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Tried Priceline yet? We just did.

I know I sound like the last one to the party, but my husband and I just got a hotel room through Priceline and thought we’d share our experience….in case there are, what, 6 other people who’ve never tried bidding at a travel auction site.

I like to reach those niche readers 🙂

My husband Chris needed a cheap room midweek in November in Reno, Nevada for a teacher’s conference.  It was late-breaking news that his school was sending him to the event, so we were looking for a room only ten days beforehand.  Admittedly, tourist-heavy places like Reno, Las Vegas and Orlando have zillions of hotel rooms, so this wasn’t a terribly strenuous test of Priceline.

The driving factor was location; we needed the hotel to be close to the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, but of course travel auction sites only give you general areas/regions to choose from.  Chris’ school would have paid for his room at the conference hotel, the Atlantis Hotel and Casino, but only if he doubled up, and he decided that he wanted the privacy of his own room.

Hey, if you had to deal with high schoolers all day, then me plus two kids and four cats at night, you’d want your own room, too!

Our favorite Kayak cost comparison site had OK prices at the Atlantis, but we wanted to experiment with Priceline.  We checked out the how-tos ahead of time on the Bidding for Travel Web site, and read Wendy Perrin’s blog post on the best ways to bid for travel. There are also good Priceline tips at About.com’s Budget Travel.

Budget Travel magazine’s 105 supersmart strategies said this about Priceline:

“While Priceline is now a full-fledged booking engine, it’s most valuable for its bidding system. We like it for hotels in cities, but be wary of two-star hotels and below, and research neighborhoods in advance. BiddingForTravel.com has examples of successful bids. The law of supply and demand means you’ll do better at business hotels on weekends, at resort towns on weekdays, and anywhere off-season.”

Before buying, Chris chose the section of Reno that has the convention center. He requested a four-star facility, indicated he wanted a non-smoking room with a King-sized bed, and put in a bid of $45/night.

After a few seconds, Priceline said “Bid accepted” and revealed that he’d be staying at the Peppermill Reno Hotel Casino, about a 10 minute walk from the Convention Center. He also got a follow-up email saying that his bid was accepted.

He was given options of adding a rental car and/or airport ground transportation, but he used Peppermill’s regularly scheduled guest bus and didn’t need it. He also declined options for various area guided tours like skiing at nearby Heavenly, or a Lake Tahoe helicopter tour.

Chris was happy with his hotel, which appeared to be pretty full. He joined both the Peppermill and Atlantis casinos (free) and used their member cards to log into a slot machine which gave him a few starter dollars for gambling.

For $45/night (breakfast not included) he got a nice room and a brisk walk to the conference each morning.

Key takeaways:

  • Hotel rooms and other purchases from travel auction sites are generally nonrefundable.
  • Be prepared for a walk or dealing with transportation if you get a hotel on the far edges of your desired region.  If you have kids, ensure that they can handle a walk on crowded city streets.
  • For the best “bang for the buck,” bid on fairly high-level properties. It doesn’t make too much sense to get a room at a Days Inn or Motel 6 through Priceline.
  • Be flexible. Chris requested a King room but found when he checked in that they were out of King rooms that were non-smoking. He was fine with a room with two Queens.

Any other good tips, readers?