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Travel Thursday – Michael’s Hotel Tips

This week I will turn to the beau to provide you with USEFUL information about how to save money booking hotels.  I, of course, always request to stay in the most swank hotels.

hotel ecard

Here is how Michael affords hotels that meet my standards… Enjoy!

*****

This week’s Travel Thursday post is dedicated to JK (you know who you are) for commenting on my last post.  Thanks for that one buddy.

This post will focus on another expensive component of any trip: hotels.  Unlike air travel, your choices of saving on hotels are somewhat limited.  This makes understanding how to save money easier, but it also limits the amount you can save.  Building a nice cache of hotel points is also somewhat more difficult than accumulating airline miles.  Nevertheless there is good value here.

Easiest Tip:  Priceline is your best friend

This company isn’t worth $65B for no reason.  Along the way, Priceline has gotten very good at extracting the highest amount of revenue out of each bidder.  However, with a little ingenuity you can easily use Priceline’s own rules against them.  Before going into details it’s important to note one major factor:  If you are traveling during a period of high occupancy (i.e. a holiday weekend or major event) Priceline will not be your friend.

The 1st key to bidding on Priceline is to complete some thorough research on retail prices and optimal bidding prices.  Be sure to zero on a very specific area of a city and get familiar with your destinations districts.  Make note of the cost of the hotels in those districts as this will come in handy later.  Next do a normal hotel search on Priceline.  Click on the Express Deals tab at the top of the page.  These express deals are Priceline’s attempt to rip-off their main competitor Hotwire.  The Express Deals tab lists hotels at cheaper rates than what’s available publicly, but the name of the hotel is concealed.  The prices on here should act as your maximum bidding price.  Make note of them.  Lastly you’ll want to find out if someone else has made a similar bid as you in the past and been successful.  You can find reports of successful bids at www.betterbidding.com.  Not only can you find out what bids have been successful, but you may also be able to reverse engineer which hotels you would get should you accept an Express Deal or a Hotwire hotel.

The 2nd key to bidding on Priceline, is maximizing your number of bids.  Priceline will only let you bid once every 24 hours to stop you from getting something close to the 65% off they often advertise.  A loophole in this rule is that they will allow you to make multiple immediate re-bids if you add zones, change your star ratings, switch your hotel location, change your IP address, change your credit card number, change your email address, change your hair color… you get the picture.   Changing just about anything will get you unlimited Priceline bids.  By far the most useful of these is changing your search location.  For example if I wanted to search for a hotel in DC, I would start by inputting Washington DC into the search box, for the next bid I’d put Arlington, then for the next bid Alexandria, then Bethesda and so on all the way around the beltway.  When bidding, also remember a couple of key points:

  1. Ignore all the warnings they tell you about your bid being too low or not likely to be accepted.  It is bulls$#@.  Start your bidding at 75% off retail and go up from there.
  2. When you are bidding and Priceline counteroffers, it means you are getting close.  Do not accept their counteroffer as there may be a cheaper rate.
  3. The odds of getting a successful Priceline bid go up as your travel date nears.
  4. If you want to zero in on the exact lowest possible price, bid using a pre-paid gift/debit card with a very low balance (i.e. less than you are bidding).  When your bid is accepted it will generate an error saying you can’t be charged.  This means your price was accepted.  Continue re-bidding with that card at successively lower rates until you get a bid rejection.   The last rate at which you bid an acceptable rate is the floor price.  After finding this price, re-bid at that price on a card with a sufficient credit limit/debit balance to secure the rate.

A tip for the dedicated: Use hotel points for busy travel days

I consider this a tip for the “dedicated” because it will take quite a bit of manufactured spending to accumulate a lot of hotel points.  Hotel rewards points differ very significantly from airline rewards points in that availability is almost never restricted.  If there is a standard room for sale, then there is almost always a reward room available.  This means that you can snag that $600 a night room on New Years Eve with points.  Also unlike airline rewards programs, it is extremely difficult to compare hotel rewards programs for several reasons:

  1. The points required per stay are vastly different between programs.
  2. The point earning rates are vastly different between programs.
  3. Hotel networks are vastly different.

Earning points for the non-business traveler is usually restricted to credit cards.  Choosing which credit card to get is a post in and of itself, so if you’d like to know more, just throw something into the comments section.  That being said there are 3 programs to focus on for the traveler that does not travel for business:

  • Hilton:  This program has lost favor for many in the points world due to a recent devaluation in March 2013, but there is still value to be had here.  Points required per stay are higher, but earning points is easy.  They also have one of the widest networks in the world, and just about all of their credit cards grant you gold status which gives you free breakfast and wireless internet at almost every property.  If you are looking for a mid-tier hotel during a peak travel time, this is probably your best program.
  • Hyatt:  Of all programs Hyatt has the most attractive redemption rates and options, especially for their luxury hotels.  Hyatt is also a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards which makes it easy to accumulate points quickly.  You can also make you’re your points go further by utilizing their cash and points option which lets travelers pay for a portion of their trip with points and the rest at a fixed price cash rate.  Unfortunately, their network is one of the smallest of the major chains, especially when traveling internationally.
  • Intercontinental:  Intercontinental provides an equal mix of both Hyatt and Hilton.  The points resumptions are middle of the road as are earning rates.  On the bright side, the network is as wide, if not wider, than Hilton’s.  Also similar to Hilton, most of their attainable hotels are mid-tier, but unlike Hilton the lower tier hotels do not have good redemption rates.  Oddly, their credit card grants user their top elite status, but this status does not come with many perks.  Overall this program is a good supplement to either Hyatt or Hilton.

Tip for the vigilant: Use Best Rate Guarantees (BRG)

This savings tip is somewhat limited, but can be exploited with two hotel programs: Intercontinental and Marriott.  Utilizing this tactic has gotten more difficult in recent years but it are still worth looking into.  I won’t go into many details on this as it can get extremely complicated but the basic gist is this:

Tip for the Brave:  Use AirBNB

You’ve probably heard the stories about this site and others like it.  The savings here are as high as the top Priceline deal, if not higher.  It works far away or close to your date of travel as well as during busy or slow travel periods.  I can’t speak too intelligently to the process because of one overriding issue for me: the identity verification check.  You can Google more about it, but there is no way I’m going to store all of that personal information on this startup’s servers (think social security number, copy of driver’s license, past addresses etc.).  If you don’t mind putting that information in another company’s hands, by all means give it a shot and I’m sure you will save more than I ever could!

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One comment on “Travel Thursday – Michael’s Hotel Tips

  1. Kegan
    June 13, 2014

    Mike,

    Another great post. You’ve got to give Airbnb a try. They aren’t quite a startup anymore. Their latest round of fundraising in April valued the company around $10Billion. I know it is a lot of info, but we have scored some pretty amazing real estate in major cities for over 50% off hotel rates.

    I also agree that Hilton Honors points are a little devalued. I feel like I’m in a Hilton all of the time, and barely enough points to stay at a Hampton Inn for a night.

    Good Priceline tips!

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This entry was posted on June 12, 2014 by in Planes and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , .
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