Travel Tips

How to Score a Four-Star Priceline Deal

I love using Priceline to go on our frequent trips. Using Priceline, I think I’ve stayed in almost every four-star hotel in Vancouver, BC and Portland, Oregon. But I rarely pay over $80 per night for these rooms, while other hotel visitors are spending over $175! I’ve stayed in Vancouver for $65 per night (winter), Portland for $50 (winter) and  Seattle for $75 (summer!).

This approach works best for staying in four-star hotels (and sometimes three) downtown, and in big cities: Seattle, Vancouver BC and Portland. For Whistler, use Suite Secrets (no rebid, but good deals). It is difficult – if not impossible – to use Priceline in Victoria, BC. There just aren’t enough hotels participating. I wouldn’t waste any time on that mission, and instead seek out a good deal on a family-friendly hotel.

Before you start:

Check rates and availability on Expedia and Travelocity (one or the other) for three-star and four-star hotels. What’s sold out? What’s available? Is the whole weekend sold out everywhere (you don’t have a chance – pick another weekend!). You can also visit the site, a message board where you can research average prices people are winning in your destination.

For the below, I suggest opening a new browser window and following along, step-by-step, long before you’re actually planning to book.

How to use Priceline in Seattle, Vancouver BC and Portland:

  1. Go to, click on “Hotels,” and then click on “Bid Now.” Enter the city you’re going to (Portland, Seattle, Vancouver BC) and the dates when you will be staying.
  2. The site will now show a page displaying hotels and prices. Look for the tab that says “Best Deal: Name Your Own Price.” Click on that.
  3. The site will now offer a page showing a map and a list of Priceline’s geographic zones for that city. Example: In Portland, Priceline has 11 geographic zones: Beaverton-Hillsboro, Clackamas, Convention Center, Downtown Portland, Gresham-Troutdale, Lake Oswego, North Harbor, Northwest Portland, Portland Airport, South Waterfront District, Vancouver, Washington.
  4. Make a list of those zones on paper. Click the checkbox next to the zone and scroll down a little to the “Step 2: Choose the star level for your hotel”– is the “4-star” option greyed-out? That means there’s no four-star hotel option in “Beaverton-Hillsboro.” Does it have a three-star? Yes. Write down “three star” (or just draw three stars, whatever you want). Now, uncheck the first zone, and click the next zone. Do this for each of the zones Priceline lists for your destination city. Example: Portland, Oregon has four-star hotels ONLY in Downtown Portland. (for now – it may have changed since publication of this article – the only way to make sure is to check for yourself)
  5. De-select all other zones, select just your preferred zone (downtown), and in the hotel star-level section select the “4-Star Deluxe.” Under the name-your-own-price section of the Web page, enter $50 per night, particularly in the off season. In summer, I’d start with $60. If you see a red pop-up bar that says “Based on recent data, your price has almost no chance of being accepted,” then raise it by increments of $5 until it no longer says that.
  6. Enter your name, address, credit card information. Select trip insurance if you like the reassurance. Send Priceline off to check your bid.
  7. If your bid is accepted, yay! You got it right the first time. But if your bid isn’t accepted, Priceline returns a form to you for a second chance. You have to change the geographic zone, the date or the stars. Don’t change those last two items (date or stars)! Instead, you’ll change the geographic zone to one that does NOT have a four-star hotel. No, you won’t actually stay there – because there’s no four-star hotel, and Priceline weights the star level over the zone. Example: Beaverton-Hillboro does not have a four-star hotel. Add it. Increase your bid by $5-7 (for some reason, I find that odd-numbered bids are often accepted first!).
  8. Accepted? Yes? Yay! No? Add another zone that doesn’t have a four-star hotel and increase your bid, again. Example: Lake Oswego does not have a four-star hotel. You will now have downtown Portland, Beaverton-Hillsboro and Lake Oswego selected
  9. Accepted? Yes? Yay! No? Keep repeating step 8, but leave off those zones with four-star hotels.
  10. If you run out of zones to use, wait 24 hours and try again the next day. Or you can ask your partner to replicate this process with a different credit card. You may be bidding too far away (rooms haven’t been released to Priceline yet) or too close to your departure date (sold out). You may need to start at a higher rate (say, $75) and be willing to go up to $150, if it’s a popular summer weekend. Also, if going to Canada, remember that the fluctuating exchange rate can impact your bids. The room you won last summer at $65 may now be closer to $90.

There is an additional strategy involving closing and opening your browser window, but if you’re ready for that, you are not the type of person reading this article – you’re already a Priceline Ninja. You can find information about that elsewhere.

Priceline Caveats:

  1. You are not going to get a swanky room, but probably the lowest-grade of four-star hotel room, which may or may not include a view of the HVAC system. However, if it’s unacceptable (first room smells like smoke), do ask for a new room, just don’t be a jerk about it.
  2. Four-star hotels have very expensive parking ($20-30/night in our region) and you should tip the bellhop, the cleaning staff, the concierge and pretty much all employees that you interact with ($2-$10, depending on job and service), because it’s expected.
  3. Priceline only guarantees a room for TWO people. Yes, you are traveling as a family, I know, I know. But really, it will be OK. The tiny room is mostly a problem in places like New York, San Francisco and Europe. I’ve never had a problem in our area. Sometimes – in VERY rare circumstances — you’ll need to be flexible (i.e. pay for a roll-out bed, sleep in two doubles, sleep in one queen). I recommend calling the hotels as soon as you’ve “won” your room and requesting a room with two queen beds. Get there as early in the day as possible to score your choice of rooms (do not check in after 4 p.m.!). We like to check in before noon.
  4. As I mentioned, this works best with four-star hotels. But if there isn’t any availability, you’ll have to go with a lower-star room — and be far more strategic about neighborhoods. You won’t get as many free rebids in the “3-star” category, but you will often have a better chance on a very busy weekend. I’ve even gone down to two-star hotel, at which point the quality starts getting really sketchy. But when you have to go to Portland for a family Thanksgiving dinner, you gotta go.
  5. The hotels you win will be big chains. No cute, funky boutiques with kitchens, no kid-friendly suites. Oh well. It’s four-star luxe for less!

Happy Priceline bidding! Let me know (below) if you score any deals or if you have any questions.

Lora Shinn writes about family travel, Pacific NW travel, grown-up travel...and travel in general. Her travel-related articles and essays have appeared in Family Fun, Parenting, AFAR, National Geographic Traveler, AAA magazines and Redbook, among others.


  • wandermom

    I use this strategy all the time. I find one thing that does work for cities like San Francisco is to go for hotels in the business districts e.g. SoMa. There are less busy on holiday weekends. We used Priceline to get a 2-bed room at the Westin downtown at Thanksgiving a couple of years ago – for < $100.
    .-= wandermom´s last blog ..Winner- Scholastic Mythlopedia Book Set Giveaway =-.

  • Lora

    Yes, we also used it in San Francisco and NYC, but our family was willing to get stuck in a one-bed room and make a kid sleep on the floor. We were desperate for a cheap hotel! The only time Priceline hasn’t worked was in Milan, Italy. The hotel we won would only accommodate three people, and there were four of us. They were strict about the three-person rule, and wouldn’t let us stay in it with four people. We ended up not being able to use the room, which was a bummer.

  • Small Footprints

    Great information … I’ve always wondered how to make priceline work. Have your used it for airfare? I’m hoping to travel to Seattle at Christmas and would love to find some cheap fares.

    .-= Small Footprints´s last blog ..500 Followers =-.

  • Lora

    You know, Small Footprints, I haven’t. I’ve known people who’ve used Priceline for airfaire and they weren’t so happy in the end. I think if you’re extremely flexible about times, carriers and stops (and don’t have little ones with you), it could work out well. I’ll share a bed if necessary, but I hate being stuck in a middle seat on a red-eye, five rows up from my travel companions!

    Also, you can’t change or cancel your flight plans.

    I have used Priceline for car rental (New York, Maui) and can recommend that option. Visit the site to check on current successful bids.

  • trip styler

    great tips. another reference site I like when using priceline and hotwire is

    like you, i’ve used priceline (and hotwire) a lot, and even had decent luck with the room type. for example, using hotwire i stayed in a gorgeous room at the hilton molino stucky in Venice, and with priceline got a room with a partial ocean view at the marriott wailea. that was soooo worth it, especially, because we got a great rate AND were allowed to opt-out of the marriott’s resort fee which saved a lot.

  • Terry

    Thanks so much for outlining these steps– I’ve always been too intimidated to try priceline but I gave it a shot using the tips and got a great rate in Vancouver. Now I can’t wait to try again!