I am going to take a big leap and say that pretty much everyone reading this blog loves scoring a great travel deal.  Up until a couple years ago one of the main ways that I scored great hotel deals was by using Priceline and Hotwire.  I would book four star hotels sometimes for $60-$70 a night or less.  For those who have not used these sites, both of them involve booking a hotel before knowing exactly which hotel you have booked.  It is a way for hotels to fill rooms that otherwise might have gone unsold at a discounted rate.  With Priceline you know the rating of the hotel (2-star, 3-star, etc…) and the part of the city it is located in,  but you don’t know the exact amenities the hotel has.  With Hotwire, you know the star rating, the area of town, and the amenities.  In both cases the reservations are non-refundable nor changeable, and you typically do not earn points for these types of stays.

I used to have so much fun trying to “decode” which hotels I was likely bidding on by looking at the amenities, location, and by using websites that would list recent hotels that were booked using Hotwire or Priceline.  Once I thought I had figured out what hotel I was booking, I would take a deep breath and hit “reserve/bid/etc…”  Booking a hotel in this manner gave me a rush similar to the one I would get when gambling in Vegas!  Fortunately, I usually ended up with a pretty good hotel (and often it was the hotel I hoped it would be), but I have not used either of those sites more than once in almost two years.  I’ll talk more in a minute about why I don’t use these sites frequently these days, but even though I don’t often use them they are still good options in certain situations.  They are also pretty bad options in some situations – more on that in a minute, too.

A couple of weeks ago I was emailing back and forth with Randy Greencorn who runs the site HotelDealsRevealed.com.  During our email conversation it dawned on me that I have never posted about Hotwire or Priceline.  Instead of just sharing my somewhat limited knowledge of those two sites, I asked Randy to share some of his expert info on both of those sites, and the pros and cons of using them for families.  Luckily, he agreed, so here is some of the information that he shared with me.

Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got involved with running a website that is devoted to Hotwire and Priceline?

I am a big travel enthusiast and the creator of HotelDealsRevealed.com, an online community forum dedicated to Priceline and Hotwire travel products.  Prior to having kids, my wife and I used to travel quite extensively.  We now have three kids, and while we still love to travel, it means stretching our travel dollars as far as possible.  I’m the type of person that likes to spend a lot of time surfing the internet for the best deals, and more often than not, I found Priceline and Hotwire had the best prices on hotel accommodations.
Around the same time I discovered Hotwire and Priceline, I was looking for a hobby that I could do from my home in the evenings after my kids were in bed.  I also had a computer science degree that I wasn’t using extensively in my day job.  Digging a little deeper into Priceline and Hotwire, I realized that there were a lot of people using these sites and that the internet could help us share information with each other.  This lead me to the idea of creating an online community dedicated to Hotwire and Priceline.
 What are some ways in which Hotwire and Priceline can really help families traveling on a budget?
In most cases, Hotwire or Priceline can really help families save on accommodations.  There are cheaper options such as camping and hostels, but for a typical family wanting a hotel room, Hotwire or Priceline are tough to beat. As a general rule, hotels are usually at least 20 to 30% cheaper on Hotwire and Priceline than other travel sites, and in many cases the discount is over 50%.  The biggest discounts tend to be around popular travel destinations where lots of hotels compete with one another, such as Orlando, Anaheim, Las Vegas, and most major airports.  For example, I’ve seen the 4-star Westin Diplomat hotel on the beach in Fort Lauderdale go for just $33 per night.
Hotwire and Priceline offer other travel products such as car rentals and flights.  I generally don’t see a lot of savings on car rentals, but there are some great airfare bargains from time to time.  For instance, in March of 2011, I was able to find a flight from Las Vegas to Long Beach, CA for just $19 per person.  Despite the occasional deal, families should be aware that if you book a flight on Priceline, you could get stuck with late evening departure time.
 What are some downsides for families who use Hotwire or Priceline?
Probably the biggest downside of using Hotwire or Priceline is the fact that hotel reservations are non-refundable.   There are lots of reasons you may have to cancel or change your travel plans — particularly if you are traveling with kids.  Their policies are fairly straight forward — no cancellations, no changes, and very rarely do they make exceptions.  Depending on the certainty of travel plans, some families who use Hotwire or Priceline purchase additional trip cancellation insurance.
Another downside is that fact that you don’t know which hotel you’re going to get until after you purchase.  If you want a particular hotel or exact location, it’s better to avoid Priceline or Hotwire.
Is either Priceline or Hotwire better than the other?  In which situations should you choose one over the other?
For families, Hotwire is usually better than Priceline for a few reasons.  First, when using Priceline for hotel reservations, you don’t know the hotel amenities until after you reserve your non-refundable room.  This is quite a risk.  When traveling with my family, we almost always want to have a swimming pool, and preferably, complimentary breakfast.  There is no way of knowing this in advance on Priceline, and since reservations are non-refundable, you could be in for a big disappointment.  If a particular amenity is a must-have, go with Hotwire.
Another disadvantage of Priceline is that they only guarantee a maximum occupancy of 2 people.  Many people take a chance and reserve on Priceline even though they have 3 or 4 people in their party.  In most cases, this isn’t a problem and the hotel will gladly accommodate the larger party.  However, if you check in late and the hotel is running near full capacity, you could be out of luck.
Both of these happened to me during Spring Break 2011.  My family booked the Westgate Hotel in San Diego for an irresistible $63 per night.  When we arrived, we learned that the hotel didn’t have a swimming pool and they only had a room with a single king bed.  My daughters (aged 4, 4 and 7 at the time) made the most of it by sleeping in a fort made of blankets on the floor (we were there for 3 nights).  We also snuck into the pool at the hotel next to ours a couple of times.
 What are some tips related to using Priceline and Hotwire?
Families can really save a lot of money on travel by using Priceline or Hotwire, but they really need to educate themselves around how these sites work and their policies.  It’s worth checking out some ‘helper’ websites such as the one I created — HotelDealsRevealed.com — to figure out how they work.  It is also important to know when to avoid using Priceline or Hotwire.  Generally, if you have a bit of flexibility with your hotel location, Hotwire and Priceline are worth trying.  Use Priceline for the deepest discounts.  Use Hotwire if you want the guarantee of certain hotel amenities and a room that will accommodate more than two people.
Mommy Points Analysis:
I haven’t used Priceline or Hotwire much in the last two years because now that I am traveling with a young family, I need to know exactly where I am going.  I don’t want to leave anything to chance (well, any more to chance that it already is with a toddler!)  in our travel right now.  I also like to earn miles and points for my travel, and Priceline or Hotwire stays typically don’t earn points.  Since I have points to use, I often use points in situations where hotel costs are high, so I don’t often have the need to use Priceline or Hotwire these days.  However, if I were traveling without my toddler, rates were really high where I was going, and I was either low on points, or rooms on points aren’t available, then I would again turn to Priceline or Hotwire.  My last Hotwire use landed me in the Hard Rock Hotel in Chicago for about half of what the going rate was for that night.  I had a bunch of fun at that hotel and it was exactly the hotel I hoped I would get.  I don’t want to paint a bad picture of Hotwire or Priceline, because I have had some great successes from using them, they just don’t usually meet my traveling needs currently.
If you are going to book using one of those sites, make sure to check out Randy’s site, and other similar ones, so that you can have a full understanding of how the process works, and you can have a better chance at knowing on which hotel you are actually bidding.
Do you use Hotwire or Priceline when traveling with your family?  What tips do you have to help ensure a successful booking?

Posted by Mommy Points | 15 Comments

15 Responses to “Hotwire and Priceline For Families, Yay or Nay?”

  1. Steve says:

    Like you, I’ve stayed away from Priceline and Hotwire in general since we began taking our kids with us everywhere, but I have found the odd occasion where they work well for us. We used them at Hyatt Valencia this summer when their lowest available rate was $169 a night but Hotwire had them for $77. We were unable to get connecting rooms, which was a little disappointing but not a deal breaker. The key for us was that Hyatt still honors Diamond benefits on Hotwire stays, so we sacrificed points for the savings, yet still got the free breakfast, internet, and we even got the welcome amenity. For almost $200 per night (2 rooms) it was a great trade off for us. Like you though, I prefer to have a little more control over where I take my kids.
    I do appreciate sites like Randy’s that make it possible to figure out what hotel you’re going to get before you click accept though. That to me makes Priceline & Hotwire at least worthy of consideration when planning a trip.

  2. Kelly S says:

    I agree you have to be careful about “occupancy” especially with Priceline. When my son was a toddler we always took along his “thomas the train blow up bed”…which rolled up and was easy to carry. But only on car trips! That way if we got stuck with a king (and is did happen) we didn’t have to share the bed!

    I had a friend that had 3 kids book a hotel on Priceline. I told her she needed to get 2 rooms…but she wanted to save and figured the kids could share a bed. She threw a fit when she checked in late and all they had were kings! She was mad at the hotel and at Priceline! She was sure they had double beds but I explained to her they probably had guests confirmed to need doubles that paid normal price and were holding rooms for them. She even tried to call Priceline and demand her money back since she had to go someplace else that night! It was a mess…

    Now that my son is 8 I am very careful about Priceline. Especially if I know we are coming in late. And I realize we might all get stuck sharing a king size bed so I would only use it for a one or two night trip!!

  3. Kashyap says:

    I would like to add my two cents here.
    One thing you can be sure of, when booking on Priceline(booking/bidding) is that you always get a room on the lower level with them which is not the same on hotwire.

  4. thegasguru says:

    All I want to know is: does DaddyPoints have enough miles to go to Kansas City and apply for the Chiefs coaching job?

    • mommypoints says:

      @thegasguru, ha ha. I actually just told him that news and he was very excited about the coach getting canned. I think I should earn points for knowing the news before him! Ha ha. ;)

  5. Gary says:

    +1

    I agree that even Hotwire and Priceline are good, they are not for all occasions.

  6. Brendan says:

    I find the following sites to be at least as helpful as the referenced site, and they all handle non-US and Canadian destinations. Betterbidding.com. Biddingfortravel.com. Biddingtraveler.com.

  7. mike P says:

    We just used priceline to book a 4 star hotel near Disneyland for $71! In general, we try to book through priceline bid your own price. We usually get great hotels well within our budget. When we travel to areas with high hotel prices, such as DC and NYC, or need to be in a certain location, we use our SPG points.

    We did have one horror story with priceline, where we got a 3.5 star hotel that had paper thin walls and noisy neighbors. Not priceline’s fault!

    In general, a pretty good option for traveling with the family. Great rooms for cheap(er).

  8. mommypoints says:

    @Gary, I totally agree.

    @Brendan, I agree there are several similar great sites out there. I have used several of those myself as well. Thanks!

    @mike P, sounds like a pretty good strategy with SPG points and Priceline. Good job on the awesome Disneyland hotel deal! Thanks for sharing.

  9. Raj B says:

    Like everything else, you need to research and cross-checking. I’ve had several successful bookings for my family:

    1) Priceline – Seattle airport – 3.0 stars –> Doubletree Seattle Airport @ $55.00/nt for 1 room, 4-people total, before a cruise. Huge family suite, w/ king bedroom, living room w/ 2 double beds & 2 full baths.
    2) Hotwire – Seattle downtown 3.5 stars –> Crowne Plaza @ 95.00/nt for 4 rooms, 14-people total, before a cruise. Nice rooms w/ 2 double beds.
    3) Hotwire – Montreal airport 2.5 stars –> Quality Suites @ 49.00/nt for 3 rooms & 3 nights, 12-people total, for a wedding. Super large rooms w/ separate bedroom.
    4) Priceline – Paris airport 4.0 stars –> Marriott CDG @ 75.00/nt for 1 room, 4-people total, for 1-day stopover on the way to India. Very nice room w/ 2 double beds.

    Happy hunting!

  10. Tom says:

    Agree with Kelly. You nailed it exactly. If you bid on Priceline, you take a chance. Show up early and it won’t always be a problem (except in Europe and maybe NYC). But there’s risk involved for sure. Don’t blow a gasket when the front desk staff tells you all they have is a king :-)

  11. I have generally had very good luck booking rooms on Hotwire and Priceline for family travel. When traveling with kids, the key factor for our family is the availability of a swimming pool. After a long day in the car, it really helps to let the kids blow off steam in the swimming pool. With a little research –you can often figure out which hotel is a likely prospect on Priceline. If you insist on a pool, Hotwire is a safer bet, or the new semi-opaque site on Priceline that reveals amenities. We have almost always secured rooms with 2 beds. The time we didn’t, the hotel provided a rollaway for our daughter. The one exception was a hotel in NYC where the room was no bigger than a postage stamp!

  12. Randy says:

    Hi everyone,

    Since this blog article came out, Priceline has released “Express Deals” which takes aim at Hotwire’s advantages mentioned in the article above. Specifically, you can see the hotel amenities and no bidding required (just like Hotwire).

    However, unlike Hotwire, you cannot specify how many people you need a room for. Instead Priceline Express Deals sometimes offers you a “Bed Choice” whereby you can choose 2 beds. Unfortunately, “Bed Choice” is seldom offered on Priceline Express Deals. Maybe 1 in 10 hotels have “Bed Choice”. While it’s worth checking out, Hotwire still seems to be the better choice for families with kids.

    Randy Greencorn
    http://www.hoteldealsrevealed.com

  13. Scott says:

    Honestly, there are limitations to these blind-booking discount sites and you’re getting a discount for a reason–you don’t know the hotel, location and exact room information before booking. You need to do your research and diligence before booking and know what you’re getting into. This article is very helpful for giving people information in case they don’t read or believe the fine print on these sites. You also have to be willing to be flexible and a little less picky about what you’ll get.

    I find situations like mentioned by Kelly about her friend who booked thru priceline and then demanded two beds in her room very aggravating. The friend clearly had unrealistic expectations, and just ignored the fine print and Kelly’s advice to her. Imo, it was absolutely their own fault for getting into the awkward situation especially after being warned by Kelly. I hate being the person in line behind someone like that who has unrealistic expectations, holds up the line, and makes a stink over their own stupidity. It’s self-centered and entitled–and no one owes them the best room when they’re paying for the worst room.

    Also be aware that you may not be allowed to just sneak extra people into a room that was not designed for that many people in all cases. Hotels designate rooms for a certain number of people and it helps them control wear and tear and cleaning costs by having a maximum occupancy per room. You may be kicked out of a hotel for lodging extra guests in your room that the hotel is unaware of.

    In some cases there are municipal fire codes that limit occupancy numbers based on room size, number of stairwells for exits, etc. The hotel may be liable for allowing extra guests to lodge in rooms that are not meant for that capacity.

    I can understand wanting to get a good deal, but families should look at this article and read the fine print before booking–and not expect something they’re not going to get. Being frugal is one thing, but if these services don’t meet your needs then don’t use them. Don’t use a service that doesn’t meet your needs and then throw a fit when something perfectly predictable happens–that is your own fault, not priceline’s or the hotels.

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