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jun 25 2012

Priceline Puts A Fresh Spin on Booking Hotels Blindly

Make sure your hotel has a swimming pool like this (Courtesy Priceline)

Priceline became famous for its booking service that won't reveal your hotel until after you pay. Today the company has rolled out Express Deals, a service that allows you to specify the amenities you want in a hotel, such as a swimming pool, separate double beds, or an on-site restaurant, before you book it blindly at a deep discount.

First, the backstory: Priceline assumes every traveler has his or her price when it comes to brand loyalty. If you're absolutely devoted to, say, Marriott, you can pay the Marriott price, knowing exactly which hotel you're booking upfront. But Priceline's blind-booking alternative may offer significant savings off the Marriott price if you're willing to make a trade-off and accept a hotel generically similar to a Marriott but not necessarily that brand.

The trouble with Name Your Own Price is that it's a roll of the dice. Priceline never guarantees that a hotel room you are bidding on will come with separate double beds, which would be a matter of importance for business travelers splitting a room. Priceline's bidding service also won't guarantee that a hotel will have a swimming pool to entertain your kids, a business center to help you stay in touch while on the road, or other specific amenities.

Now, Priceline has addressed these shortcoming with Express Deals, an alternative to bidding. The new service allows travelers to specify the amenities they're looking for in a hotel—and even in a specific room. Customers still don't know the exact hotel they're staying at until after they pay, but, similarly to Hotwire, no bidding is involved.

Here's how it works: Travelers view a webpage that lists amenities, such as a pool, gym or business center, star level of hotel, neighborhood, guest satisfaction scores on a 1-10 scale, and a rate—without knowing the name or precise location of the property. Often, travelers may choose their bedding type, such as one king or two doubles. If a customer books an Express Deals room and finds a cheaper rate any time until the day before check-in, Priceline will match that price and give the customer $25, with some conditions, of course.

Priceline's Express Deals service has its pluses and minuses.

On the plus side, it's great for families and business travelers, two types of travelers who may have specific needs in a hotel that caused them to previously hesitate from booking blindly and enjoying deep discounts off rack rates.

Plus, there's no bidding involved. Similar to Hotwire's service, you click and book without any wait. That speeds things up, making the "Express" name true to its word.

On the minus side: the range of properties is more limited. While thousands of hotels worldwide can be found through Express Deals, the inventory is less for the new service than for either Name Your Own Price or traditional booking.

The depth of discounts is also not quite as high, on average, as booking blindly through the standard Name Your Own Price service. While Priceline advertises discounts of up to 45 percent, that 45 percent is not the average discount.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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