Bidding on Priceline for a hotel is for very patient travelers. Booking a car is fast and easy; however, your plans should be set in stone.
Websites to know:
-Kayak is a conglomerate search engine, good for finding flights, car rentals, and hotels. Kayak usually directs you to the company's website to book, so you always know which company you are using and you usually have easier cancellation options.
-Hotwire is a search engine for cars, flights, and hotels. You do not know what company you are booking with until after you book, so the deals are a bit better than on Kayak. You can't cancel. I don't find the money you save on Hotwire enough to compensate for the inability to cancel plans.
-Priceline offers the same services as Kayak and Hotwire as well as a third service: you can bid on flights, cars, and hotels in order to get the lowest price of all. You need to know the system to get the lowest deal, though. You can't cancel but the prices are often so good that this is a fine trade-off.
Getting a Car Deal:
Always know the cheapest deal out there already. Lets take a real-world example: I'm going to Seattle for three days. On Kayak, I run a search and find an Alamo rental car for $57 total:
While I'm there, I click on the sponsored Hotwire link to see their best offer too. In this case, they don't have anything better than $57 to offer.
Looks like my original car deal is very good and I might want that ability to cancel, so I would probably book the Kayak deal. But maybe I'm on my way to the airport right now, and I know I won't cancel. I'm sitting on the train with a few extra minutes...
Let's see how Priceline pans out. Bidding on Priceline will take 10 minutes and my time is worth $50/hour, so Priceline only needs to save me $8 here (maybe more if I value the ability to cancel).
I go to Priceline, click on the "cars" tab, and then click on "name your own price." I fill in my information and put in whatever number as my bid ($5). On the next page, I can refine that number. I'd suggest choosing "compact" for best deals ("economy" is the same).
Now, I fill in the bidding box with a number so low that a message pops up: "Based on recent data, your price has almost no chance of being accepted." They're lying! I usually win with a price they claim has no chance. I keep filling in numbers until I've entered the highest, or next to highest, number that gets this message. I want to go as low as I can without wasting bids. I only get one bid a day per car type.
In this case, $4 is the sweet spot before I go too high and that message disappears. Ignore the next page when they ask you to up your bid. We're too smart for those tactics. After crazy taxes and fees, the total amount comes to $44.80, saving me about $13 and making this effort worth it. I follow the directions (credit card and all) to see if my bid is accepted. I'd guess it is; however, if it is not, I have a second chance to bid on the same car under a different name -- an "economy" car -- for $5 or $48.90 (saving $9). Do not take any of their counter-offers, though. Those are always a bad idea. ("Your rate of $4 wasn't accepted; would you like to bid $8?") Don't do it!
Now, let's say I really want a nicer or bigger car. I'd underbid on the compact and economy cars, maybe in this case offering $3 and $4 respectively; now, that's probably not accepted (though it might be). I've saved my higher bids for those fancier cars. Mid-sized and Standard are the same car, so I offer $5 on a mid-sized and $6 on a standard. No deal? I look at my Kayak deal and decide I'll keep going (or not) because I'll see my sister's kids and a big car would be nice, or a convertible could be fun with the oldest. Maybe I'd bid $7 on full-sized, $8 on premium, $9 on a luxury, $10 on a convertible, and so forth on up. I save the car I'd pay the most for for last (in this case, it is a full-sized SUV or a convertible).
1. Know the market first, both Kayak's and Hotwire's, so you know up to what price to bid so that the effort on Priceline is worthwhile.
2. Always remember that you cannot cancel Priceline and Hotwire reservations. Consider making a Kayak reservation in advance and then trying Priceline en route to the airport.
3. Find your starting bid by using the upper dollar amount that earns the warning: "Based on recent data, your price has almost no chance of being accepted." If you hope for a fancy car, lowball even further or you might win too soon.
4. You get one bid per type of car, but note that some cars are roses by another name. (Economy=Compact; Standard=Full-Size=Mid-Sized for the most part; Minivan=Mid-sized SUV=Standard SUV=Full-sized SUV)
5. Always start from cheapest car to most expensive car because you will be raising your bid every round.
6. ...And try not to spend more time than it is worth bidding; know the value of your time.
(If you really want to be a cheat, enter the wrong three digit code from the back of your card. You'll know you've won before you're charged because they'll ask you to re-enter your code only if you propose a winning bid. Then, you can decide whether to enter the code or cancel the bid. Well, they may fix this glitch one day, so be wary.)
Good luck! Check back tomorrow to learn about bidding for hotels on Priceline. And share your experiences, tips, or questions about rental cars below!