If you read my personal blog, you'll know that my husband and I really love to travel. Of course, travel can get expensive, quickly, and so I'm always looking for ways to slash the cost wherever I can.
One of the best ways I've found to do this is through Priceline's "Name Your Own Price" feature for hotels. Hotel prices add up really fast, especially if you're traveling for more than a day or two, so saving fifty to a hundred dollars a night leaves you either with a smaller cost of traveling, or more money to spend actually doing things, rather than just having a place to dump your suitcase.
The basic idea is this: you select your city and then the areas of the city you're willing to stay in, the dates for your stay, a star-level of hotel, and the price you'll pay per night. Then you put in your credit card number and push okay to go ahead with your bid.
If your bid is accepted, your card is automatically charged before you ever see what hotel you're staying at. If it's not accepted, you can wait 24 hours and bid again, or change parts of your bid and try again immediately (changing the price you'll pay doesn't count - you have to add areas you'll stay in or change your star level or your dates).
I'll be the first to admit, I was a bit wary of this whole idea for a long time, because it just seemed so sketchy - you could end up with a really skeezy hotel and have no real options for getting out of it, since they charge you before you even SEE your hotel. Not my idea of a good time. But my extremely savings-savvy friend, Kristi, assured me she'd used it a bazillion times and always had good results, and I finally decided to trust her.
We've now used it a number of times and every time it's been a win. We've stayed in beautiful hotels, right in the middle of the city, in San Francisco, Boston, New York City, and Milwaukee. So no complaints from me.
You'll definitely want to use Bidding for Travel to help you use Priceline. It's a message board where people list how much they got their hotel rooms for and the site maintains a list of all the hotels they know of in specific cities that Priceline uses. Otherwise you might overbid or underbid because you have no idea what hotels in a certain city are going for (for example, when we went to Milwaukee, hotels were going for between $50-70 for a four-star hotel, while a similarly nice hotel in New York City was more like $150-200 per night).
And, of course, you can get to Priceline through Ebates (more info about Ebates here) and get 2% of your total cost back in cash. Which I never complain about (except when I forget to use Ebates and then I complain loudly to my long-suffering husband).
On Friday, I'll post step-by-step instructions (with screen shots!) about how to make a successful bid on Priceline.