hotels” list, look up your possibilities and finalize your stay choice based on reviews.
Now that you’re sure you know which hotel it is, and you’ve cross-referenced that hotel in Tripadvisor, you can buy your stay with confidence. But before you do, one last step to save even more: Log into a site like Ebates.com to get cash back on your Priceline purchase. And don’t forget to double-check Retailmenot.com for potential coupon codes before completing your purchase and packing your bags!
A question you might have: But what about bidding?
You can also try bidding, especially if you have at least a week before you leave, and that may work to save you a little bit more. But I will tell you, often the Express Deals are already pretty close to, if not exactly, the lowest amount a hotel will take anyway – and using Express Deals is the way you’ll narrow down what hotel you’re getting with a bit more confidence.