Priceline Opens Up; Quikbook Goes Opaque
For a short time, Priceline -- one of the two major "opaque" booking sites -- is posting current and recent successful bid prices for hotel accommodations. Going the other way, a formerly "transparent" site, Quikbook, has added "opaque" booking features. Opaque means you don't know the name of the hotel (or airline or car rental company) until after you've made a nonrefundable payment. And opaque buying can cut your hotel bills substantially if you know how to do it.
By now, you probably know of Priceline's (www.priceline.com) "name your own price" booking system. You select a quality range (based on Priceline's "stars") and a general location and then enter a bid for that room. If your bid is accepted, Priceline charges your credit card and gives you the name of the hotel you just bought.
Once accepted, Priceline bids are nonrefundable, although Priceline sells trip-cancellation insurance that will reimburse you if you have to cancel for a "covered" reason -- usually accident or sickness; usually not for work requirements.
For at least a few weeks, Priceline will be posting recent successful bids, showing specific dollar "savings" but not the
names of the hotels. When I checked, I found winning bid data for lots of locations, including some pretty small towns. And the site showed plenty of good buys in the more popular visitor centers. Samples include a four-star hotel near a major attraction in
On average, Priceline claims that more than 40 percent of its customers got hotel rates at least 50 percent below the hotels' official asking prices. On the whole, my impression is that the claim is probably reasonable. The last time I used Priceline, I got a hotel room in
Going the other direction, longtime hotel discount player Quikbook (www.quikbook.com) has added a few opaque listings. So far, choices are extremely limited: two hotels in
Quikbook is following the Hotwire's business model rather than Priceline's. You know the price; you just don't know the name of the hotel. Quikbook's prices look reasonably good -- a deluxe hotel on
Meanwhile, as I noted earlier, Travelocity has also entered the opaque buying scene, but with fewer listings than Hotwire or Priceline. However, if the venture appears successful, I'm sure Travelocity will expand its options.
My main beef with all opaque sites is that you can't specify the bedding arrangement you want. Although the sites promise a room that accommodates two adults, I've found that guarantee usually means a room with just one queen or king bed, and sometimes just one regular double bed. If you want twins or two queens, you can negotiate with the hotel when you arrive, but you can't specify in advance.
Nevertheless, I routinely use Hotwire and Priceline for hotel accommodations, especially when I'm traveling alone for business and don't really need more than one adequate bed. To avoid disappointment, I usually ask for (or bid on) three-star or higher properties, and I've never been put into an unsatisfactory spot.
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(c) 2010 Ed Perkins
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