So a lot of people have asked me how I can afford my trips. To be honest, I think I stretch myself a little too thin sometimes and, because of this, may not have as jam packed a travel calendar in 2012 as I did in 2011.

That doesn’t mean I wasn’t able to stretch my pennies a little further, though. I’m about to give Priceline some free advertising on my humble little travel blog…

In the words of Sammy Sosa, “Priceline been very good to me”…

In all seriousness, though, I find most people just don’t know what Priceline can do for you when you travel on a tight budget but still demand a decent room or convenient transport. It actually helps me stomach the expensive proposition of travel combined with the necessity of creature comforts.

Yes, you can use Priceline to search for hotels, flights and rental cars and they will quote you relatively moderate prices that you can usually match on any other travel site. Only under exceptional circumstances will I ever use this feature except to look up base rates and get an idea of what I’d be willing to bid.

I use Priceline’s name your own price feature almost exclusively. Here’s where I take that data I found on my search and try to lowball. Are hotels in a certain area posting for around $80-90 a night? Well, I’ll be happy to stay there for $45. I can’t tell you how many hotels I’ve booked for $30-50 this way (or even resorts for less than half of their lowest advertised price. Our hotel in Puerto Rico (photo, above) set us back $81 a night. If I booked straight up with them, the absolute lowest I may have gotten was $150 – and that’s for a weekday in the offseason).

Three major keys before booking with Priceline:

1) Know your area and do your research! If you see Priceline has hotels in the area your bidding (and for the same star level your bidding for) that you definitely don’t want to stay, then change your search parameters. Priceline does sneak in lower quality hotels in higher star brackets (usually only by a half star). A 2.5 star hotel could easily be a 2 somewhere else and a motel can sneak right in there with a Holiday Inn Express. Remember – search Priceline first for hotels in the area before you bid to get an idea of what you’ll be bidding for.

2) Give yourself time. Yes, I’ve gotten some amazing last second deals on Priceline as well, but usually I like to plan ahead. Knowing I’d be spending a night in Atlanta on the return trip from San Juan, I spent two weeks bidding on a 3-star airport hotel at the $30-35 range. I finally hit the jackpot for $33 (on a hotel that usually booked for almost $90). Remember, you only get one bid a day for a specific bid – so be patient with the process and give yourself multiple days to try lower bids out.

3) That said – there are ways to “trick” the one-bid system. Say your in an area with a lot of higher-end hotels or various suburbs with plenty of options. The trick to getting our San Juan hotel was first selecting exactly what I wanted (a 3-3.5 star place in San Juan proper). When my first bid didn’t work, I selected other options (along with my original option) that obviously wouldn’t take lowball offers, like a 4 or 4.5-star in San Juan. I kept selecting other suburbs or regions and ended up with six bids in a day (each time increasing the increments by $1-2) until I landed the $81 Intercontinental Resort right on the beach.

Hotels are great – but sometimes I just like to reserve them and not pay up front. I take a bigger hit later, but the flexibility is nice to have. With Priceline there is none – you pay for a mysterious hotel with a certain star rating and area assigned to it – you know nothing more until it announces you’ve “won”. It can be scary for some, but, I assure you, if you do it right it’s really not that bad at all.

The biggest coups might be with rental cars. I’ve rented three times through Priceline, all for pennies on the dollar. Our recent Southern roadtrip (where we logged 5,000+ miles) was on a $17 /day Toyota Corolla. We went to Canada last year with a $13/day rental. Our Puerto Rican rental, $12/day. Try getting those prices anywhere else – it’s impossible.

We even had to book a last minute (5-6 days out) flight to Minnesota. Tickets were ranging from $550 hacker fares to $900 direct flights. I’ve had the least success with Priceline flights (probably because I undercut the bids TOO much). We were willing to pay $440 a ticket at this point, so we tried it. They didn’t accept our offer out of Reagan National Airport, but counter-offered with $360 out of Dulles Airport for direct. That same exact ticket would have been $920 if booked at the same time by traditional means (it was for a late departure but also late return – so it’s not like one was stuck getting in late on a day and leaving early upon return).

I admit, I don’t rough it as much as others when I travel. I like to have my wireless internet, my free breakfasts, my clean beds and showers. Thankfully, I’m still able to do this – a lot in part to Priceline’ing it when I go.



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