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Twilight, Travel, and Treats

Reflections of a Twihard on all things twilight, travel, and treats.

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.
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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?


Flights

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

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.

Hotels

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


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.

Say you want to stay in Manhattan in a 4*plus hotel. First, use the lists above at BetterBidding and BiddingforTravel to check which hotels people have won in the past. They will be listed by area of New York and also star rating. You're even luckier if you see on the Win Calendar how much someone actually paid through Priceline for it. Try and choose a hotel from one of these lists for a higher chance of success. I also will look at the other hotels that people have won that are in the same area as the hotel I'm interested and I'll cross check them with tripadvisor just to make sure they are ALL acceptable. If there is even one hotel in that same area that is completely unacceptable you can't stay in that area.


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



Click on Hotels and you'll get this box. Fill in City and dates of travel.



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
Go down the list and check each area individually. You should end up with a list of all the areas and next to each one what the maximum star rating is in each area. The number of bids and rebids you get to make is determined by this list so don't screw it up.

Now you actually get to place your first bid. How much to bid?

You're in luck if the BetterBidding or BiddingforTravel lists or Win Calendars actually show how much people have been bidding successfully. If there is no info on recent winning bid price is, it's a good idea to find out what the best available non-government rate is on the regular hotel website. You should rely on this more than what price Expedia may show. There is a ton of info on BetterBidding and BiddingforTravel on where to check hotel prices.

If your first bid gets rejected then you can expand your acceptable area to include the original area you want PLUS one of the areas that ONLY HAD 3* hotels available. Increase your bid by however much you want - I go up by only $5 if I have a lot of rebids left but up by $10-15 if I only have two or three rebids left.

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

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.

13 comments:

Musing Bella said...

You are a how-to master. I bow to your knowledge.

Thanks for this post!! Informative, but still fun to read, as ever!!

Dangrdafne said...

You are amazing. Your Type A personality is a great addition to Twitardia :) The best part of this post for me... I have always been to leary to use Priceline and Hotwire for naming my own price BUT if YOU do it, then there is no reason I can't :) LOL Thank you for all the great instructions.

PS Priceline has great deals even without naming your own price sometimes (I just booked my flight to Florida at the best price but not naming my price and getting the exact flights I wanted).

twilightcupcake said...

Thanks girls. I figure the How To posts eventually reach a bigger audience than just Twitardia so worthwhile to put it up. Not too hard to use priceline/hotwire but email me if you have questions.

Jelena @ Twiholic said...

I hope you don't mind me skipping over this post, cause it doesn't pertain to me, sadly. I can't utilize any of the features (I scrolled).

Till tomorrow (or whenever you post next), then.

sparkle for twilight said...

TC you have no idea how much this post reminded me of my entire four years at college. I majored in this very thing and terms like Priceline, ADR (average daily rate), room revenues, AAA (AAA does diamond ratings and Michelin does stars, you can remember it cause AAAs look like diamonds, you know in case you were thinking about such a frivolous thing)sometimes still haunt me in my dreams!

I haven't been back to Las Vegas in so long, but the last time I was there I stayed at the Bellagio and that was practically when it was brand new. I am closer to Atlantic City so that'll have to do for now!

Dangrdafne said...

@Sparkle for Twilight - Close to Atlantic City you say... Living with Edward and myself are looking for people who live near PA/NJ to get together for the Eclipse movie. If you are interested please see our blogs with the info.

http://dangrdafne.blogspot.com/2010/04/day-of-delirium-16-is-anybody-out-there.html

http://livingwithedward.blogspot.com/2010/04/edward-wants-you.html

twilightcupcake said...

@Jelena - i don't mind and I expect it considering I have a blog that isn't totally twilight related. Hopefully sometime later you can use the info for travel.
@sparkle - you're so funny that I always hate saying AAA Diamonds even though I know it's how they rate things ;) What a weird world to learn about - feel free to add any info you feel is useful.

sparkle for twilight said...

@Dangrdafne, that sounds like so much fun! (Especially because I also learned about Living With Edward blog recently and LOVE it!) I'm "close" to Atlantic City but I'm actually not since it takes me a couple hours to drive there. If ever in NYC though, please let me know! That would be very fun ;)

@MB, rates are really tricky. I will call the actual hotel/airline to get price quotes and compare to the online stuff. But some of these airlines are cheap now, I flew Virgin America to CA recently for about 260 round trip from NYC.

17foreverlisa said...

You are amazing, TC! I am totally bookmarking this post for future reference. Having someone trustworthy break this down is so helpful.

Mwah!

Lisa

twilightcupcake said...

@Lisa I am totally Asian in that I'm all about getting things for cheap yet am totally a label snob - strange dichotomy for sure. Glad you might find it useful in future, esp since you travel so much for your son.

TongueTwied said...

TC-What great info to share. I have been shy about priceline. I think I have used expedia and travelocity in the past but only for 1 or 2 night stays linked through Upromise.

I have always wanted to go to England. I brought it up recently and Mr. AnTwi-Pattz was suspicious. "Where's this sudden reinterest in going to England coming from?"

ohhhh I don't know. **coughRobcough**LOL!

Anonymous said...

Hello! I was reading your blog and Im still confused because this will be my frist time using hotwire.. this is the thing, my husband is dpeloyed and his r & r is in july and we want to go to las vegas, and i want us to have a good time but i want to save at the same time, so i would like to get a nice room hotel for less price but i cannot figure it out how...i hope u can give me some tips thanks...we will be driving to over there, i just need to find us a hotel... thanks..

adri

adypaul@hotmail.com

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