Hotel costs can eat up a big portion of your family’s vacation budget. There’s a reason why so many people spend a lot of time reading reviews before finalizing their decision. The larger your travel group is, the longer your required amenities list is and the closer you want to be to the city center or major tourist attractions all play a big role in determining final hotel costs.
But there are ways you can reduce these costs by using bidding or blind booking sites like Priceline and Hotwire.
We’ve successfully used both in the past and have saved up to 20 to 45 percent on hotel rooms in New York, Chicago and San Francisco for our family of four. In some cases, you can save 60 percent of current rates. Here are our top tips on how you can reduce hotel costs with these two sites.
How Hotwire and Priceline Can Save You Money
While Hotwire and Priceline offer traditional hotel reservation services like Expedia, Travelocity, Booking.com, and Hotels.com, they also offer heavily discounted rates for budget-conscious families.
They can do this because they’ve negotiated prices with specific hotel suppliers and do not offer details about the hotel name and address until after your booking and payment has been processed.
The main benefit of booking blindly like this is that you can save tens if not hundreds of dollars on the hotel portion of your trip.
That being said, there are are several drawbacks when using Hotwire and Priceline’s bidding or opaque booking features.
Most bookings made under Hotwire’s Hot Rate Hotels, Priceline’s Name Your Own Price and Priceline’s Express Deals are non-refundable. So if you need to change your plans or cancel your trip, you’ll have to eat these costs.
Hotel loyalty program members looking to collect or redeem points for a specific hotel won’t be able to do so on Hotwire or Priceline.
If you’re willing to take a risk, here’s how you can save money on hotel bookings:
How to Use Hotwire’s Hot Rate Hotels
Whether you’re looking well in advance of your travel date or the day before, there will always be several hotels listed in Hotwire’s Hot Rate Hotels section. The hotels remain anonymous in order to give the lowest price during the booking process.
Below is an example of a search for a New York City hotel for a family of 4.
Choose your travel dates, the number of rooms you are looking for and the ages of guests in each room.
You can shorten the list of potential hotels by selecting specific amenities, hotel star rating, neighborhood and recommendation rating from TripAdvisor reviewers.
Clicking on an individual hotel leads you to a page with more details about the hotel – amenities, bed configurations, location boundaries and current rates for hotels nearby.
Prices may vary according to your bed choice.
We typically look for hotels within walking distance to attractions and sites we plan on visiting. The cost will be a bit higher but we save on not having to rent a car.
You’ll notice that the price book will follow you as you scroll down the page – they really want you to book!
If the hotel fits what you’re looking for, click the “Book now” button and enter your payment information. Hotel specifics (name and address) will be shown after your booking is confirmed and your credit card has been charged.
How to Use Priceline’s Express Deals
Priceline’s Express Deals is similar to Hotwire’s Hot Rate Hotels section – saving you up to 60 percent off current hotel rates without revealing the hotel’s information until after you book.
Priceline’s Express Deals differs from Hotwire’s Hot Rate Hotels as you can only enter your travel dates and the number of rooms you require to begin the search.
On the search results page, you can then shorten the list by selecting star rating, neighborhood, amenities, price range and guest rating.
Clicking on a specific hotel leads you to a page with information about the area, hotel amenities, and rates for different bed configurations.
You’ll see the breakdown of the costs as well as an option to purchase Trip Cancellation and Trip Interruption Protection.
To confirm your reservation, select your payment method (credit card or PayPal), billing address and credit card info (if choosing to pay by credit card).
Once payment has been processed, Priceline will reveal the exact hotel you’ve reserved.
How to Use Priceline’s Name Your Own Price
Bidding for hotels using Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” feature can save up to 60 percent on accommodations. While this isn’t a feature we use often – mainly because you’re bidding blindly without being able to select hotel amenities and bed configurations – this is a good option in certain situations.
Priceline’s Name Your Own Price only guarantees rooms that can accommodate two guests so if you’re a family of 3, you can take a chance and bid on a hotel and either request a rollaway bed or crib or bring a travel bed from home.
To start the bidding process, enter your city, travel dates and number of rooms required.
On the second page, select the neighborhood, star rating and then enter the price you’re willing to pay. To get an idea of what current rates are, use the link in the “Not Sure What to Bid?” box.
Enter your bid, your billing and payment details and click the “Buy My Hotel” button.
It may take a few minutes to see if it’s accepted.
If you’ve named a price that is too low for participating hotels, you’ll have to go back and rebid. You’ll need to enter bid amount, billing and payment details again – this can get a bit cumbersome and time-consuming.
If you’ve reached your maximum bid amount but still haven’t been matched with a hotel, consider changing some of your search parameters – either change the dates, hotel area or star level. Flexibility is key when using Priceline’s Name Your Price feature.
Once your bid is accepted, your credit card will be charged and the hotel will be revealed. Remember, once you click the “Buy My Hotel Now” button, your request and reservation cannot be changed, canceled, transferred or refunded.
Hotwire & Priceline – More Tips for Families
Hotwire and Priceline are very similar – they are guaranteed to save you money on accommodations – when it comes to “opaque” deals (when hotel details are revealed only after you’ve paid for your reservation).
Here are 7 things to keep in mind when using either site for your next family vacation:
1. You’re not going to get your money back
99.9% of bookings made through blind booking/bidding are non-refundable. You will not be able to make any changes (no date changes, bed configuration changes, or name changes) to your reservation once your payment is processed and the hotel is revealed to you. Priceline does offer Trip Cancellation and Trip Interruption Protection for guests booking an Express Deal hotel but it is very restrictive.
2. Popular destinations = Bigger discounts
Cities like Orlando and New York City (where families tend to flock to during school breaks or major holidays) generally have more hotels participating in Hotwire’s and Priceline’s opaque booking/bidding system and you’ll often see bigger discounts.
3. Forget about collecting loyalty/hotel points
You’re not going to be able to collect hotel or loyalty points for these bookings – there’s no way around it. If you’re not a huge points collector to begin with, then this isn’t a big deal breaker.
4. Good option for last minute travel or short stays
You’ll find the biggest discounts if you’re booking on the day of your arrival, a few days before your arrival or for very short stays. Hotels want to fill as many rooms as possible on any given day – even if it means giving a bigger discount for last minute guests or those staying for 1 or 2 nights.
Last November, we scored the Omni Berkshire Place in New York for 45% off. We were only in the city for 2 nights and we booked one week in advance. We weren’t picky about amenities – just location. We had an incredible stay and loved the hotel.
5. The process can be time-consuming
While finding a suitable hotel from Hotwire’s Hot Rate Hotels and Priceline’s Express Deals section is pretty straightforward (it may take a few minutes to narrow down your choices from the search results), Priceline’s Name Your Own Price feature can take up a lot of your time – sometimes even days if you keep having to rebid. Don’t late this deter you though, the savings are worth it.
6. Get other sites to guess the hotel
Hotel details aren’t revealed until your payment is processed but both Hotwire and Priceline give you some clues as to what hotel you might end up at. The hotel’s star rating, amenities, area and in the case of Hotwire – TripAdvisor reviews can narrow down the hotel list from several hundred to a handful.
Websites like BetterBidding.com, BiddingTraveler.com, and HotelDealsRevealed.com are pretty accurate when it comes to predicting what hotel you’ll get. Tip: if you can find a recent booking or bid with travel dates similar to your family’s travel dates, there’s a high probability you’ll end up with the same hotel.
7. Avoid blind booking and bidding if you have a specific hotel in mind
If there’s only one hotel that will work for your family’s upcoming trip, it’s best to avoid the “opaque” deals sections on Hotwire and Priceline. No amount of Googling or assistance from the sites mentioned above is 100% accurate.