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Posted: 10:40 a.m. Tuesday, April 8, 2014

How To Get the Best Deal When Booking Accommodations

See strategies to help you bid for travel and book directly from owners

By Clark Howard

ClarkHoward.com


I have obsessive compulsive disorder when it comes to saving on hotels. When I travel for work, I book 95 percent of the hotels I stay in through Priceline.com or Hotwire.com.

But that's far from the only way to get the job done. Particularly when you're traveling internationally, renting a room, flat, condo, or home directly from the owner has emerged as a very popular way to see the place you're staying like a local and save money while doing it.

Here's a simple guide that outlines your choices and explains how to save a bundle while doing it.

CHECK MESSAGEBOARDS BEFORE YOU BID

My beloved Priceline and Hotwire may not be for everyone; there's something of a guess factor involved in doing either one because you're bidding on hotel rooms, but don't find out which hotel you're getting until after you pay non-refundable money. The only information you see is a hotel's ranking based on a five-star system.

In order to get the real scoop on a hotel, you've got to learn to use TripAdvisor.com wisely when reading customer reviews.

But before I get ready to do any online bidding, I first check out a couple of related message boards:

  • BiddingforTravel.com is great for Priceline, to get a feel for what other people are bidding. It's a forum where travelers help each other and share knowledge, including tips on how to bid multiple times a day.
  • BetterBidding.com is a simliar forum for Hotwire. While it also has a Priceline forum, it's far from the authority on Priceline that BiddingforTravel can be.

Once I've done research on BiddingforTravel, I go to Hotwire and see what's available. While BiddingforTravel gives me a general range of price, Hotwire lets me know what they're making available for that same night. Then for the equivalent level of hotel, I bid 30 percent less on Priceline. That's the direct math formula what I do.

 

A REAL-LIFE EXAMPLE

Let's say I'm looking at a city, and Hotwire has a 4-star hotel at $100/night, and I've seen what people are doing on BiddingforTravel, I will bid $70 as my first bid on Priceline.

With Priceline, there will be multiple hotel zones in most cities. A major metropolitan area may have 8 different zones in the central part of the city and I look and see which ones I'm willing to stay in. Then I also look for other zones that don't have 4-star hotels.

So I'm able to first do all the zones I want to stay in, and then all the zones I don't want to stay in that don't have 4-star hotels, because I know even if I add that as an additional free rebid, I won't get that zone.

If my initial Priceline bid of $70 gets turned down, and then let's say there are 6 zones in the metro area and I know that BiddingforTravel says the most anybody has been paying for a 4 star is $90, I'll add another neighborhood and go up a few dollars each bid. Eventually, barring a sellout in that town, I'll get my room. And if I don't, I already knew that the worst I'd do is $100 on Hotwire.

Make no doubt about it, this is work and it takes time to do it. But the savings are so great.

TIP: Watch the star count. Both Priceline and Hotwire tend to overinflate their ratings, so anything less than 4 stars is asking for trouble in my opinion!

 

ALTERNATIVES FOR THE BID SHY

The savings you get in exchange for booking "blind" on Priceline or Hotwire can be up to 35 to 60 percent off the usual price. However, many people don't like the whole idea of the blind bidding sites.

A lot of people travel for business and there's a particular site that I really like called QuikBook.com.

With this discount hotel reservation site, you get access to the equivalent of corporate negotiated hotel rates at a lower price than you would normally have available to you as someone with a very small company. I've used QuikBook for both business and leisure travel and it's saved me a decent amount of money.

 

APPS CAN HELP LAST-MINUTE BOOKERS

If you're far from an advance planner, a couple of free apps could save you up to 35% on same day hotel bookings.

Tonight-Only Deals
is part of the free Priceline Negotiator app. Unlike the normal Priceline thing, you know the name of the hotel before you book with Tonight-Only Deals. The app simply helps deliver what Priceline says will be up to 35 percent savings at the last minute.

Another app that offers similar last-minute booking deals is called HotelTonight. Again, you'll know the name of the place where you're going to stay.


BOOKING DIRECTLY FROM AN OWNER

Another option to save money is to look for apartments, homes, or condos being rented by owner. This works best if you need several bedrooms, prefer to have your own cooking facilities, or if you plan to stay for more than a couple nights in a destination.

AirBnB.com is a latecomer to the market, but they've emerged as the leader of a pack that also includes VRBO.comHomeAway.com, and Venere.com for international destinations.

To avoid surprises, look for accommodations that already have lots of reviews. Also, be sure to discuss cancellation policies, house rules, deposits, and payment methods upfront with the owner.

Here are some key booking points to keep in mind when you're renting directly from an owner:

  • Look for places that are built in last 5 years (or renovated in the last 4) that have a lot of pictures posted online.
  • Google the actual address of the place you're planning to stay. Verify that the same e-mail address is being used across the web whenever you find the property listed.
  • Be sure any rental you consider has a lot of reviews from satisfied customers.
  • Pay by credit card only. You have the right to do a chargeback within 60 days if your reservation falls through for some reason. Never pay by check or Western Union wire.

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