I wrote this post while going to Vegas - I know I've already posted my Vegas wrap up but what can I say - these How To posts take way longer to edit.
Off for my first girls weekend away in forever. This will be a How-To type of travel post for all of you who love to save money but still enjoy the good life. I'll be getting to How-To Use Hotwire and Priceline later on in this post.
I stupidly forgot my iphone in my luggage so I'm stuck on the plane for 2 hours with nothing but girlfriends and a laptop. They're all busy reading the magazines they were smart enough to bring so here I am with my trusty netbook. What better time to post?
Flying to Las Vegas from Vancouver can be dirt cheap if you are willing to drive across the border for 20 minutes. If you insist on flying from Vancouver, B.C. then usually the best bet is Westjet. They have package deals but usually meant for couples so this option didn't work out well for our group of four girls.
If you are willing to get in the car and drive across the border down to Bellingham you can save a bundle on Allegiant Airlines. Including a border line up on a late night before the long weekend it only took us an hour from where the Vancouver Airport would be to get to our airport hotel in Bellingham.
The cost difference to fly out of Bellingham was huge - we paid about $300 USD for our flight to Vegas when it would have cost almost $700 Cdn from Vancouver. It would have been cheaper than $300 if I was willing to choose a different flight the same day but we had specific times in mind to maximize our playtime in Vegas.
We opted to stay overnight in Bellingham since we had a 9am flight the next morning and didn't want to face the early morning border lineup. Plus I had some leftover Hilton Honors points to burn so we got our one night stay at the Hampton Inn Bellingham Airport for free.
By the way, nice hotel which is only a minute away from Bellingham Airport. Decent continental breakfast, clean and modern room, helpful staff, and Denny's open late just a minute away.
We had to have Denny's hashbrowns extra crispy last night after we checked in - tradition every time I go to the US for any reason.
Bellingham Airport is small. Think the show Wings from the 1980's. There is one check in counter with the security line up 10 feet away and then you cross the tarmack to your plane another 20 feet away. The staff at Allegiant are nice and accommodating. We once arrived to their check in counter at 9:02am for a 9:15am flight. My husband had to drop me off to while he parked the car in the overflow lot which was a shuttle away. The Allegiant people rushed me through and when my husband walked through the airport doors they actually yelled over to him "Are you Mr. So-and-So? Here's your boarding pass. Your wife and kids are waiting for you. RUN!"
So funny and we made the plane on time. Mind you the woman behind my husband was just as late and was so worried she'd miss the flight that she didn't even put her shoes back on after security and ran across the tarmack barefoot.
Allegiant Air flies to lots of sunny places for as little as $38 USD (although usually I pay about $80-120) per way. San Diego, San Francisco, LA, Phoenix, Palm Springs, and most recently I think they've added Hawaii to their list. Very tempting for those of us who experience Forks-like weather year round to just hop on a plane and escape to the sun.
Las Vegas has a huge variety of places to stay and it's a dream for anyone who loves luxury but wants to get it for less.
We are opting to stay at the far end of the Strip at Palazzo which is basically the new wing of The Venetian.
We are next to Fashion Show Mall and also closer to the rest of the Strip than the Wynn next door.
Main reasons for choosing The Palazzo? It is one of a few AAA 5-Diamond hotels in Vegas (the others being Palazzo's sister The Venetian, Wynn/Encore, Four Seasons, Bellagio, and Skylofts at MGM Grand).
All the rooms at The Palazzo are suites and it's great to have a 700 square foot plus space when you have four women together for a long weekend.
The last and most important factor was I was able to get a good deal on Hotwire. We got this suite for $149 USD a night compared to almost $200 USD online booking through the Palazzo site itself. Not a huge difference but enough. Every buck you save on hotels gets to be spent at the mall :)
Hotwire and Priceline
So I've tried to use either Hotwire or Priceline for almost every trip that I've planned in the last 2 years. I often get asked by family and friends about how they work so I've decided to explain to you all.
Let me preface all of this by saying that everything I know about using these sites over the years has come from Better Bidding and Bidding for Travel.
I tend to use BetterBidding first but they are both worth a look. There is a lot of info to wade through when you go to these sites so if you want my take just keep reading on here.
First, both Hotwire and Priceline are websites that offer discounted hotel rooms, flights, rental cars, and vacation packages. The advantage is that you can save anywhere from 20-66% off the cost you would get even from the hotels own website or even Expedia/Travelocity.
For example for our trip to Italy in June we are stopping through London. Managed to get rooms at both the Intercontinental and JW Marriott in the nicest part of London for about $150 bucks a night as opposed to over $300 bucks a night from the hotel websites.
What's the catch? Theoretically you won't know where you are staying until after you commit to spending with them. But I've been able to guess accurately ahead of time which hotel I'll be staying at 95% of the time. How? Wel, it depends on which site you are using.
First, what's the difference between Hotwire and Priceline?
You can usually get a better deal on Priceline but you have less chance of knowing exactly where you will be staying. You also can't guarantee that you will have a room that will accommodate four people where as on Hotwire you can specify you want 2 queen beds. Priceline has more international listings than Hotwire and I believe they both offer trip cancellation insurance just in case you cancel even for non-emergency reasons.
How do they work?
Let's start with
Priceline has two different sections through which you can book. The first is a standard Expedia like travel agency - regular prices, you know where you are staying, etc. Nothing new here from what you are used to on other travel sites.
The other part is the exciting cheaper part - "Name Your Own Price". You can bid an amount for a hotel/flight/rental car and see if a hotel/airline/rental car agency accepts your offer. For hotels, the things you get to specify are 1) the price you are willing to pay, 2) what area of the city you want to stay, and 3) how many stars minimum you are willing to accept.
The scary part is you give them your credit card and then press BID and then you either get an email back saying "Yeh, bid accepted - this is your hotel and we've charged your credit card already" or "Sorry" that your bid was too low and no one would accept it. If you do not change the area where you want to stay and the number of stars you will accept you have to wait 24 hours before you are allowed to raise your bid.
But of course you know I'm tricky so there are certainly ways to get around this system.
One thing to keep in mind is that if you have a bid rejected you can rebid again right away as long as you expand the area you are willing to accept or change the minimum number of stars.
I usually go for the 4* or above but since you all know I'm a princess that should come as no surprise. And I usually don't WANT to stay in another area but you can use this expanded acceptable area thing to your advantage.
Now, how do you know which hotel you might get?
That's where Betterbidding and Biddingfortravel come in.
For as long as Priceline has been around people have been reporting back which hotels they actually got and how much they spent. There are compiled lists of all the hotels that people have ever won through Priceline and it's broken down by city and star rating.
These lists aren't always completely accurate since there are some hotels that may not be won often anymore but at least you get a good idea of the calibre.
Even better is that Betterbidding now has a Win Calendar where you can enter the dates and State/Country you are interested in and it will show you which hotels people have won and for how much. It's reliant on people submitting their wins so you hope that those of us who frequent these sites are kind enough to report back our successes.
Let's start with an example and walk through how you'd book a hotel. How about we travel to New York for one night this weekend.
How do you try to get the best price but staying in the right area in a 4*plus hotel?
Here's the procedure I follow each time I book in a new city.
Go to the Priceline site and find the "Name Your Own Price" section
Next you should be able see all the areas of New York.
Tick each area box off individually (eg. on its own with none of the other boxes ticked) and then note down below in the "Choose the star level" what the highest star level available in that area is.
|tick off each box individually|
|Then note the highest star level available - here it's 3 1/2 stars|
Now you actually get to place your first bid. How much to bid?
Every time you rebid just take out the previous 3* area you had added and add another 3* area and go up in your bid, keeping careful to be reasonable enough to go up more if you are getting near the end of your rebids.
Once your bid is accepted you'll be told what hotel you got and that your credit card was charged.
Here's a URL and another URL that explains this bidding process if you get confused.
Hotwire easier to use and is different from Priceline in that you enter the dates and what city. Then they'll tell you what hotels are available including the star rating, amenities, tripadvisor rating, and even how far is it from the airport but they won't reveal the name of the hotel to you until after you've paid.
Once again use the lists of hotels people have successfully won from Hotwire that are on BetterBidding and BiddingforTravel and look at the amenities listed for each hotel in the area you're interested in. It's easy to cross reference this list, which is usually quite up to date, with the list of available hotels and also the tripadvisor rating so that you can narrow down which hotel you'll be getting.
I've only ever had this fail once and even then the hotel was still a 4* at a good price.
So the advantage of Hotwire is that you can select 2 queen beds and almost pinpoint exactly which hotel you'll be staying at but the discount tends to be less than from Priceline.
For both sites you have the option that you can buy trip cancellation insurance. Otherwise your booking is nonrefundable.
It can be a bit confusing and daunting the first time you try it but soon you'll find it a breeze. You'll never want to pay full price for a hotel again!
Send me a message if you have questions about this process and I'll walk you through it.