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Priceline- Sometimes You Win, Sometimes Not
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http://www.priceline.com/

Continue to have a love-hate relationship with Priceline.

On a recent trip, scored rooms at Extended Stay America for $31 per night. Nice clean rooms, great location, convenient to everything. Big thumbs up.

Tried to get a last minute rental car in Florida today. Bid all the way up to $57 per day on Priceline and still no takers. Priceline was hinting that I should be up near $70 per day to get a bite. Chucked it and found a Budget rental car discount code with a Google search. Went to the Budget site, entered the code, and took the prepaid option. Beat all the other quotes by about $150 for the week. Still highway robbery, but less so.

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Couple things.

Start off with a site like Kayak.com to get an estimate for what your rental car will cost.

Then use a site like betterbidding.com to get guidance on what bid to submit to Priceline.

Priceline doesn't let you do-over without making some changes, so the basic process is to start with a better/bigger vehicle than you need. Luxury, SUV, Minivan, Premium, etc... work your way down.

If you crap out, try again with your spouse's identity and credit card - that gets you a second chance.

Don't reserve a vehicle that is smaller than you require, but feel free to reserve one that is smaller than you prefer. It is often possible to find an alternate car for no difference in price, once you show up.

Remember - with priceline, you bought it, you own it. If your plans change, tough luck. So be sure you're getting at least a 30% discount. It's not worth the gamble otherwise.

I've never used them for anything but rental cars, so can't advise on hotel rooms, etc.

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I've had very good luck on hotel rooms. The major caveat there is you have to possess a good working knowledge of the town you plan to visit, so you can ensure by your request parameters that you don't wind up in a dangerous dump.

I've gotten a few decent deals on airfare. I only use them when the trip is not time sensitive, considering the fairly large time window they offer for a purchased flight. You also don't get freaky flier miles when you use Priceline, so that's a factor when shaving a few bucks from a flight.

I totally agree with your baseline estimate theory. I will usually check Travelocity or Expedia first and then get down to business. I've found some great deals on the rental car websites themselves, and as I mentioned before, there are some websites that collect coupon/offer codes that sometimes work, sometimes don't, but are worth plugging into the reservation software and finding out what happens. There's plenty of room to experiment, as long as they don't have a credit card to charge you with until the end of the process.

My initial numbers from the maintstream sites were in the $70 and up range per day. My first bid on Priceline was around $35. I figured I had little to lose by inching up as they rejected offers, because I already knew what worst case scenario was and their suggested bid rate wasn't much below that. They let me keep bidding it up, but changed the car class upward every time. I was mainly just testing the waters to see if they were bluffing. Apparently not.

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