Bidding on the price of a hotel room doesn’t limit you to “opaque” bids where you don’t know the specific hotel you’ve “won” until after you’ve made a nonrefundable booking. That’s the Priceline model, and certainly the most popular.
But, fortunately, it’s not the only bidding model. I know of four online agencies that allow you to bid on rooms at hotels that you know from the get-go.
This appears to be the most fully realized of the group I checked. It lists hundreds of hotels throughout the U.S. and most of the rest of the world, including some pretty small cities. And, at least nominally, lots of hotels appear to be playing.
In London, for example, a search returned a list of some 1,100 hotels, of which more than 400 were open to offers for the test dates I entered. They ranged from one-star tourist hotels to five-star luxury properties.
You can filter the list by star ratings, but not by location within a metro area. You just have to hunt through the list to find those in your preferred area.
In this system, you — and, presumably other travelers — enter a nonrefundable and nonretractable bid. If a hotel has multiple bids for the same specific dates, it accepts the highest bid at the time the auction closes, and the hotel asks you to pay. It’s not clear whether some hotels may accept more than one bid, but they may.
This site, as its name suggests, concentrates on weekly and monthly accommodations. As far as I can tell, its inventory is limited to U.S. cities, with nothing in Canada or Europe.
You don’t actually bid rates, yourself. Instead, you post where and when you want to stay, with a one-week minimum, and the agency runs your proposed stay by participating hotels, any of which returns an offer to you if it’s interested.
The agency claims to have more than 30,000 “partner” participating hotels. When you get one or more bids, you can choose the best offer and accept it. If none of the bids appeals to you, you aren’t obligated to buy. You pay nothing up front. As far as I can tell, you can’t specify a preferred location within a metro area.
This site concentrates on hotels in Cyprus, Indonesia, Morocco, the Philippines, and Thailand. It employs a more conventional bidding process.
You check its list of participating hotels, and if you see one you like, you enter a bid. The hotel either accepts your bid or returns a counter offer. The system allows you three bids per inquiry. You also have a “buy now” option.
You can filter by location in some cases, and you can select from a list of 10 accommodation types, such as “hotel,” “villa,” or “serviced apartment.”
When I checked, the inventory seemed to be quite limited. It reported only one hotel in Bangkok; most of the Thailand offers seemed to be villas in resort areas.
RoomAuction.com concentrates on hotels in the UK, although it lists some throughout the world. When I checked for London, the site returned a long list of hotels, but only eight were accepting bids — the others were simply fixed-price bookings.
None of the eight bid acceptors was a standout; most were modest, and several were well out of the city center. You can’t filter the list at all.
The process is straightforward: Select a hotel and submit a nonbinding bid. You can bid on more than one hotel at the same time. Accept the bid you prefer.
This is my first look at transparent bidding sites. I haven’t actually tried any of them, so I’m obviously not vouching for any. I’d like to hear from readers who have some experience with using these or others.
Meanwhile, the strategy is obvious: Before you submit a bid on any given hotel, check out the best available rates through any big search engine. Then bid something at least 25 to 30 percent below the lowest posted price and see whether you get any bites.
Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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