I recently booked a hotel room in downtown Toronto. It was for my wife and I to have a short getaway, while my Mom looked after the kids. It wasn’t the most frugal thing we’ve ever done, but it was well worth the money.
A friend of mine told me to try PriceLine – it’s a travel site where you can bid for things like hotel rooms and hopefully get a discount off the regular rate. It sounded like a neat idea, so I used it to book our hotel room.
Set up an account
If you don’t already have an account, go to priceline.com and sign up. In order to put in a valid bid, you must be signed into your account and have a credit card registered in “my profile”.
How it works
The hotels have a “floor” price for any available rooms. If your bid is below the lowest floor price, it will get rejected.
If your bid is rejected, you can’t bid again within 24 hours, unless you change two factors – normally you would change the price (upward), you can also change the location. Now, obviously if you want downtown Toronto, you don’t want to end up somewhere else.
In order to get the best price, closest to the floor price, you want to be able to bid many times, slowly increasing the price as you go. The problem is that Priceline limits your bidding to prevent you from doing this.
Their rule is that you have to change either the location or star rating if you want to bid again within 24 hours.
It’s very important to know that if your bid is accepted – your credit card will be charged right away and it will be non-refundable.
You should start checking about 4-6 weeks prior to your desired dates. It doesn’t hurt to start earlier, but it’s less likely that hotels will be willing to reduce their rates.
The simple time-consuming strategy
The simplest way to use Priceline is to pick your area and start putting in bids. The problem is that you can only put in one bid per day, so it might take a while before you get an accepted bid.
The complicated, quicker and riskier strategy
First step is to figure out an area. For bidding purposes, large cities are divided up into different areas. For example in Toronto, there are two “downtown” areas. The specific boundaries of each area are shown on the Priceline site. I wanted a hotel in “Downtown Toronto South”.
For more information about possible hotels and successful bids – check out these Priceline forums.
Here is the Toronto/Ottawa hotels list – This shows all the Toronto/Ottawa hotels participating in Priceline as determined by successful bookings by forum members.
Here are some tricks to increase the number of bids we can enter in one session. What we are trying to do is to keep bidding slightly higher bids in order to minimize the price we end up paying. These tips are more effective in larger cities where you can set up different area combinations.
Change the number of stars
Tip – If you are looking for a 4-star end hotel downtown – you can create a new location combination by including an area that you don’t want, but it doesn’t have 4-star hotels. This new area combination allows you to rebid on your desired area, but there is no chance of getting a hotel room in the undesired location.
For example, I might bid $85 on Toronto downtown south – 4-star. It gets rejected.
I want to bid again and increase the price to $90, but I can’t rebid within 24 hours unless I change something else – I can choose a different star rating or I can include a different location that doesn’t offer 4-star hotels.
To determine which areas don’t have 4-stars, select one location and see if the 4-star location is highlighted. For example, Brampton does not have any 4-star hotels that are participating in Priceline. By including Brampton in the area search (along with Toronto downtown south), I can now bid again. Because Brampton does not have any 4-star hotels on Priceline, there is no chance I’ll end up in Brampton.
Keep track of your bid combinations so you aren’t wasting bids.
Try a new credit card
This will allow you to start over with the various combinations necessary to make more bids.
Case study – downtown Toronto
Let’s take some of the lessons from this post and apply them.
Step 1 Determine the area
Toronto Downtown South
Step 2 – Check for possible hotels
From the forums, I can see that the following 4 star hotels are possibilities in the Downtown Toronto South area:
- Hilton Toronto
- Hyatt Regency Toronto
- Intercontinental Toronto Centre
- Le Meridien King Edward
- Renaissance Toronto
- Sheraton Centre Toronto
- Westin Harbour Castle
- The Fairmont Royal York (a possible hotel; not reported yet)
- Thompson Toronto
Step 3 Research the market price
Now I’m going to check out a few of the hotels for March 25th and see what quotes I can get. First I got a quote from the hotel website, then I checked on Expedia. The dollar figures are the website price, followed by Expedia.ca.
- Hilton Toronto – $119/$119
- Hyatt Regency Toronto- $279/$279
- Intercontinental Toronto Centre – $219/$259
- Le Meridien King Edward – $269/$269
- Renaissance Toronto – $209/$169
- Sheraton Centre Toronto – $229/$249
- Westin Harbour Castle – $269/$269
- The Fairmont Royal York (a possible hotel; not reported yet) – No vacancy
- Thompson Toronto – $179/$179
I found it interesting that the average Expedia price was slightly higher than the prices quoted on the hotel websites. Not sure if this research proves that Expedia is useless, but that’s what I’m thinking.
From the price list, I can see one big problem – the Hilton is offering rooms for $119, which is a lot cheaper than anywhere else. Since it is a four star hotel, it’s likely that any bid will get filled from there first, if any rooms are available. This might negate the whole point of having a group of available hotels.
Step 4 – Set your opening bid
I’ve heard that 50% of regular price is a good goal for your eventual winning bid. With that in mind I’m going to bid $40 which is less than half of the cheapest hotel ($119). I don’t think this is realistic, but it’s good idea to do some lowball bids in order to get familiar with the bidding process.
Step 5 – Plan your bid combinations
The more bids you have available, the better price you can get since you can use a smaller increment when increasing your bid.
First I need to figure out which Toronto locations do not have all four hotel star categories. I can use those locations to create extra bids.
Select “bid now” for hotels.
I’ll fill in the info.
Now I .need to check all the areas for the star availability. Please note – there is nothing wrong with determining a new location combination each time you make a bid, but if you are planning to minimize your price by using small price increments, it’s easier to figure out the locations first.
If I select the first Toronto location “Brampton” – I can see that both the 4-star and 3.5-star selections are greyed out, which means there are no 4-star or 3.5-star hotels in that area.
I can use the lack of a 4-star option with the Brampton location to get one extra bid for my desired Toronto downtown south location.
So far I’ve determined that I can use the following area combinations to get extra bids:
Bid #1 Location = Toronto downtown south. 4-star.
Bid #2 Location = Toronto downtown south & Brampton – Remember, I’m requiring a 4-star hotel and Brampton doesn’t have any 4-star hotels in Priceline, so there is no way I can end up with a room in Brampton. This is really just another bid for Toronto downtown south.
After going through the list, I can see that the following areas don’t have 4-star availability:
- Don Valley
- Toronto Airport West
- Toronto East
- Toronto West
Make a bid
I decided to bid $40 just to get started.
With taxes and service fees, the total will be $52.65 US.
When you get to the “We’re Ready To Get Your Hotel Room” screen – at this point, select the credit card (which you’ve already entered), enter the security code (three digit number on back of card) and then press the “buy” button. This is the last chance you have to cancel the transaction.
Then you get to look at William Shatner for a minute or two, while your bid is being considered.
Not surprisingly, my $40 bid was not accepted.
Now you can bid again, but you have to change either the area, the star level or check-in/check-out dates. Priceline also suggests increasing your price.
Make another bid
Ok, now I’m going to bid $50 and I’m going to include Brampton in the area list which will allow me to place another bid.
This was rejected.
I’m going to keep increasing my bids slowly and change the area combination each time.
So far I’ve used: Toronto downtown south and then Toronto downtown south + Brampton for the areas on my two bids.
Here are my next area combinations and bid prices:
- Downtown South Toronto, $40, rejected
- Downtown South Toronto, Brampton, $50, rejected
- Downtown South Toronto, Burlington, $55, rejected
- Downtown South Toronto, Brampton, Burlington, $60, rejected
- Downtown South Toronto, Don Valley, $65, rejected
- Downtown South Toronto, Don Valley, Brampton, $70, rejected
At this point I’m over 50% of the price of the cheapest hotel – Hilton $119. Which leads me to think that they might know they are the cheapest hotel in their Priceline group and don’t have to mark down their price very much, if at all. If that is the case, I am probably wasting my time with any bids under $100.
- Downtown South Toronto, Don Valley, Brampton, Burlington, $75, rejected
- Downtown South Toronto, Don Valley, Brampton, Burlington, Mississauga, $80, rejected
More Hilton thoughts – Now I’m wondering if the Hilton is even in this group. Perhaps they got downgraded from four stars and the forum list wasn’t updated?
- Downtown South Toronto, Mississauga, Oakville, $85
- Downtown South Toronto, Mississauga, Oakville, Scarborough $90
If case you are wondering why I’m not just doing single pairs (ie Downtown South Toronto plus one new list item in sequence), it’s much easier to add an area to the previous bid, then it is to start a brand new bid, which you have to do, in order to remove an area from the bid.
- Downtown South Toronto, Mississauga, Oakville, Scarborough, Toronto East $95 – Success!!
Here is where I made my big mistake – on the list of available areas in Toronto, there is a Toronto Airport East and a Toronto East. Unfortunately, I selected Toronto Airport East (which has 4-star hotels) instead of just Toronto East and just bought a $95 room which I have no intention of using. F***! The total cost with fees came to $116. I wouldn’t have minded going to a different area if the hotel was anywhere else, but it’s right at the airport and there isn’t much around there. Oops.
Ok, let’s try this one again:
- Downtown South Toronto, Mississauga, Oakville, Scarborough, Toronto East $95 – Success!!
Yup – I ended up at the Toronto Hilton which is what I originally thought might happen.
How much money did I save?
If I book a room at the Hilton directly, the cost is $119 plus taxes for a total of $135.
Priceline total cost was $116. So I saved a whopping $19 on this room. As I suspected, I think the Toronto Hilton doesn’t give much of a discount on their rooms, because they are in a group with much more expensive hotels.
How much money did I save really?
Unfortunately, because of my $116 mistake, I didn’t end up saving anything. My total cost was $232 for a room that I could have gotten from the hotel website for $135. A difference of $97.
Was it worth it?
- One downtown hotel room – $116
- One airport hotel room (unused) – $116
- One fantastic Keg dinner – $162
- Breakfast from room service – $64
- Getting away from the kids for a night – priceless!
Thanks to Robb at Boomer & Echo for some background information.