Sunday, February 6, 2011

Negotiating “The Negotiator”

I can’t remember the last time I used Priceline.com. I know I did at some dim, distant point in the past and I recall I was not disappointed, but that’s literally all I remember.

My son-in-law swears by Priceline so, after checking my usual venues and finding them either unavailable or too spendy, I considered giving it a(nother) try for a last-minute trip to Hawaii.

As I discussed the idea with my wife, a/k/a The Timid Traveler, you’d have thought we were recreating the company’s TV commercial:

She: “I’d offer $150 a night for a three-star room.”
He: “I was thinking more like $100 for a four- or five-star property.”
She: “I don’t think…”
He: “Wuss!”
She: “…you’re going to get anything…”
He: “Namby-pamby!”
She: “…you’ll be happy with…”
He: “Aim LOWER!”
She: “…for that price.”
He: “NOW you’re negotiating!”

Not exactly how it went, but pretty close. And, without saying it, my wife hit upon what is probably the deciding factor for many who choose not to use Priceline: once you’ve hit “send,” you’re committed.

A bit more willing to roll the dice than my wife, I decided to give it a shot.

Going to Priceline.com, I selected “Hotels.” I looked at the published prices and one three-star hotel at $129 a night initially looked attractive. However, users reviews on other web sites suggested that consistency was one of this hotel’s issues, so I decided to try “naming my own price” and see what came up.

The strategy and what I found

In the “name your own price” section, you first choose the area(s) of the city in which you’d like to stay. Next, you select the “star level” you prefer, from one-star to five-star and resort hotels, depending on what’s available in the area(s) you’ve selected.

Enter the dates of your stay, the number of rooms, the amount bid, and (here’s the part that caused my stomach to tense up) your credit card number. Yikes! I couldn’t help thinking, “What if I don’t like it?”

For my own comfort level, I went to the extremes. I bid $120 a night for a five-star hotel. At this point in the process, a user can only choose one star level so, I reasoned, “Go for the gusto.”

Didn’t work. No takers.

However, I got a second bite at the apple. Priceline now gave me the option of adding more star levels to increase the available options, so I included four-star and resort hotels. I didn’t want to raise my bid yet or go as low as 3-1/2 stars, so I hit send and waited.

Within just a few seconds, I got a reply that the four-star Hawaii Prince Hotel, located right on Waikiki Marina, had accepted my offer. Now the knot in my stomach really tightened: “What’s wrong with the property that I got such a deal?”

While part of me didn’t want to know, I checked several user reviews on this hotel – not that I could do anything about it if I discovered bad news. Fortunately, the reviews were uniformly good to excellent, and all were quite recent. I also checked the hotel's web site and learned they were offering rooms directly for as low as $189 a night for a 420 square foot Oceanfront Marina room on the 5th to 9th floor with views of the ocean and Yacht Harbor. Based on that, the "worst case scenario," I'd just snagged a $69 per night (or 36%) savings -- perhaps more if they put us in rooms that are considered "more desirable."

So my son and I leave tomorrow and we’ll see for ourselves. I will report on what I find, and whether Priceline has just won another convert!

Visit my main page at TheTravelPro.us for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.



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