It's been years since I attempted to purchase anything through Priceline. I tried using it to buy a plane ticket a few times in college, but my bids were always too low to win. These days, I don't have the schedule flexibility or the physical stamina to deal with inconvenience of not being able to choose my flight time or layovers, so I just use a combination of Farecast, Sidestep, and Yapta to get the best possible price on my plane tickets at times and with flight durations that work for me.
Last weekend, as I was preparing for a trip, I suddenly realized that my rental car reservation had vanished into thin air. A car that I was planning to rent for $90 was suddenly going to cost me $155 and there was no way around it because my trip was in less than 24 hours. I spent about three hours racking my brain and suddenly remembered Priceline. Some careful strategizing was in order because I didn't want to bid so low that I would get stuck paying full price. On the other hand, if I originally had a reservation for $90, couldn't I get that same price again? Or, would it be best to take the conservative route and aim for a price of $120? And what about those last-minute deals that travel websites are always advertising?
Well, I turned to my faithful friend Google which lead me to a message board about how to be successful on Priceline and Hotwire. Hotwire? That was all the information I needed. I had completely forgotten about Hotwire! So I visited Hotwire, which, at least for renting a car, appears to offer a sort of Travelocity/Priceline hybrid. They tell you what the price of the car will be, but they don't tell you exactly what company you'll be renting it from. They showed a rate of $17.95 a day, which came to around $90. Sweet! Now I knew that I could get my $90 rate from somewhere, so I knew I could bargain for less on Priceline. I ended up winning an economy car for $14, which came to about $75 after plenty of taxes and airport fees. My car ended up coming from National, and they were out of economy cars, so I got a slightly nicer car to boot.
There are several lessons to take away from this story. First, when you take charge of a tricky situation, sometimes you can make it go your way with a little time and effort. Second, using a combination of Hotwire and Priceline is a great way to get a discount on a rental car, and unlike with plane flights, there are really no downsides to renting a car through Priceline unless you're terribly attached to one rental car company (and why should you be? They're basically all the same). Third, you might as well sign up for the cheapest car class, because if they're sold out, you'll get a free upgrade, and if they're not sold out and you hate the car, you can always pay a little extra at the counter to upgrade.
In the future, I plan to get the best price on all of my rental cars by making a fully cancelable booking as far in advance as possible, and then bargaining for a lower price at the last minute.
Photo by shyb