Tips for Booking Hotels Online

Tips for Booking Hotels Online

Living single and responsible for paying all the bills? A singular penny pincher has great tips on how to save big when booking hotels for your next vacation.

Tips for Booking Hotels Online

Gina Sanders / 123RF Photo

Back in the day, I was a tour director and worked for a travel agency. I still like to get away, go to conferences and visit friends — but don’t like to spend lots of money. If you fly you have limited options and the only way to really do it inexpensively is to plan way ahead, but the one part of your travel plan where smart shopping pays off is with hotels.

I’ve found immense value in using the Hotwire and Priceline web sites for hotel booking. You submit your travel dates and location, and can either submit a bid for a specific hotel and hope your bid is accepted. Or you can “blindly” accept a hotel in that area for a certain price and hope you’re not disappointed with what you get.

What many travelers don’t know is that you can narrow down the choices from Priceline or Hotwire and often identify the property that is being offered with a little bit of resourcefulness and some luck.

Betterbidding.com is a site that publishes lists of hotel properties, by category and with some of the amenities, to help you narrow down the selections. These lists are not foolproof and star ratings do change — you must be prepared for some surprises if you choose to go this route.

Sometimes you can identify a specific hotel rather easily. For example if the list of hotels on Better Bidding has only one 3-star hotel listed for Priceline in the Rancho Mirage/Palm Desert area of Palm Springs, and that property is offered in their Express Deals section, you can be fairly confident that’s the hotel you’ll get.

But it’s not usually that easy. That’s why I thought I would try to isolate a hotel on Priceline or Hotwire that I might choose for the SingularCity trip to Denver June 6-8 to illustrate my technique.

First I opened the hotel lists on BetterBidding.com for Hotwire and Priceline to see if the Homewood Suites on 15th Street in Denver was an option. You start by choosing the state, then the city and then the zone. Hotwire and Priceline break up cities into areas — for this trip it’s obvious we’re looking for downtown Denver. I could also go to Google maps and type in the address of our hotel.

Booking Hotel Online - Zone

I would then do a “Search Nearby” for “Hotels” and see what else is close by. Now I can see the actual location of the hotel that SingularCity will be staying at for the Discover Denver weekend: the Homewood Suites, and also see that there is a nearby Hilton Garden Inn along with some other decent properties.

Unfortunately the Homewood Suites did not appear on the Better Bidding Hotel listing for downtown Denver. But let’s take a closer look:

First for Priceline on BetterBidding:

Booking Hotel Online - BB Denver Downtown

Then for Hotwire on BetterBidding:

Booking Hotel Online - BB Denver Hotwire

Notice that there are 3-star hotels listed in this zone on both sites.

Why am I concentrating on 3-star hotels? Well, Expedia lists the Hilton Homewood Suites on 15th Street as a 3-star and that’s the hotel I’m trying to get for a better price than the $129 being offered through SingularCity.

Booking Hotel Online - Homewood Expedia

Expedia also gives me a nice rundown of amenities – notice that the Homewood suites have an indoor pool and their price as listed is much higher than what Singular magazine was able to get for SingularCity members.

Booking Hotel Online - Homewood Expedia 2

Now, if you go back to the Hotwire List above, you will notice that the Hilton Garden Inn (not our hotel) has an indoor pool. Let’s check Hotwire now…

On Hotwire for the Denver Downtown area, for those dates, there is a 3-star hotel for $85. Let’s check its description with amenities:

Booking Hotel Online - Hotwire Denver 3 stars

It does not have an indoor pool, so it’s not the Homewood Suites. But it does have laundry.

It turns out that the Ramada is a 3-star hotel in Downtown Denver with a pool and laundry – so that would likely be the hotel for $85 on Hotwire. If we chose to buy it, we could check Google Maps to see how far it is from the Homewood Suites.

A quick look at Priceline Express Deals for downtown Denver gets another possibility:

Booking Hotel Online - Priceline Downtown

It has no pool, so it’s probably one of the 3-star Residence Inns shown on the Priceline Better Bidding List for downtown Denver.

Priceline Express deals are just like Hotwire — you can save a bit more if you bid and “win” and your price is accepted.

In terms of bidding on Priceline, I wouldn’t do it on this trip today because I would very likely get a hotel I didn’t want. I wouldn’t bid or want this Express Deal hotel because it’s probably the Residence Inn, which doesn’t have a pool or other amenities. Instead I’d wait a day and see if something better comes up both on Priceline and Hotwire. I would also return to the main Priceline listings to check the traveler rating to further try to figure out exactly what I’d get with this hotel.

If, however, this 3-star hotel in Express Deals had showed me an indoor pool, before buying the express deal, I could deduce it was one of the nicer Hiltons, maybe even the Homewood Suites. If that were the case, I would try to “win” it by bidding a little lower than $85 – I might try in the $75-$80 range a few times, and if I didn’t get it, go for the express deal.

Other criteria I find very helpful is the ratings by past guests. Both Hotwire and Priceline Express Deals give you an idea of what guests think of the hotels that are being discounted and you can sometimes match them up to the ratings posted for specific properties on Priceline’s main listing or Expedia (Hotwire’s partner site). When you choose a higher rated hotel you also generally get a better property; you are less likely to get stuck in a residential property or something awful because a low rating will bring down their average.

These techniques can help you narrow down the options and the more you do this the better you get at playing the game. Don’t forget, however, that once you book on these sites there is no cancellation option — you either go or lose your money. They may offer trip insurance but if you read the terms they are very specific and it may be difficult to secure a refund.

Using Priceline, Hotwire or Better Bidding does take a bit of time and attention to detail so read all of the rules carefully. If you do, with a little practice, you’ll be able to “slip through the cracks” and enjoy a nice stay at a perfectly fine hotel at a fair price, and even get a few perks.

Copyright © Tom Bunzel / 2014 Singular Communications, LLC.

Tom BunzelTom Bunzel is a speaker and nonfiction writer in high tech, and a consultant and technology coach in the fields of digital video, multimedia, presentations and social media. He has taught at Learning Tree International, West LA College Extension and privately. His most recent book is “Tools of Engagement: Presenting and Training in a World of Social Media.” His web site ishttp://www.professorppt.com and his blog is lifeisintelligent.wordpress.com.
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