San Francisco Budget Travel Tip #1: How To Use Priceline To Name Your Own Price

Posted by Craig Wesley on

While I like to think that Anne and I have a decent amount of travel experience, it was really only around 2013 did we learn how to truly shop for hotels. Bare in mind, our lifestyle is as such that taking the time to find discount accommodations outweighs the cost of that time. For example, if you are or have known an executive traveller, then you know for some people it's more costly to shop around than to just book a hotel right away, especially if it's being expensed to the company anyway. At the same time, telling people, like I am in this blog post, that you probably paid 55% off published rates is kind of cool.

To my surprise, as of today (8/14/2017), the Name Your Own Price section is not prominently displayed on the homepage anymore, but it's still there. If I had to guess, then it's because Priceline simply makes more money now with straight bookings and even Express Deals than Name Your Own Price bookings.

One caveat, this strategy is for those looking for two people/room and don't mind the possibility of only having one bed. It's very possible that some hotels will want to charge you for the additional people and the rooms they're getting rid of are those with only one bed.

I'm going to walk you through step-by-step how I would shop for a 2-night stay at a 4 Star Hotel, starting tonight.

1. Narrow Down Your Criteria

For San Francisco, I actually don't bid for anything less than a 4-Star Hotel, but that's a personal preference.

For those coming to San Francisco for sightseeing, then I would suggest the following areas:

  • Financial District - Embarcadero
  • Fisherman's Wharf
  • South of Market - Moscone Center
  • Union Square East - Nob Hill
  • Union Square West

 2. Find Your Max Price

This is pretty straight forward, all I'm doing to do is use my criteria, 4-5 Star Hotel in those locations I've narrowed down, and search the lowest price through Priceline's Express Deals.

Right now, the lowest price is for Fisherman's Wharf at $147/night, with a 46% discount. Therefore, that is the highest price I would be willing to pay. If you've just come into town, have a grumpy spouse and children, then it might be worth it for you just to take the deal because I know this is actually already a great deal.

I know because I'll then cross-check with BetterBidding.com to see what hotel it could be. BetterBidding.com keeps a fairly up-to-date and comprehensive list of the hotels offered through Priceline, as well as Hotwire. For Fisherman's Wharf, there are only two 4-star hotels working with Priceline, Hyatt Centric Fisherman's Wharf, which for these two-nights are advertised as $304/night, and Sheraton Fisherman's Wharf, which for these two-nights are advertised as $279/night.

Yes, those are the highest prices because those are direct from the hotels, but the lowest prices are $279/night and $251/night, respectively, through 3rd party websites like hotels.com or expedia.com. Trust me, people gathering points or booking corporate will pay the full-price. If I had to guess, then those prices almost exist exclusively for corporate travelers.

But because you're willing to do a little research by reading this blog post, you're already saved at least $100/night, but let's see if you can save even more.

3. Calculate The Number Of Bids Available To You

Priceline's Name Your Own Price is a bit of a game, but fortunately it's really in your favor if you know how to maximize the number of bids you have. The rules of the game are pretty simple, for every fixed criteria, you're allowed to bid once every 24 hours.

For example, if I bid on a 4-star hotel in Fisherman's Wharf, then I can do that bid once every 24 hours, though Priceline will throw up some counter-bid that you should completely ignore. But if you add to the criteria, then you're given another bid. Continuing our example, there's actually a 4.5 star hotel in Fisherman's Wharf so I can add that to my criteria. Now, we're up to two bids.

But there's a small trick that a lot of new Priceline bidders don't use and that's adding zones that do not have 4-5 star hotels. In Priceline's San Francisco Map, there are a total of 7 zones that do not include 4-5 star hotels. So, if we keep adding those to our bidding criteria, then we have a total of 9 bids. If this doesn't make sense to you know, then no worries because we'll go over each individual bid in more detail later.

4. Determine Your Bid Increments

First, let's find our minimum bid price. Priceline itself says you can save up to 60% off. I'm going to take that as the truth. The trick is to figure out what price they're referring to. In this case, we know it's either going to be $304/night or $279/night, which are the highest prices given directly from Hyatt and Sheraton, respectively. By using a little math, we can be pretty sure that the Express Deal is for Sheraton since 47% off of $279 is, you got it, $147/night.

Because of this, I'm going to $279 as my base price. But beware, often times the Express Deal hotel is not the same as the Name Your Own Price hotel.

Now we'll find our minimum bid by taking $279 X .4, which is 60% off, to get $112/night, rounded.

Then we'll find the difference between our max price and min price, $147/night - $112/night = $35/night

Now, we'll take $35 and divide that by the number of bids we figured out in our last step, $35/night divided by 9 = $4.00, rounded

Here's the list of bids we're going to use:

Bid No 1. = $112/night

Bid No 2. = $112/night + $4/night = $116/night

Bid No. 3 = $116/night + $4/night = $120/night

Bid No. 4 = $120/night + $4/night = $124/night

Bid No. 5 = $124/night + $4/night = $128/night

Bid No. 6 = $128/night + $4/night = $132/night

Bid No. 7 = $132/night + $4/night = $136/night

Bid No. 8 = $136/night + $4/night = $140/night

Bid No. 9 = $140/night + $4/night = $144/night

You can adjust your bids to be more aggressive, for example choosing a lower max bid, but this is essentially the "guaranteed saving" strategy and you're only going to lose out a max of $3.00 if you "bid too high."

5. Let's Bid!!!

Here's exactly how I would bid for our example:

Bid No. 1:

Step 1: Choose where you want to stay - Fisherman's Wharf

Step 2: Choose the star level for your hotel - 4-Star Delux

Step 3: Name Your Own Price (per room night) - $112

Bid No. 2:

Step 1: Choose where you want to stay - Fisherman's Wharf

Step 2: Choose the star level for your hotel - 4-Star Deluxe, 4 1/2 - Star Deluxe-Plus

Step 3: Name Your Own Price (per room night) - $116

Bid No. 3:

Step 1: Choose where you want to stay - Fisherman's Wharf, Civic Center South - South of Market

Step 2: Choose the star level for your hotel - 4-Star Delux, 4 1/2 - Star Deluxe-Plus

Step 3: Name Your Own Price (per room night) - $120

Bid No. 4:

Step 1: Choose where you want to stay - Fisherman's Wharf, Civic Center South - South of Market, Japan Town - Civic Center North

Step 2: Choose the star level for your hotel - 4-Star Delux, 4 1/2 - Star Deluxe-Plus

Step 3: Name Your Own Price (per room night) - $124

Bid No. 5:

Step 1: Choose where you want to stay - Fisherman's Wharf, Civic Center South - South of Market, Japan Town - Civic Center North, Marina - Lombard Street

Step 2: Choose the star level for your hotel - 4-Star Delux, 4 1/2 - Star Deluxe-Plus

Step 3: Name Your Own Price (per room night) - $128

Bid No. 6:

Step 1: Choose where you want to stay - Fisherman's Wharf, Civic Center South - South of Market, Japan Town - Civic Center North, Marina - Lombard Street, Pacifica

Step 2: Choose the star level for your hotel - 4-Star Delux, 4 1/2 - Star Deluxe-Plus

Step 3: Name Your Own Price (per room night) - $132

Bid No. 7:

Step 1: Choose where you want to stay - Fisherman's Wharf, Civic Center South - South of Market, Japan Town - Civic Center North, Marina - Lombard Street, Pacifica, Richmond

Step 2: Choose the star level for your hotel - 4-Star Delux, 4 1/2 - Star Deluxe-Plus

Step 3: Name Your Own Price (per room night) - $136

Bid No. 8:

Step 1: Choose where you want to stay - Fisherman's Wharf, Civic Center South - South of Market, Japan Town - Civic Center North, Marina - Lombard Street, Pacifica, Richmond, SFO North - San Bruno

Step 2: Choose the star level for your hotel - 4-Star Delux, 4 1/2 - Star Deluxe-Plus

Step 3: Name Your Own Price (per room night) - $140

Bid No. 9:

Step 1: Choose where you want to stay - Fisherman's Wharf, Civic Center South - South of Market, Japan Town - Civic Center North, Marina - Lombard Street, Pacifica, Richmond, SFO North - San Bruno, South San Francisco

Step 2: Choose the star level for your hotel - 4-Star Delux, 4 1/2 - Star Deluxe-Plus

Step 3: Name Your Own Price (per room night) - $144

If you don't get a winning bid, then get religion because somebody hexed you. Fortunately, you can still save the 47% off with the Express Deal and revel in the idea that someone, most likely an evil greedy corporation, paid $279 for the same room.

6. Last Minute Bidding or Planning Ahead

Since starting this article to this point of the article, the price of the 4-Star Fisherman's Wharf Express Deal has dropped another $10 to $137/night. In most cases, the later the bid, the bigger the deal. Unfortunately, things can take a bad turn if there is a huge demand and you could end up paying more than if you had planned ahead. For me, I generally take the risk of bidding as late as possible, but that's because most cities I travel to have a huge supply of rooms.

7. Don't Forgot About Parking Costs

All the 4-5 Star Hotels in San Francisco charge for parking and it's a lot! Hyatt's Fisherman's Wharf overnight parking rate is $59/night. Sheraton Fisherman's Wharf is no better at $56/night. That's just overnight parking. That doesn't include the daytime.

If you're flying into San Francisco or Oakland Airport, then I suggest taking Uber/Lyft into town, which is about $35. BTW, if you have substantial luggage, then to be safe make sure you don't choose Lyft Line or Uber Pool because there may not be enough room for your luggage, especially if they pick-up another passenger.

Once in town, then the most convenient again will be Uber Pool or Lyft Line, followed by buying a Clipper Card to take all public transportation, or just walking.

8. Conclusion

I've used this Priceline bidding strategy in San Francisco, Los Angeles County, Up the Northern California Coast, Las Vegas, Macau, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Japan. The deals aren't always as big as 50-60% off, but for me there's no good reason to come even close to paying the full rate. 

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