Online travel agent (OTA) Priceline has become synonymous with discount rates for all kinds of travel. The website is a favorite online destination for millions of travelers looking to get away — and for money expert Clark Howard.
But do you know how to use Priceline to get the best travel deals? In this article, we’ll cover some key features of the popular site, as well as some strategies for how to save money when you’re booking travel arrangements on Priceline.
Priceline.com: What you need to know before you book
Priceline launched in 1997 with a wildly successful “name your own price” model that immediately shook up the travel industry. It essentially let you bid for discounts on flights, hotels and more.
You can no longer name your own price, so these days the site is probably best known for its “opaque” pricing model, which allows you to see general information about whatever piece of travel you’re booking (flight, hotel, car) but obscures key details like the airline or hotel’s name until after you’ve booked.
But even that opaque booking, while a big part of the site in earlier years, is now largely restricted to very specific “Express Deals.” For the most part, these days Priceline functions much like other OTAs like Expedia and Orbitz.
Priceline: Table of contents
Priceline has flights, cars, hotels and cruises for sale. We’re going to go over booking each mode of travel and show you the keys to getting great deals.
Priceline’s hotel section has an easy-to-use interface that offers several tools to help you save money when booking.
As you can see from the screenshot above, Priceline lets you order hotels by Recommended, Lowest Price and Customer Rating.
However, real deals when it comes to booking hotels on Priceline lie in the Express Deals.
As we mentioned, Priceline doesn’t show you the name of the specific lodgings available to book. Instead, you see a general geographic location, hotel amenities, a star rating, consumer rating, the price and the size of the discount.
If you’re set on staying in a particular area of the city you’re visiting, you can use the Map View feature to narrow down the zones you’re willing to book in.
Insider tip: You should be able to figure out the name of the hotel you’re booking before you book with a little sleuthing. We show you how here.
Searching for and booking flights on Priceline is similar to how it works on other OTAs, but the Priceline interface has some savings tools that
When you’re searching for a flight, the site is automatically set up to show you three things:
- The cheapest airfares first, even if the roundtrip is with two different airlines
- If you’re flexible, the opportunity to modify your travel and get a better deal
- Clear indications of whether things like carry-on bags and seat selection are available before you book
Priceline will even combine two one-way tickets to get you the best price for your flight. Of course, each ticket is subject to its own rules and regulations.
Booking a trip on Priceline works best when you have flexible travel plans. In fact, when you enter the dates you want to fly, the site will often suggest a slight modification to help you save more money.
When I searched for a flight from Atlanta, Georgia, to Los Angeles, California, a blue bar appeared that stated that if I booked immediately Priceline, would refund the difference if I found a lower fare later. That’s a pretty good deal.
After you’ve booked your flight, Priceline gives you up to 24 hours to modify or cancel your trip.
Priceline’s rental car booking interface has several tools to help you find deals:
- At the top of the page, a horizontal “Lowest Price” list shows you cars with the cheapest rates for your specified dates
- Under that, you can sort by three categories: Recommended, Lowest Price and Car Type
- You’ll also see cars labeled Express Deals and some with “Free Cancellation” in your results
Once again, if you book a rental via Express Deals, you won’t know your who your exact rental car agency is until after you book, though you’ll be shown a list of possibilities.
In most cases, you can reserve a car without your credit card information. Before you book, you get the option to add child seats, GPS and other special requests.
Thinking of sailing the high seas? Priceline offers travel deals on cruises, as well.
Once you fill in your preferred cruise line (if any), cruise length, ZIP code and other desired filters, Priceline searches its inventory for the best deals.
Here’s something to note: Priceline’s Loyalty Club and Exclusive Offers (more on this at bottom) can be combined with every cruise line’s loyalty program. That means more benefits for you.
Unlike with Priceline’s flights and rental cars, you can read cruise reviews on the booking page before you book a cruise.
Click on the green “See Details” button and you’ll see the ports of call, cruise dates and a live chat option for customer service support.
How to save on Priceline.com
If you know where to look, there are a number of ways to save money on Priceline when booking.
- Look for Express Deals: As we said before, you may be able to save as much as 40% on your travel by booking via Express Deals. The catch is that you won’t be told the name of the hotel, airline (or flight time and number) or rental car agency until after you’ve booked.
- Book with a rewards credit card: If you book travel through an appropriate credit card, Priceline is the perfect way to earn cash back. Check out these ‘perky’ cards.
- Bundle via Hotel + Flight Deals: Priceline gives you cheaper prices if you bundle your hotel and flight.
- Download the app: Priceline offers “Exclusive Tonight Deals” via its mobile app on Android and IOS.
- Join the Priceline Loyalty Club: Membership in the Loyalty Club will qualify you for additional savings when you cruise. Examples include a $25 excursion or Resort For a Day voucher. You can call 800-735-8000 to join.
Priceline one of the most popular travel sites for good reason. But much of what you buy on the site is non-refundable. That means you need to be sure that you’re OK with those “opaque” travel plans that only reveal the full details until after you buy. Always be careful to check the fine print.
If you want to save on travel, it’s a good idea to always check Priceline, along with its competitors. Prices can vary wildly between them, and no one site is cheapest every time.