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M.I.S.S. Jet Set: How to Bargain Bid on Travel

It’s that time of year when holidays all seem to be too far away, gray days and rain brings the mood down, and we’re itching to get away. So do it, and do it on the cheap. Pack up a bag and make a quick trip out of town or to a local hotel to get pampered close to home. Take advantage of travel sites where you can choose your price and get lower prices than even discount sites list. Bidding is a bit riskier, but you may snag a swanky spot for a steal. Here’s how:

1) Get to bidding. In bidding, instead of just searching what prices places are offering, you choose the price and see what type of matches come back. On Priceline.com, they call their bidding “name your own price,” so click on links to name your own price for hotels, flights, or cars. Hotwire is like a bidding site as it hides accommodation details but offers deep discounts, so when you enter your location information you’ll get back prices for each. In bidding for a hotel, you’ll type in a dollar amount and the site may tell you a 4-star hotel is available for $140/night and is under 1.3 miles from your search address, but you won’t know if it’s a Hyatt or Sheraton or boutique hotel or anything else until you commit to purchasing. If your bid is rejected, come back with a higher price or choose different star ratings.

2) Don’t be scurred. When you bid, specifics on what you’re bidding on are hidden. Consider it the trade-off for getting lower prices than listed. You can see and narrow down searches based on star ratings, distance to an address, and amenities, but names will be hidden. It will be ok. One of my best hotel stays yet was at the Hotel Palomar in Arlington, VA, and I blindly paid for the room before finding out what I got. Hotwire told me I may get a Hyatt, Wyndham, boutique hotel, or something similar, and I got an amazing hotel room for a quarter of the price.

3) Do a supplemental search. I like to log onto hotels.com and do the same search in a city as I’ve done on hotwire.com and priceline.com. Hotels.com will show all the hotels in the area and while the prices are likely going to be higher, you’ll see what the options are by area, stars, customer rating, or whatever else you want to sort by. You can also check other travel sites like Expedia or Kayak. Get an idea of what is available for what you’re looking for and check out the amenities of the hotels, then go into your bidding knowing there’s nothing higher than a 3 star in the area you’re looking at or all the resorts charge $40 for parking or a hotel you like is just outside your search area. When your bid is accepted, you’ll have an idea of what type of hotels you may get based on your criteria.

4) Choose. Weigh your options and pick what works for you based on the info given. At this point you’ll make a selection, enter all of your information, and pay. If you’re looking for multiple nights, consider starting at only 1 night. I like to only choose for 1 night until after I’ve seen what I just committed to, and if I like what I got, I’ll extend the stay. If I’m not super into what my bid brought back and need another night, I’ll try again for a different place on the remaining nights.

Bottom line: give bidding a shot and be as informed as you can when making your choice. You may be pleasantly surprised. Happy bidding!

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