When Saving Travel Dollars Makes Little Sense

Among friends and co-workers, I have a reputation for sniffing out travel deals.  I’m regularly consulted for advice when folks I know plan a big trip.

My deal sniffing covers both domestic and international travel.  On our Vegas trip next month, we’ll be staying at the Orleans, one of our two favorites, for $29 a night plus a $15 dining and a $15 slot credit.  On our 2009 Puerto Rico trip, we paid half the rate of the Hyatt across the street and our oceanfront condo had a kitchen. (Found that deal at VRBO.)

I’ve done as well internationally.  When we visited Hong Kong is 1995, I found a room on Hong Kong island for a rate equal to a fire trap in Kowloon.  On our 2006 trip to Spain, we often stayed at apartments for less than hotel rates and also avoided tax, which only apply to hotels.  Our Granada penthouse apartment balcony overlooked the Alhambra.

The Alhambra from our Granada balcony

Nonetheless, I will not be using the new website which will assist folks in bidding for rooms on PriceLine.  The site not only provides guidance on what to bid but can also submit automated bids for you, starting with a  “lowball” and working up to a maximum which you set.  A travel writer’s test of automated bidding resulted in a winning bid before Priceline emailed him its rejection of earlier lower bids.

So why am I not interested in saving even more money on hotels?  Two reasons immediately come to mind.

First, PriceLine’s biggest savings obviously come from the upscale hotels I don’t stay at: Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott, et. al.  These “business traveler” hotels have a big incentive to cut prices quite a bit for the leisure travelers during the slow weekend when business travelers are home.

The hotels I stay at, such as Choice and La Quinta, don’t have as much “fat” in their rates for a large dollar reduction.  And since I already receive a “senior” discount, I’m not sure how much additional savings I’d realize if I picked up a “40% off rack rate” Priceline deal.  (That was the discount received for the Hyatt during the website test.)

For the sake of discussion, let’s assume I could receive an additional $15 savings on my preferred hotels by using the website.  Would that entice me?

No, and that brings up my second reason for not being interested in the website.  This second reason involves my participation in Frequent Guest programs and raises both monetary and non-monetary considerations.

Both the Choice and La Quinta hotels are Southwest Airlines partners.  When I say at these hotels, I can receive the equivalent of 1/32 of the points needed for a free flight (which I earn every year).  Presently, a round trip flight from Florida to Vegas is about $400.  That means a hotel stay has a cash value to me of about $12 towards a free ticket to Vegas.

But no hotel I know of allows Frequent Guest or partner airline points for a Priceline stay because it is not considered an “eligible” rate.  So, now I’m only saving $3 with PricelIne ($15 saving – $12 not received towards Southwest ticket).

Enter the non-monetary consideration.  Since a Priceline stay is not an eligible stay for Frequent Guest programs, I’d lose my “preferred guest” status.  That means no more free room upgrades, late checkout option, etc.

Not only would I not be a “preferred guest” but I’d be lower than any other guest, including a walk-in.  I don’t doubt for a nano-second that the front desk notices who is a Priceline customer and they’re going to the back of the bus. They probably get a room next to the elevator and the hotel will give them little consideration should any “issues” arise during the stay.  Why should they?  Priceline customers are not likely to be giving them any repeat business.

So that’s why I won’t bid for a hotel room on Priceline. But if you’re interested, check out the bidding traveler website.

May you travel often and at big discounts!

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3 responses to “When Saving Travel Dollars Makes Little Sense

  1. You just amaze me! And I am definitely not going anywhere without consulting you! Worse than a room next to the elevator: A room next to the ice machine!!!

  2. Hotel prices are definitely all over the place. We generally decide the location we want then work from there for lodgings. If we’re going to stay three days or more, in the US or elsewhere, we also consider finding an apartment. Last October we found a 1-BR Paris flat through AhParis.com, 5 or 6 blocks from the Louvre, complete with kitchen, washer/dryer, and a walk-out rooftop terrace. It was lovely! About the same cost as a small room in a nice hotel. Many agencies out there. One of our favorites is vrbo.com, and of course Ah Paris.

  3. FN, I will get you more than your money’s worth!

    Deb, I’d not heard of AhParis before. Thanks!

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