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Don't be a sucker and pay full price for a hotel room

Ever notice when a woman receives a compliment on a dress or shoes, she will often blurt out something like: "$15, Steinmart!"

Well, that's me with Priceline.

"How was your trip to D.C.?"

"Great. I stayed in a 4-star downtown hotel for $60. Priceline."

My addiction started with booking hotels for my kids' baseball tournaments. Next I was booking rooms for quick family getaways. Last summer, I booked rooms all the way up the East Coast for a family vacation.

My kids are now hotel snobs.

"How many stars is the hotel?" my 8-year-old son asked recently when I told him of plans for an overnight staycation in St. Pete Beach. Anything less than 3 stars, he wasn't interested.

The point is, I'm all about the Priceline. I like the savings.

And truth be told: I like the game.

Put on that thinking cap

Priceline is a thinking man's game. Any dope can book a discount room at Hotels.com.

Priceline requires strategy. Because at Priceline, you bid the price, and the computer hums while it checks to see whether any hotels in its inventory will accept it.

Don't be intimidated. Poke around the site worry free. You won't risk a charge to your credit card until you actually submit a bid. Like painting, it's all about the prep work. To start, put in your destination and dates of travel; then hit search.

Priceline kicks out a list of hotels in the general area, and you can pick a specific hotel and purchase it immediately at Priceline's listed discount price. But that's not why you're here. You want the "Name Your Own Price" option.

Click it, and now you're in the game.

Starting your strategy

Here's the deal: You can't pick what hotel you want to bid on. You can only specify a geographic zone and the minimum star rating. If your bid is accepted, you bought it. So don't bid if you have commitment issues.

This is where the strategy comes in. Peruse that list of hotels provided when you first punched in your destination city.

Note that the Priceline inventory often changes depending on what date you enter. Filter the list to take a look at the hotels by star rating. Try narrowing the list to just 3-1/2 or 4-star hotels. In many zones, you will find there are only one or two hotels that fit the bill.

Now you have a pretty good idea of what you're bidding on and how much you'd pay if you went the buy-it-now route.

You obviously want to bid lower than that.

So how much should you bid? Priceline gives a little guidance, indicating next to the box for your bid the median retail price for hotels that meet your criteria.

Be careful.

For example, there might be two 4-star hotels in the Priceline inventory of the area you have chosen, but one goes for $400 and one for $250. Assume you are bidding on the lower-priced hotel and bid accordingly.

The nitty-gritty

Okay, for this next insider tip, I feel like I better whisper. You can game the system by going to one of several sites where people share the amount of their winning bids, by city/hotel/star rating: betterbidding.com and biddingfortravel.com

This next part is important, too. If your bid fails, Priceline requires you to wait 24 hours before rebidding … unless you change a date of travel, city or zone, or lower your star-level requirement.

If you bid for 3-star or better, you can't bid again immediately for a 4-star hotel in the same zone, even with a higher bid amount. But you can start at a higher star threshold and if you get denied, immediately make a bid for hotels with a lower star rating. And you can adjust your price if you want.

The same with zones. If there are several zones, don't click them all in your first bid. Start with your preferred zone and if your bid is rejected, bid again immediately by adding a new zone. It's all about giving yourself more bids and flexibility to change your bid amount without having to wait another 24 hours.

Don't be a sucker!

Confused? Let BiddingTraveler.com do the work. On this site, you can pick your lowball offer and the most you're willing to pay. Click on the automatic bidding button and let the system work the combinations.

A couple disclaimers. You are bidding on a room with a queen size bed or two doubles. Normally the hotel will give you the option when you arrive. But if they are booked solid, you may not get a choice. Same thing with a smoking versus non-smoking room. Also, some hotels charge a resort or parking fee, and that will be charged separately and in addition to whatever you bid.

And remember: Only suckers pay retail.

Check out all our great money-saving tips and share your own at tampabay.com/heresthedeal or on Facebook at Here's the Deal Tampa Bay. Follow us on Twitter @heresthedealFL or e-mail us at heresthedeal@sptimes.com.

Help for bidders

What's a good opening bid? Do some homework on the web.

On betterbidding.com and biddingfortravel.com, people share their winning bids. So you can see what hotel (and star rating) people got in your destination city recently.

Another website, BiddingTraveler.com, goes further. You can pick a bid range and allow the system to submit a series of bids on your behalf, starting with your lowball offer in the zone you'd most like to stay in.

About the deals

In these tight times, we know everyone needs to save where they can. We're here to help with Here's the Deal, our new money-saving feature. In this space every Monday you'll find advice for frugal living — from couponing for groceries to negotiating down medical debt to learning how to do work yourself instead of paying someone else. Can't wait until next week?

Check out all our great money-saving tips and share your own at tampabay.com/heresthedeal; on Facebook at Here's the Deal Tampa Bay; or follow us on Twitter at @HeresTheDealFL.

Don't be a sucker and pay full price for a hotel room 07/01/11 [Last modified: Friday, July 1, 2011 10:04pm]

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