So now that we’ve saved money from our monthly mandatory expenses, how about we save some money on something fun like travelling? There are lots of ways to save money on travelling and I’ve mentioned some suggestions already like buying gas in cheaper places as you travel and even shown you how to find those islands of cheaper gas.
How about hotels? We all need to stay in hotels and for years I’ve been using Priceline to help me save thousands on hotels and I always stay at top notch hotel that cost hundreds a night and I usually pay less than $100 a night. I could stay at a budget hotel because every room is the same when the lights are off but why scrimp when you’re on vacation?
Priceline (priceline.com) offers many different services but the main one that I use it for is to book hotels. I start by doing a search for hotels in the city/town I will be staying in on a given date. I try and book about a month out so I have plenty of time to secure a good room at the lowest possible price. This is going to give me a list of hotels that are available and the going rate for those rooms. After looking at the list, I’ll click on the Express Deals tab which is going to give me a list of hotel deals by hotel class.
The Express Deals list will show me deals that are available for my stay. So for example, it will show a four star hotel in a particular zone and the rate at which the hotel is available. These are the same named hotels in the original list but we just don’t know the name of the hotel. The rates will be about 30% less than the regular rate. This list is important because it tells me what I could get a hotel for and that I shouldn’t pay more than that for that level of hotel.
I then move on to the Name your Own Price® tab. This is where I am going to save the largest amount, if a hotel will take my bid. The thing to know is that you can only bid for a hotel once every 24 hours so if your bid is not taken, you can either wait 24 hours (you’re bidding in advance, right?) or take an express deal. You can bid again if you change the dates of your stay (which we don’t want to do) or if we change which zone that we are bidding for a hotel. That last part is important because if you’re bidding for four star hotels and you add a zone that doesn’t have four star hotels, you’re basically getting a free re-bid.
So, start by clicking on the check boxes and see which zones have 3, 4 or 5 star hotels (we want a good hotel, right?). Make note of the ones that do not have 3, 4 or 5 star hotels. You need to uncheck the box and then check the box of another zone to make sure.
Next, select the zone that you want to find a hotel and select the highest star level available in that zone. Next to the Name your Own Price box it will tell you what the median price is for a hotel in that zone. If we are far enough out, we want to start are bidding as low as we can go, about 50% off the displayed median price.
So enter a bid price that is 50% of the median price for your zone and work your way through the rest of the fields and see if you are successful. If not, you can either bid for a lower star hotel in the same zone, but again, adjust your bid price accordingly. Repeat this if necessary but don’t select a lower star hotel class than you want and one that is above what is available in other zones. If you’re at this point, you can select another zone that doesn’t have any hotels at the star level you’ve selected. You can raise your bid $5 and see if you are successful.
If you are not successful, wait 24 hours and start the process all over again but start bidding another $5 higher. Repeat this daily until you are bidding just under the Express Deal offer. If you’ve reached that point then you’ve reached the lowest possible price for a room in the zone that you want.
One word about beds. When Priceline books the room, it’s a room for two people so you might get a room with two beds or a single bed. So if you want a certain bed type, I usually call the hotel and ask them to check the reservation that I just made online (I do not mention Priceline!). If the room type is correct, I leave it alone but if not, I ask them if they could change it. 99.999% of the time they will change it but in all my years I only had one say that they couldn’t because I made the reservation through Priceline.
When you arrive at the hotel you’ll just need to show your ID and a major credit card. I often ask how much they need to pre-authorize and it’s often just $25 to $75. For this I’ll use my debit account at Bank of America because for some reason they don’t actually take the money out of the account, unless I use it.
Another option for longer stays in a given area is renting a home. Websites like Home Away (homeaway.com) help you search for available units and even see and connect with owners. For longer stays this will be cheaper than getting a hotel room, even if bidding through Priceline. You’ll often wind up with a nicer place and location.
Sometimes you can’t have your car with you and you need a rental car. To save money here, I look to two places: Priceline and contract ID’s from groups that I belong to. For example, if you are or are related to an alumni of a Big Ten school, then you can use contract # 5000491 and receive big discounts. Do a search for organizations that you belong to and see if there are contracts for them. You might find that you can have huge savings!
With Priceline, you basically do what we did with the hotel reservation and do a search for car so you know what the going rate is and the do a Name your Own Price for about 50% of that rate.
When you arrive to pick up your car, make sure that you decline the insurance if you already have auto insurance. Most auto insurance policies cover you if you are renting a car. When combined with the coverage that most credit card companies offer, getting insurance through the rental agency is redundant and unnecessary.