Here’s a cautionary tale about naming your own price for a hotel

Charles Shapiro and his wife visit Budapest, Hungary, every year, but this time is special. It’s her 80th birthday, and Shapiro says that for health reasons, it might be the last time they’re able to take the trip.

So it’s understandable that, given the medical issues this couple is facing, the Shapiros would want to save a little money. Priceline, with its “Name Your Own Price” hotels, offered exactly that: “up to 65 percent savings” on a hotel in the Hungarian capital. How could they say “no” to that?

In retrospect, they probably should have.

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Shapiro had only two requirements. Since he was bidding on a five-star hotel, he wanted a pool. Also, and perhaps more importantly, the hotel needed to be within walking distance of the central tourist area in Pest. “Our walking abilities are limited,” he says.

You can probably guess what happens next, right? I’ll let Shapiro explain.

When we specified Pest for location, and 5 stars, Priceline listed 8 hotels. We examined each of them, and found that they all were well-located and had either a spa and/or a pool.

Four of them were on the Danube River, within a few hundred yards of the [tourist] center. We concluded that this was a good deal.

It wasn’t. After a few rounds of bidding, Shapiro’s credit card was charged $1,354.

That’s when he discovered where he’d actually be staying.

We were shocked to find it was in a hotel that was not in one of the 8 previously listed. It did not have a spa or swimming pool and was located in a busy commercial part of Pest at the very top of the listed area, and was so far as to require public transport to go to the tourist centers.

We looked at the website and found that at some time after our initial bid, this hotel was added, perhaps after our second bid.

We immediately phoned Priceline to say this hotel was unacceptable, but were told that this bid reservation was not changeable or refundable, and that the hotels listed may not be the only hotels in the bidding program.

Shapiro is upset because he did the math on the so-called “savings.” Indeed, “up to” 56 percent savings would have been the operative phrase.

The savings to them ended up being only 2 percent of the listed price — $122 per night, versus $124. More to the point, the assigned hotel wasn’t what Priceline implied they’d get — a “classic bait-and-switch,” he says.

“I believe Priceline at a minimum has been very misleading, and acted unethically, perhaps fraudulently,” he told me. “Their headlines entice you, but the fine print that most would miss gives them wide leeway for abuse.”

Shapiro’s wife refuses to stay at the hotel, and he asked me to help them change the reservation. I contacted Priceline on the couple’s behalf to see if it could review the transaction and tell me if maybe he’d missed something when making the reservation.

“You and I have covered this ground before,” sighed my Priceline contact. OK, he didn’t sigh, since he emailed me this response, but I’m pretty sure he actually was sighing. “Hotels that participate in our retail program are not required to offer rooms in our ‘Name Your Own Price’ program and vice versa. We state that on the website, and not in fine print. You also know that, with ‘Name Your Own Price,’ you can’t specify a pool or a very narrow part of town. In this case, we delivered exactly what we said we would.”

So it appears Shapiro confused Priceline’s retail program, which lets you book hotel rooms the old-fashioned way, with its “Name Your Own Price” program, which lets you bid on hotels.

It all comes down to this: He didn’t read carefully. He should have.

Shapiro doesn’t like that answer. He says Priceline’s disclaimers basically gives it a license to give you anything at all, as they did with his booking. That may be something of an exaggeration, but some may feel that Priceline has created a business model based on fine print. If so, it’s in good company in the travel industry.

“The moral is to read everything very carefully,” he says, “which I — and I believe most others — do not do.”

Should Priceline have turned down Charles Shapiro's request for a new hotel?

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157 thoughts on “Here’s a cautionary tale about naming your own price for a hotel

  1. That is sad, but how difficult is booking online with these website? I don’t use them, so are they that confusing? I assume they must be as that is the majority of issues from LW’s.

  2. this is why i use hotels dot com. you CAN select if you want a pool (or wifi, or a fridge…. what i always look for) AND you can select what local landmarks you want to be near.

    when me and my husband went to Washington DC we knew it would be a hassle to drive, so we needed a hotel near a tour bus stop we searched a few tourist attractions and found a hotel 3 block away that was perfect.

    NEVER use priceline unless you really don’t care about the outcome.

  3. All of that stated information only appears in the terms and conditions found in a small text link at the bottom of the page, at least prior to bidding. I can easily see how Mr. Shapiro missed it. Had I not suspected problematic fine print and gone looking for it, I never would have known about it. Priceline has enough information to be legal, but not enough visible to be customer friendly.

  4. Such a very sad outcome, butt hats what you get when you try to go cheap on luxury. What’s the saying “penny wise and pound foolish”.

    There are never any real guarantees in an auction, for all that’s said, and done often a lot more is said than done. Sales are basically as is and what you see is what you get, and before the “but’s” chime in this in as online auction for a hotel room in a certain city. Thats all you should expect a room in that location. If you have more specifics than that, especially when looking for high end accommodations, you need a more traditional and TRANSPARENT service provider.

    Auction sites and any opaque site can give you ratings that mean nothing, a 5 star property can be anything the site says it is, and the inventory can also be any number of properties.

    I would contact my credit card issuer and report the transaction as fraudulent, claiming you purchased a specific reservation and property and this transaction was not authorized.

  5. I am flabbergasted at several things here: that someone once again thinks they can outwit Priceline on its name your price opaque sight and that the LW knows enough to write to you but not enough to actually choose a hotel. But my jaw is really dropping over a 5-star hotel in Budapest for $122 or $124 at full price.

  6. They aren’t hard, but basically you see some glossy photos and brochure like description, the reality is your bidding not on a room that represents that property but on a bucket of rooms that are representative of that property, and the term representative is very, very relaxed. It’s like a rental company showing you a photo and a description of a Mercedes, and finding out in the fine print, that what your really bidding on is a rental that only could include a Mercedes, but also include everything from a Ford Focus to a Nissan Sentra, etc.

    You know those vacation seminars that say if you attend you’ll win a prize, and the prizes are a boat, a vacation, and a mystery box, how many people really win the boat or vacation? Everyone gets the mystery box which is a $200 credit towards a vacation package (from their company).

  7. I have been poking around with some ideas :) The issue is that there are far more than four suits. Not quite sure how to distribute the various maladies and life events.

  8. Anybody that reads these comments regularly might guess I’d vote “tough luck”. You’d be wrong.

    I went to the website and while at first I thought they had no case, I spied the link to “Not sure what to bid? Click here to shop and compare prices.” I think they could be forgiven for thinking that was a list of participating hotels and what they normally charge. Priceline should have a popup informing people who follow the link that the results list is not connected with the NYOP program and you may be assigned a hotel not on the list.

  9. Tarot card design while there are generally 4 suits in the minor arcana, you could simply design one with more suits.

  10. True…but then there are very few numbers…and the poker hands we’ve been using wouldn’t make much sense. There’s something here, just have to sit down and figure it out.

  11. So conventional poker deck, and just make up some extra suits there’s no reason why you can’t have hearts, clubs, spades, diamonds, circles and crosses, you could even dump the J,Q,K and just have 1-10 and be about the same number of cards. It doesn’t even mess up the traditional hands much (except for the royal flush, but you’d have 5 and 6 of a kind).

  12. yea, that may be a way to go. I’m also thinking just drop the poker idea altogether for simplicity. Even today, I said the OP had a “three of a kind” when in fact the three cards (80th birthday, health problems, last trip together) would not have formed any sort of poker hand….she just mentioned 3 things. So maybe a flat deck (like Community Chest in Monopoly :)).

  13. In an attempt to find stats on Priceline reviews, I ran across this site. 83% of the reviewers give it 1 star!

    http://www . sitejabber . com/reviews/www . priceline . com

  14. A few years ago, I read that Budapest is a great alternative to visit in Eastern Europe over Western Europe due to their prices.

  15. Actually have been there several times and never in a 5-star, even in off season because of the cost. Priceline and similar are known to have their own rather strange star rating system.

  16. If you have very specific requirements on a place you stay, an opaque site is not the site for you. If you need a warm bed to crash for the night or are willing to stay anywhere in a metropolitan area , maybe its a good fit. For me, the amount I’d save isn’t worth the amount of control I’d give up.

    Beyond that, I’m not sure how the LW can really complain about the deal he got. After all, its NYOP. He set the payment terms of the deal… not the website.

    Sounds like the LW made a poor vendor choice.

  17. I have had good luck with priceline for the most part had a few times where the savings was not that good but I never paid more than the regular rate so all and all I am pleased.

  18. I basically stopped using Priceline and Hotwire when hotels started deciding it was ok to slap a “resort fee” on top of the agreed price.

  19. I check hotels dot com often but rarely use them to make a reservation. The reason is that they usually require advance payment and many times the payment is non-refundable. A trip to the hotel chain’s web site will often show you a refundable price that is slightly higher than that quoted by hotels dot com. If you have an AAA membership or are a senior citizen, the discount will usually bring the price down to what is offered at hotels dot com or sometimes even below. Travel plans do change and I’d rather book at a site that is going to let me make changes without charging for the privilege of doing so.

  20. Sorry Shapiro, but you are a yutz for using Priceline or any other “blind” service because you are a cheapskate. Your wife is an AK, and you want to have her enjoy the last trip to Hungary? Then cough up the money and ensure that you don’t get shtupped. What d’ya think you’re gonna do, take it with ya when ya croak?

  21. How much are hotels in Budapest? We are planning to visit Budapest in the future? According to the online articles, a five-star hotel is around $ 100 Euro which is currently $ 125 USD.

    “One of the big differences is the hotel prices, as you in Budapest can get a room in a five star hotel for around 100 Euro per night, much, much cheaper than in large UK cities such as London, Dublin (ops… not in UK, but in Ireland) and so on. If you go for a hotel with three or four stars you can get even prices around 50-70 Euro per night.”

    Source: wwwhungarybudapestguidecom/budapest-expensive-city/ August 2012

    In a May 2014 article, it stated that prices dropped 11% for British travelers due to falling hotel prices.

    Source: wwwtelegraphcouk/travel/destinations/europe/hungary/10721978/Budapest-cheapest-for-city-breaks-as-holiday-costs-fallhtml

  22. butt hats? Most folks wear hats on their heads.

    Would it be viable to contest the credit charge? After all, they contracted for what they got.

  23. I don’t know if the room rate include taxes or not but it looks like the OP iswas staying 9 to 11 nights depending upon if the taxes are included in the rate. Even at 11 nights, the savings at 56% (which is not guaranteed but up to 56%) would have been $ 763.84 ($ 124.00 x 56% = $ 763.84).

    To me, $ 763.84 isn’t that much IF it was my wife’s 80th birthday and it was our last trip due to failing health. Personally, I will go out with a bang to have a wonderful trip and not worried about prices and etc. since this will be our last trip…no more future outlays for trips.

  24. He made a poor choice and now he is playing his ‘full house’ hand against the ‘royal flush’ hand of Priceline.

  25. Never used Priceline, but went on their website after reading the story and before voting. Wound up voting no. It seems you can book a hotel the “regular” online way or click the separate “Name Your Own Price” button in the upper right corner. The FAQs section also clearly explains the difference between the two booking options. I feel like a broken record saying it so often, but “Caveat Emptor.”

  26. My AAA membership over the past 20 years have saved me thousands of dollars on my hotel stays. Couple of my employers even paid my membership fee because it saved their company so much money.

  27. I shop the sites like Hotels dot com to find the hotel I want and a good price, then I contact the hotel directly. Even if the hotel’s site lists a higher price, I’ve had really good luck getting them to price match or beat the third party vendors. Never hurts to call and ask, and I wind up with a room I don’t have to pay for up front AND a 24 hour cancellation policy.

    The sites like Hotels, Priceline, etc are great for catalog shopping and showing me all the places I could stay in an area, but I never reserve through them.

  28. I agreed with your comment until you mentioned contesting the charge. No need for an credit card investigation as the OP didn’t pay for a specific property. If he wanted a specific property, he should have booked directly.

  29. I have used priceline opaque bidding and I’m largely happy with them but with these caveats: They say that you’re bidding on a double occupancy room with a SINGLE bed. When I wanted to bring along my in-laws, I had to go with a regular system otherwise I’d have to buy two rooms ruining any savings. I agree with priceline that the list of hotels in retail didn’t match bidding and I’m sure they deal with such people all the time who are disappointed.

    When bidding on priceline, I’ve sometimes seen rental cars and hotels wind up costing almost the same as if I went a traditional route. At that point, I gave up and went with normal hotel prices. (Well, for rental cars, I gave up and just took public transportation and taxis. Unlike a hotel, I didn’t NEED a rental car to get where I was going most of the time.)

  30. I don’t think priceline was intending to rip the guy off. When they have a listing of hotels in the area, it’s meant to help them come up with a reasonable bid. If the cheapest hotel in retail is X, then you probably won’t get 1/4th of X.

    Opaque bidding is a gamble by definition.

    For the record, I went on a priceline hotel room for my honeymoon. It turned out to be the doubletree and we had a great time. It was off the strip (Vegas wedding) and they had a shuttlebus that dropped us off at the casinos. Nice and quiet which is what we wanted!

  31. Budapest is actually a very affordable city. I have reservations in a 4-star hotel in a few weeks for about $100. Prices for meals are excellent – I can have a great dinner for at 1/2 of what I would pay in most US cities.

  32. You realize that you’re advising the LW to commit fraud? A crime?

    Priceline is going to give the CC company screenshots and show it was a bidding process without a guaranteed room.

  33. I’m perplexed as to why this couple was shopping for cheap accommodations to celebrate the wife’s 80th birthday, in addition to anticipating it could be their last trip to Hungary due to health issues. Sure, everyone wants to save a few bucks, but geez….. At 80+ years, they should be breaking the bank to celebrate both the wife’s birthday and the luck for good health to be able to make such a trip. I’d be divorcing my husband for doing something so cheap and stupid.

  34. Budapest is one of the cheaper cities to travel to – hotel prices are great and meals are extremely reasonable.
    If someone has been to Budapest in the past, they would know the prices. In addition, the traveler would know the better/convenient neighborhoods.
    Not sure about his reasoning for using Priceline.

  35. Don’t forget to make a suit for plain “stupid”. And it needs to have LOTS AND LOTS of cards in it. 1-100…

  36. This is a very unfortunate story. Although they “technically” did nothing wrong, I’d like to see the company fix this for an elderly man and his wife. Just act like a decent human, have a little compassion. Don’t hide behind the fine print just because you can.

    I’m assuming this man has booked with plenty of time for no one to be harmed by canceling a reservation and making a new one. Why burn this guy over $122 and ruin their vacation and possibly even put them at risk? Man…a little empathy would go a long way in this situation.

  37. People on a fixed income (implying that the income is low) usually don’t stay in 5-star hotels. No pity here.

  38. I agree with Priceline on this. The OP was hoping to “score” by getting more than what he was paying for. His gamble failed…oh well! Look, I sometimes have specifics when I go on vacation. I would LIKE to use Priceline, but I am too picky to settle with what they give me. As such, I’ll pay the extra money and get what I want. If you have a narrow list of requirements, then these opaque deal sites aren’t for you.

  39. I think CE needs to add “Name your own price” to the do not mediate list.

    If you want a specific amenity and a specific location, book it. Priceline is very clear that you will be within the displayed map, in the category you choose (Based on their own rating).

  40. Frankly, Chris, I cannot believe you’d consider wasting more time on that Jane Berryman nonsense but not on this case.

  41. I used to use them, but now I want to know where I am staying. They are very easy to use, and you can get some good deals. You just don’t know specifics until after you pay.

  42. 5-star in Budapest is not quite the same thing and did you see the price he paid? Most elderly travelers need the amenities a 5-star hotel provides whether they can afford it or not. They need safety, luggage assistance, transfers, well-maintained facilities, etc.

  43. Priceline asks something like “not sure what to bid? Look at these properties…” which could very easily mislead someone into thinking those were the bid group.

  44. The first sentence: “they visit Budapest every year”….is very interesting. So they are not broke…they can afford the airfare. And…they know Budapest very well and the value of every hotel. He thought he could get a deal beyond belief. He needs to eat the money as just one more life lesson, and buy a nice hotel for his wife.

  45. Anyone using Priceline is hoping to get more than they’re paying for, so what? That means we should accept terrible customer service from a for-profit company?

  46. You know NOTHING about their situation based on visiting Budapest once a year. Mr. Shapiro might be a cheapskate or he might be someone living on a tight budget who, for personal reasons, makes sacrifices to afford this trip each year. If I gave you a rundown of my travels you’d probably make wild assumptions about my finances, too, which would be false.

  47. I don’t think they’re trying to rip people off either. The business model is actually pretty interesting. If you’re flexible on where you stay and don’t particularly care what brand hotel you stay in, it appears you can get a really great bargain. However, Priceline doesn’t seem like a good fit for those with rigid expectations and inflexible travel requirements. Great thing about the market is its ability to accommodate everyone…for a price.

  48. Right, that’s why I deleted my comment – I realized the north/south thing made the original statement correct since Dublin was the city mentioned.

  49. Certainly I understand that many travelers know tricks to gaming Priceline’s system. However, they always make a map of the area available, and that map is the final arbiter of whether or not a hotel is acceptable under the rules. This is most definitely not fraud.

    Additionally, some hotels might not come up in their listings if there’s no non-opaque rooms available for a certain time period, but they may have opaque bookings available.

    We’ve used Priceline before, and it’s simply not used if the location has to be specific enough for walking distance to a certain place.

  50. Such a credit card dispute would go nowhere. I’m sure banks are quite familiar with how Priceline works by this point, and that dispute is going to get rejected pretty quickly. (And she DIDN’T purchase a specific reservation… I’m not quite sure what you are getting at there.)

  51. I think he was “hacking” priceline and made a mistake. There are tips on “hacking” priceline. Want a 2nd bid right away without waiting? Consider that if you want 3 stars or higher, and another region in the area has only 2 stars or lower, add that region to bid right away since you won’t get a hotel in the other region since you demanded 3 stars or more (I’m surprised priceline hasn’t closed that hole.)

    He examined all the hotels in the region in the retail area and ASSumed that he could bid blind and get a pick of them. I would have thought twice. When going out with my in-laws, I read through the details of the page and saw that only a single bed was guaranteed. So I backed off. It’s not for everyone and every condition.

    For a couple or single person looking for a cheap place with a certain minimum standard in a region and you’re flexible, it’s great.

    Even the hungary place, I’d deal with it. So he has to take metro and doesn’t get a built in spa. There are plenty of wonderful paid spas in the region. Also, I _LIKE_ going outside the tourist regions and learning about an area. The best “local” experiences are just outside of the local region. Anthony Bourdain would spit on someone wanting to hang out in the tourist area.

  52. If it’s not actually within the promised boundaries or if the quality is well below the rating, then I’d agree that it’s worth mediating. That a hotel isn’t precisely where the bidder wanted it to be is not.

  53. First of all, Priceline’s Name Your Own Price doesn’t show any specific hotels. In fact, they say you can get ANY hotel in that zone at that quality level. Secondly, if you want any specific amenities, you don’t use Priceline NYOP. Period. Third, every business segment uses “up to” XX savings. Do your homework – did she check the price of the 8 hotels she thought were the only ones? Highly doubtful being that she obviously didn’t read the fine print as she bid. Totally her own fault. #nosympathy

  54. I used to use priceline a lot – and only bid on the highest rated hotels in the area (usually 3 1/2 or 4 stars – the only time we weren’t satisified with priceline was when we went down to 3 stars and got a 2 star motel) and I bid very low – Priceline works best for areas out of the city centers (for example, we stayed several times at the Hyatt Regency in Santa Clarita – the only 3 1/2 star hotel in the area) for prices ranging from $40-55 a few years ago – and when we were in Tucson, we got an all-suites hotel north of the city for $56 versus $100+ (when we wanted to extend our stay one night the best the hotel would offer us was $92 with our AAA discount and another 10% managers discount, so we went back to priceline and found the “like this hotel, stay longer offer” was still open…

    that said, it seems like really good deals are getting harder and harder to find there, and if the savings are minimal, I prefer booking directly with the hotel, etc – right now, we love airbnb, but that is not for everyone.

    on the other hand, why would someone who visited Budapest every year be using Priceline? Didn’t they already have a hotel they loved?

  55. The listing of the hotels is for regular, non-opaque bookiing purposes. I have actually booked specific hotels this way on PL, where the prices were actually better than if I booked directly. I also have seen special deals like free breakfast or free parking that weren’t included in the direct booking on the hotel’s corporate website.

  56. I don’t care if it’s the “rules” or “policy” or “in plain print” or anything else. When it comes to purchases that exceed $1,000, there should be EVERY attempt on the part of the selling party to see to it that customers are satisfied. Sure, they don’t legally HAVE to, but it’s common sense business practice. I will never use priceline again, for anything, based on this event.

  57. Merci for the heads up!

    Are you referring to these special deals on pricelines opaque bidding or their regular site?

    I recently found a deal on priceline retail for Hotel Philadelphia for a two bed and wifi/breakfast that was cheaper than the hotel’s corporate website. The hotel’s website offered price matching, however, so a screen shot got me the lower rate.

    On another hotel, however, I called the front desk and asked them to price match priceline and they declined, strangely enough. So I just made a pre-paid reservation with priceline for the hotel.

    I think we’re going to see something similar with hotels that has happened with the airline industry soon. As hotels stop allowing “free” refundable reservations and fill up rooms with advance purchase rates, the hotels will fill up more with pre-paid customers making opaque bidding less necessary just as airlines are filling up planes and finding they don’t need the loyalty programs so much.

  58. Please remember that I coped those sentences from the article, wwwhungarybudapestguidecom/budapest-expensive-city/, and used quotation marks to denote that.

  59. Is Priceline a blind site, where the buyer does not know the exact property being booked beforehand? If so, the LW stands convicted of being a complete idiot for using them.

  60. If you go the cheap route, expect the cheap.
    I voted no, but I’m a cold hearted bastard, so there ya go.

  61. Everywhere has a business plan where they have mechanisms to encourage people to deal with them, and other mechanisms which enable them to make a profit. In many cases with sites such as this, it involves asking the customer to accept some uncertainty in exchange for getting a lower price.
    If there is uncertainty and not a lower price, the mechanism has failed.

    Priceline works for some people and doesn’t work for some others. I don’t use it, many others do.
    But I don’t know the answer to the question, I really don’t.

  62. Kudos to you for looking beyond whether there is a disclosure *somewhere* and examining whether the disclosure is designed to be seen and understood in the relevant scenario.

    But is this really unusual?

    My favorite example is the airline fare rules that you often can’t even see before purchase (at least not without traveling to the airport or airline’s office) and that are often virtually undecipherable anyway. But hardly anyone seems to care about that.


    Are you sure you weren’t giving extra scrutiny to the disclosures in this particular case because of the cards played from the “Elliott deck of misfortune?” ;)

  63. Logic and reason tells me there’s a reason they don’t want to disclose the hotel. So yeah, they list eight beautiful properties and one dog. Guess which one you get when you book? Guess which one EVERYBODY gets when they book through Priceline? Yeah, the dog. Why are you surprised?

    It’s like somebody saying, “We have four 2015 Mercedes AMGs, four 2015 BMW 750s and one 2002 Daewoo. Pay us $15,000 and you’ll get one of these. Guess which one everybody gets?

  64. The article didn’t state that the couple was on a fixed income. Or more importantly, low income (Chris, that is another card…poor or low income or low fixed-income). I know individuals that are retired and receiving a fixed income of $ 50,000 to $ 150,000 a year…I don’t consider that level of income to be low, living in poverty, etc.

    Granted, there are many seniors (or active adults is what they are called in Arizona) that are poor, have low incomes, living on a fixed income that is below $ 20,000 a year, etc. Overall, the fact is that the older Americans have most of the wealth in this country.

    The reality is that the age group of 65 and older is the only age group that their wealth is growing according to the US Government and other studies. In the recent studies, most individuals under the age of 55 have seen decreases in their net worth (my guesses are real estate prices and 401k). The net worth of older individuals is 3X of the younger generations.

    In addition, the today’s older generation is doing better than their counterparts from the 80’s. In 2009, households headed by adults ages 65 and older possessed 42% more median net worth (assets minus debt) than households headed by their same-aged counterparts had in 1984.

    Here are other financial facts for older Americans:

    1. The 55+ age group controls more than three-fourths of America’s wealth (ICSC).
    2. 78 million Americans who were 50 or older as of 2001 controlled 67% of the country’s wealth, or $28 trillion (U.S. Census and Federal Reserve).
    3. Boomers and seniors have seen a decrease in their median family net worth, however they still have a net worth 3x that younger generations (Economic Policy Institute).
    4. The 50+ have $2.4 trillion in annual income, which accounts for 42% of all after-tax income (U.S. Consumer Expenditure Survey).
    5. Adults 50 and older own 65% of the aggregate net worth of all U.S. households (U.S. Consumer Expenditure Survey).

    Other sources:

  65. The Contract of Carriage is available online for every airline in the sky… the bit about it being available at the airport or “city ticket office” (do those even exist any more?) is not exclusive. As far as fare rules go: As a test, I just went through Expedia, and the fare rules were available prior to purchase. (They are accessed from the final confirmation screen, which also discloses the change fee and the fact a ticket is non-refundable.) Not to mention that everybody now lets you cancel in the first 24 hours with zero penalty. So even if they weren’t viewable until after purchase, you’d still be covered.

    But all that is beside the point… in this situation, it would be as if an agent had a link labeled “view fare rules here” without mentioning that they were just example fare rules, and didn’t actually belong to any ticket they had any intention of selling you.

    As far as the sob story goes… nope, that didn’t effect anything. In fact, I didn’t even notice it; I try to mentally filter those out of Chris’s articles. When I notice them at all, I often comment about how a sob story really shouldn’t make a difference (with rare exceptions.)

  66. I have made errors in purchases online and I have called immediately and got it taken care of. However, when you go to a website where you can bid on something, that puts your purchase in a different category of purchases. With a site like that, you want to make sure you are clear on where you are in the website and what you are doing, or don’t use it. You are gambling and with gambling, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.
    I wouldn’t not use a bidding site because of this example. In fact, I think he shows us that you need to know exactly what you are doing, as all sales are final. Scammers beware!

  67. Yeah… that kind of destroys their whole concept. If you are going to have a hotel-discretion fee on top of it (as opposed to taxes all hotels pay), it’s now useless.

  68. Yeah, throw in the ‘fixed income’ card. How many seniors travel to Budapest every year on a fixed income. There is no doubt that this couple has investments they live on, too, as many others who travel do.

  69. The Contract of Carriage is available online for every airline in the sky

    The Contract of Carriage doesn’t disclose the terms for your ticket, such as if, when, and how you can change it.

    And Priceline’s disclaimers are available online too.

    I just went through Expedia, and the fare rules were available prior to purchase.

    What airline did you choose? If you choose the “wrong” airline, Expedia will display this instead of fare rules:

    “We have not received information regarding the rules or restrictions for this flight.”

    Even when you can see fare rules, the TAs who comment here have reported they are sometimes “incomplete” and “abbreviated” compared to what they see (aside from the considerable challenge of deciphering the thickly coded rules)

  70. This is a business. Compassion / age; there is no excuse. Shapiro bid, they were on the wrong side of the site, got an undesirable hotel in their opinion, and now is another cry baby. If every one of our hotels came out incorrect on Priceline and we did not like the answer, and we wanted to change, it wold defeat their sales model; they would go out of business. I use an incredible European site that maps hotels, rates them, advises their facilities, and wholesales their price. All travel agents have assess to these sites. Enjoy the local transportation, because Priceline did everything by the book. Some people are not cut out to arrange their own travel.

  71. I wanted to stay in the 5-star Gresham Palace in Budapest. Not a 100 Euro rate to be found. But my definition of 5-star might be different than yours.

  72. I just went to Priceline and the Name Your Own Price for Budapest. You can click on an area, and it will show you the amenities at the different star hotels. Not a single 5-star hotel in any area showed pool as an amenity. A couple of 4 star ones did. So regardless if the OP looked at the regular booking hotels first, I think it was pretty clear on the NYOP that they would not get a pool if they booked a 5-star.

  73. The dates for the OP’s travel was not listed in the article but it would be nice if one of the travel agents who reads this blog regularly could check on rates for hotels in the area that the OP wanted to stay. I would like to see the rates and see how much higher the rates than Priceline.

    If the OP didn’t want to work with a travel agent for this special, once-in-lifetime, our last trip together, why didn’t the OP contact the hotels in the area via e-mail asking for special prices? He could give them his story (i.e. my wife is celebrating her 80th birthday…our health is failing so this is our last trip..our health is failing and this is our last trip to our motherland {if the OP and/or his wife was from Budapest or their families} or to visit our families…etc) and they might have given him a special rate, etc.

    Why didn’t the OP contact the hotels and asked for a price match? I do this on a regular basis…I will contact the hotel and said “I am here for a convention but I would like to stay at your hotel than the convention hotel…the price of the convention hotel is X and can you match it”. A lot of the times, the answer is Yes…probably because I am an elite frequent guest with their hotel brand. A few times, they will throw in a breakfast and arrange for transportation to and from the convention.

  74. I was going by what was written in the articles that I read about 5-star hotels being around $ 100 Euro.

  75. ” It’s her 80th Birthday” So, I can assume he is around that age as well, I am not sure that they ask for age or birth dates when booking on these types of sites ( I never use these online sites ) When your up in age a lot of factors come in to play, and confusion is part of it, with all due respect. I voted for compassion.

  76. Doesn’t sound to me as if he’s confused. The letter mentions several tricks that experienced Priceline bidders use to attempt to narrow down a hotel’s location. Sounds to me as if he was a pro at it, but got burned because he didn’t think of the possibility that one hotel might not be listed for non-opaque bookings.

  77. A five-star hotel will be the Corinthia Hotel Budapest (which would have been a great hotel for the OP since it located in the central of Budapest; have award winning spas; pools; etc.).

    In regards to 5-star hotels, I just went to Orbitz and check rates for the five-star hotels. The rates for the 5-star hotels listed on Orbitz range from $ 100 to $ 200 for the four months that I checked with rates ranging from $ 150 to 250 for April 2015.

    In regards to the Four Seasons Gresham Palace Budapest, it is a five-star hotel but it is my understanding that is in the resort category… it is in a league of itself. I think that I read that it is one of the top 25 hotels in the world at TripAdvisor. The rates for this Four Seasons property four months that I checked are:

    $ 500 per night in December 2015
    $ 399 per night in April 2015
    $ 576 per night in July 2015
    $ 620 per night in October

  78. Recently I was looking for a local hotel room for a visiting friend. I saw a prepaid, non-refundable rate that was $20 less than the hotel corporate prepaid, non-refundable rate. It wasn’t opaque and we had exactly the same options for room type as direct.

    Also – I wouldn’t say that the hotel business quite operates on refundable reservations. The operating word is “cancel”. They merely hold a reservation based on a credit card deposit and state that they may charge one night’s room rate for a reservation that isn’t cancelled by the required time. In fact what we did for this friend was hold a reservation with our credit card. We expect that she’ll pay for it herself with her own credit card when she checks in.

  79. Well, that was a lot of work to try to backup assumptions. None of those figures take into account the 1% who control 90% of our wealth, the bulk of them being over 50. Until you remove them, those numbers are almost meaningless.

  80. I don’t use the term “hacking”. That implies that someone is cheating. I tend to use the term “gaming” in that one is trying to improve the chances, but still with no guarantees. I’m sure that Priceline knows that people are employing all these tricks and even visiting websites where such tricks are employed. I’ve checked a few of them, and they even encourage users to enter Priceline with their own referral links. It isn’t supposed to change the outcome, but I think these websites get referral bonuses. And of course it’s pretty obvious that someone there knows that these tips are shared when Priceline and Hotwire ads are the main banner ads that they get.

  81. It’s only saying what the going rate would be for a non-opaque booking. It says nothing about what hotels are going to have opaque bookings available. Some of these hotels may have already committed opaque reservations to PL but have sold out of all their non-opaque booking rooms.

  82. I hate to say it, but he does admit that the hotel was within the stated area. You ALWAYS have to look at what the “area” is, because sometimes it’s definitely not where you want to be. It does seem odd that the hotel they got wasn’t showing up as a 5 star when they were “researching”. But it sounds like what they got fell within the “bid” guidelines, although I’d be super mad if I only saved $2 per night. But then, I always start my bids crazy low. I really have gotten some good deals by bidding. You just have to decide whether you’re willing to accept a certain area.

    One time, my husband (right when we’d first met, and right after he’d moved to CA and new nothing about any areas at all) wanted to go to a convention in Anaheim. I did a priceline and we ended up with a suite hotel (a 2.5 start type one… plenty decent hotel) for a decent price but it was in Yorba Linda. That’s…. nowhere near the Anaheim convention center. I mean, it’s probably a good 10 miles away, barely on the border of Orange County and Riverside County. It wasn’t an issue, because he had a car, but it is NOT Anaheim. It’s near “Anaheim Hills”, which is not a city by itself, but another part of Anaheim. Anaheim (Disneyland for any non-CA people) is actually quite large and very spread out. So yeah, Yorba Linda was near a far, far out part of Anaheim that no tourist would want to be in, but it was technically within the map area. You gotta be aware of that with priceline bidding and be okay with it.

  83. I last stayed in Budapest 4-5 years ago, and I don’t remember exactly how much I paid for the hotel but I remember thinking that for Europe it was an extremely good deal. It was probably around $120, and I found what was essentially a one-bedroom apartment (although it was run as a hotel) one block off of Andrassy. Really, really nice place. I think perhaps the expectations were too high about how low you can go on price in Europe and not get a dump, or at least a halfway acceptable hotel. $122 is a darn good price.

    Another thing I remember about Budapest is being warned, as a foreigner, to not take their metro as there were some rules about it that visitors would probably not know about, and the station masters were very keen to catch you and assess a hefty fine. I walked everywhere I went. Which was fine, it’s a beautiful city. I think the elderly couple should take taxis, but if they visit every year they probably know how to use the metro system.

  84. We must agree to disagree.

    First, I acknowledged in my comments that not every senior citizen is rich…that there are poor senior citizens, etc. Are you going to acknowledge that not all senior citizens are poor? According to the US govt, 9% of senior citizens are living in poverty…which mean 91% is living above the poverty levels.

    According to the US Government, on average…social security payments represents 55% of a senior citizen income. Where does the other 45% come from? Pensions…401-K? IRA…Part-time jobs…Real Estate Investments..etc.

    For 11 years, I was a compliance officer in the investment industry. One of my tasks was to review each new account. Most of these investors were mid-level managers (not those evil CEOs making 7 or 8 digits); school teachers; college professors; small business owners; government employees; etc. No rich and famous…rock stars…movie stars…high power CEOs and etc…just ordinary folks trying to invest wisely for their future. I have seen the studies by investment firms, financial planning firms, etc. about wealth in this country and who have it. Also, I have seen the numbers from the various govt agencies.

    I live in Arizona where snowbirds is our state bird. There are several thousands of snowbirds that live in Active Adult Communities (Age 55 or older) where homes are $ 200K, $ 300K, $ 400K, etc. as well as snowbirds living in regular communities. There are individuals that have a second or third home in Scottsdale, Carefree, Paradise Valley where homes are $ 1MM+. There are snowbirds with RVs costing $ 100K to 450K.

    The point is not every senior citizen is on Medicaid (too poor for Medicare) and Social Security. The numbers from the IRS, the Census, Federal Reserve, etc. shows different than what you are claiming.

  85. I don’t use Priceline, for this and a couple of other reasons. If their product was so great they wouldn’t *have* to resort to such punitive policies, because people would be flocking to them.

  86. I absolutely never claimed that most seniors are on Medicaid and Social Security. I was only trying to point out that your assumptions about Mr. Shapiro could be way off base.

    I grew up in Boca Raton, Florida; we practically invented snowbirds. If I pretended that area was a good model for how other people’s finances worked, I’d be WAY off base.

    What the federal government says is poverty and what reality says are not the same thing. But that is not the issue here.

    I still don’t think it’s right for Priceline to ignore a customer and cause them to have an unpleasant week in Budapest when it is entirely within their control to remedy it. And whether or not Mr. Shapiro can or wants to eat the money is not the issue. He immediately called to remedy the situation, even an airline will usually cancel a ticket within 24 hours.

  87. A little empathy goes a long way but the problem is everyone wants empathy. If it’s not the 80 year old’s on a last big vacation its the traveler whose child fell sick the day before their trip or the person who had a flat tire on their way to the airport. I’d like to empathize with all of these situations but where does one draw the line between having empathy and enforcing the rules? Then of course, there are those who will make up a story to try and elicit empathy (not saying this is the LW, just that there are consumers who do this)

  88. The key here is, “Priceline’s disclaimers basically gives it a license to give you anything at all, as they did with his booking.” EXACTLY. This is true of ALL the “online travel agencies” (expedia, orbitz,, etc.) BUYER BEWARE. Always book direct to avoid such hassle. Is a few dollars really worth ruining a vacation?

  89. A few old aphorisms come to mind: “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” and “if
    something seems too good to be true… it usually is.” These large, on-line sites have no vested interest in customer satisfaction or loyalty.

    They don’t treat customers as would your local retail establishment. I believe they count on their sharp practices being immune from bad publicity because they deal on the internet. Except for a few sites like this, much of the public never learns of their legal, but dubious ethical practices.

    1. Thank you Elliott

    2. How many times do us readers of Elliott have to read the same sad stories about the same websites in order to learn, to either get out the magnifying lens for the small
    print, or steer clear of these so-called bargains?

    3. On a number of occasions I’ve looked on line for the bargains and then called the hotel or airline directly to find that the same rate is available directly from the hotel/carrier together with an immediate confirmation.

  90. I beg to differ about loyalty. Both Priceline and Hotwire have a very loyal following of devoted customers. These are the customers who revel in the thrill of getting a good deal, and who don’t fret over the accepted bid that they couldn’t quite game. It’s basically the accepted cost of doing business with them. I mean – when I got a great hotel room for $40, I overheard in the lobby that someone else was getting a night at the “discounted corporate rate” of $85. Even when I tried booking in the same town and got a different place, I certainly didn’t feel like I got ripped off. I still got good value out of it.

    It’s the occasional user who gets upset because they thought they researched how to game Priceline but didn’t count on something being different. It is kind of a cat and mouse game to some degree, and frankly part of the appeal to loyal customers that they have stories to tell about how it didn’t quite work out.

    There are some cases where I simply won’t use an opaque bid. That often has to do with my specific knowledge of the relative safety of certain areas. In that case, what’s the use of saving $50 when someone breaks my car window?

  91. That may be the case, but it does seem a bit misleading to present one list of hotels to “help you shop” and then deliver a hotel that is nothing like any of those in the list. (Either in location or price)

    If they are going to present a list at all, it should at least run the gamut of locations and prices, even if it doesn’t contain every participating hotel.

  92. It’s their unique business model. Without it, they’d just be another online travel agent like Expedia, Travelocity, or Orbitz. They frankly do operate with a more traditional OTA model and that’s probably making them a good deal of money since they have name recognition. I’ve personally used them to book non-opaque hotel rooms and rental cars, since they had specials that the direct provider didn’t have.

    Basically they’re providing these opaque deals because the hotels, rental car agencies, and airlines are agreeing to them. They get guaranteed money that the customer can’t back out on. The hotels are also increasing occupancy rates at non-peak periods. They certainly have less incentive to offer as many opaque bookings when they know occupancy and rates will be higher.

  93. I did the same thing to but I did not make the same conclusion. I never assumed that the named hotel offerings were gonna be the same as those in the opaque list (or vice versa).

  94. I doubt it’s a bait and switch. They actually offer those hotels for non-opaque bookings. I’d certainly like to know what the prevailing rates are before deciding on a bid price.

    The fact is that the hotel can be anywhere in a map. Some of these maps are oddly shaped. Don’t go into this if one can’t deal with being anywhere within that zone.

  95. Actually it is worse than a poor choice :-)
    Not sure why they are expecting an OPAQUE bidding site to be better than a fully transparent one.

  96. He was simply hoping that a small amount of research could narrow down the location.

    Heck – I’ve bid on a hotel room before a job interview. The preference was to be close to the freeway. My wife insisted that we could figure this out. When we got a place far off the freeway, I was OK with it, but my wife insisted on asking for a refund. You can imagine how that went. She was on the phone saying that “it wasn’t a good location”. It was actually about three miles from the interview site and other than being a bit hard to find at night I liked the place.

  97. Excluding inventory and rates of Booking . com and Agoda (which Priceline owns), Priceline has 3 service contract types with a hotel property – 1.) Opaque, 2.) Package, 3.) Merchant.
    Each Service can have different rates and inventory.
    So a hotel can choose to participate in Package and not in Opaque (or whatever).
    Customer who make assumptions without googling first how Priceline company works can only blame themselves.
    Assuming that you will always see the same hotel in the NYOP also in the non-opaque inventory list (or vice versa) is a mistaken assumption.

  98. This is not the first time PsyGuy suggests something dodgy.
    Wonder why Chris Elliott allows such things here.

  99. Before I would be willing to part with $1354, I would do quite a bit more research about bidding. Check out betterbidding for winning bid information (and WHAT hotels were actually won) or even biddingfortravel. Budapest is certainly NOT one of the most expensive cities in Europe, and for what Mr. Shapiro is now paying, he is probably not even getting breakfast included, or any one of the most practical choices for his current health situation. NYOP (name your own price) and the non-opaque sections of Priceline should not be confused with each other!
    I’ve used Priceline and Hotwire for hotels from Zurich to Sydney and from Prague to New York, and have rarely been disappointed …. mainly because I know, with approx. 90% accuracy, which hotel I will win for my bid (and at what price-point). I’ve rarely been disappointed.

  100. There’s never really great certainty. I’ve done NYOP for hotels in the same region before and got different results. Also – you’d think that the most likely to accept a bid would be the cheapest hotel of a certain star rating given public rates, but that hasn’t always been the case. Also – they might bump up a star rating, in which case it might be a hotel that’s nice but cheaper because it’s in a less desirable location.

  101. How to game Priceline?
    rockcheetah. com/blog/hotel/travel-gamification-how-to-save-money-booking-hotels/
    Check it out!

  102. The guy called them right away; there would be no loss for them because he would book another hotel through them. Even the horrendous airlines will usually let you cancel within 24 hours of purchase with no penalty.

  103. I don’t understand why the article does not disclose the name of the 5 star hotel.
    What is the LW or Chris Elliott trying to hide?
    This complaint is even more opaque than Priceline :-)

  104. Who’s to say they would have booked through Priceline? They would have probably just looked for the lowest price possible once they had their money back, whether or not that means going through Priceline. You think they would just put in another bid hoping to get a different hotel?

    The airline cancellation policy is a matter of federal law. The airlines would can that policy easily if they could.

    Let’s get one thing straight. The reason why Priceline can offer such low prices with “Name Your Own Price” or their “Express Deals” is that the hotels agree to low rates in exchange for a guarantee that Priceline will pay them immediately and won’t take that back short of something like a force majeure incident. It relieves the hotel of the uncertainty that a guest might cancel or not show up (and where they can only charge for one night). So you would expect Priceline to just swallow the refund even though they’ve already paid the hotel? The customer in an opaque booking is giving up the normal niceties in exchange for a lower price. If you want that kind of flexibility, then don’t book opaque. It’s that simple.

  105. It’s been stated several times that using Priceline is a gamble. I don’t expect a casino will allow me to change my mind after the cards have already been dealt.

    Just like playing blackjack, you know the constraints of the game. You don’t get a do-over because the outcome wasn’t what you were hoping for.

  106. A casino? That is your analogy? You people will go to any length to defend poor customer service. It is illogical.

  107. There is no doubt? No doubt that a man you know nothing about except that he visits Budapest once a year and likes to save money on hotels must be living on investments? What superb powers you possess! There couldn’t be ANY other explanation for this scenario?

    He certainly couldn’t be a man who lives frugally and sacrifices to make this trip for personal reasons. He can’t be an average man who saved for retirement and splurges once a year. He can only be an 80-year old jet setter living the high life on dividends and should, therefore, be forced to eat $1300 on Priceline errors and how dare he think otherwise. For which Priceline AND the hotel would have lost nothing, I might add.

    An airline lets you cancel a ticket purchase within the first 24 hours and many states allow contracts to be cancelled within certain time frames but somehow a Priceline deal is so special that it’s fine print must always be obeyed lest the order of the universe collapse?

  108. I agree…how about has the OP ever used Priceline before? Typically, it is disclosed in the article such as “this is the first time that I used the website so I was terribly confused” but since it wasn’t disclosed, it makes one to believe that the OP has used Priceline before and this time they “lost” since they didn’t get the hotel that they want and start to play all of their ‘sad story’ cards.

  109. “I believe they count on their sharp practices being immune from bad publicity because they deal on the internet.”

    I disagree…it is about $$$$…people wants to have the best deal, the lowest price, etc. Even if a person has a bad experience with Priceline, there is a strong probability that they will continue to go back to Priceline…they are motivated by spending the least amount of money. Look at some of the comments that have been posted…some people posted that they didn’t get the best hotel from time to time but overall they still continue to do business with them.

    Look at the airlines…people dislike them but they still go back to the same airline if they had the lowest fare the next time.

  110. No money changes hands until the customer checks out at the end of their stay. That is the booking industry standard.

  111. “What the federal government says is poverty and what reality says are not the same thing.”

    You are correct…the value of services such as housing, food stamps, medical services, etc. that a person receives from the government is NOT included in the calculation of poverty. So if a person was making $ 20,000 (i.e. a family of five) but recieved another $ 20,000 in services (housing, food, etc)…this familyperson has an income of $ 40,000 but the govt only count $ 20,000.

    “I absolutely never claimed that most seniors are on Medicaid and Social
    Security. I was only trying to point out that your assumptions about Mr.
    Shapiro could be way off base.”

    You made an assumption that he was on a fixed income which to me and others implied low income. Yes, you could be right that the OP and his wife only eat Bumblee Bee tuna for every meal for 51 weeks of the year in order to fly to Europe every year. However, knowing the marketing data for travelers; the marketing data for senior citizens; the financial data from the govt and private studies for seniors; etc, I think that my assumptions are pretty correct.

  112. I have been reading this blog for over 10 years. The real issue is that there are travelers like this OP that wants dirt cheap room rates, air fares, etc. but they do not want the rules, restrictions, etc. to apply to them. They want to cancel at anytime and get a full refund. They want to be able to change the dates of their reservations.

    If you want flexibility than purchase airfares, hotel rooms, etc. that gives you that flexibility which means spending more money. If you want to know the name of the hotel then don’t go to an opaque booking site like Priceline.

  113. “They need safety…”

    Are you saying that only 5-star hotels are safe and no crimes are committed there?

    “5-star in Budapest is not quite the same thing and did you see the price he paid?”

    Yes it is…before you make statements please take a minute and go to Orbitz, TripAdvisor, etc. to look at the five-star hotels and they will match the standards and quality of other five-star hotels in the world.

    Did you know that Budapest is home to some of the world’s best hotels? The luxurious Four Seasons Gresham Palace
    was ranked #23 by travelers around the globe on TripAdvisor’s ‘Travelers’ Choice 2013 – Top Hotel in the World’. The prestigious Grand Hotel Corinthia made the Condé Nast Traveler ‘Gold List 2013’, which lists the best hotels and resorts worldwide.

    In regards to Grand Hotel Corinthia, room rates ranges between $ 135 USD to $ 225 USD throughout the year with $ 150 USD being the average. Check out this hotel and this hotel would have been perfect for this OP.

    “…did you see the price he paid?”

    The price that he paid is NOT a reflection of the quality but is the reflection of the market. Budapest and Hungary is the best value in Europe to visit. Go to a professional brick and mortar travel agent and let them tell you how Hungary is the best value in Europe if you don’t believe me or the hundreds of articles on the Internet.

  114. Did I say that only 5-star hotels offer safety? No, I did not. I mentioned that it is part of the amenities they offer that an 80-year old probably needs like a bellman, a good mattress, and a bathroom that was designed for safety. European hotels are a crapshoot and to pretend otherwise is disingenuous.

    I just visited 5-star hotels in Europe that wouldn’t hold a candle to 5-star properties in the US but then I’ve seen 5-star hotels in the Middle East and Asia that are far beyond most 5-star properties we have here so, yes, I’m saying it’s not a uniform system.

    You have more free time than I do. Enjoy using it to argue online.

  115. It’s a shame that hacking has gotten such a bad reputation but it’s understandable since so many hackers engage in illegal activity. I like to refer to a great “hack” such as me fixing a dead LCD TV by replacing the capacitors. (“hack” in the sense of getting something done in an unconventional, clever way.)

    Priceline could close the 2nd region loophole at any time. There’s no reason that their engine should allow someone to bid on a region where there are no hotels available that meet their star criteria. So perhaps they leave it open because they know the best customers (such as me!) use it.

    Or maybe they’re setting us up like this poor guy. :-)

  116. Its not poor customer service when you got what you paid for, and now want to change the terms and conditions. That’s called a feeling of “entitlement”

  117. Exactly! If they visit every year, then they know exactly where they would like to stay based on their needs and requirements, and should have explored only those hotels – not tried to see if they could book an opaque hotel and GET what they really preferred.

  118. He did not get what he THOUGHT he was paying for and that was an honest mistake, easily made on that website as many others have explained.

  119. Oh – you know the tricks.

    However, Mr. Shapiro apparently thought he knew the trick of looking over the hotels of a certain star-rating (or higher) in the non-opaque listings, but didn’t count on one that either wasn’t listed or wasn’t available for non-opaque booking on his dates. Most experienced Priceline bidders would have accepted that as a learning experience. In the end it’s still a hotel room for a given number of nights.

  120. My guess is that they live in Europe, not in the States. My guess is that they have saved for their retirement years so they do something like these visits every year. I do know of seniors that live in low income senior housing, take advantage of government food handouts and save the money they would have spent on food and put it towards travel,
    I don’t book with OTA’s, but if you go to a site where you gamble, like he did, the rules are clear. If you allow for the changes on the gambling site, then it isn’t a gambling site any longer.

  121. That may be the case, but unless there’s something unusual like the roads are closed or the hotel is shut down by the local health department, they’re going to get paid. This guarantee of getting paid (as opposed to someone cancelling or a no-show liable for only one night) is why they’ll work with Priceline to sell at such a low price.

    Priceline makes very few exceptions, and when they do it usually means eating the entire amount themselves. That lack of flexibility is the cost of those lower prices. If you really want that kind of flexibility or a do-over, then don’t bid on Priceline. It’s that simple.

  122. It’s very much an apt analogy. The customer is giving up certainty in exchange for a deal. They’re also taking a chances that hotels will meet their requirements.

    You’re suggesting something that would completely destroy their business model. Priceline’s ability to negotiate cheap rates is predicated on the customer not being able to back out, the hotel getting paid no matter what, and these rates also not being published.

    I had instances where I would have liked a little bit of “compassion”. My wife spent days trying to bid for a two-night hotel stay at a certain place for our vacation, only to have my boss tell me he needed me during one day, and then the next. I basically had to eat that and the hotel still got paid. I mentioned the one place I stayed before a job interview that was in a relatively remote location. This is the cost of dealing with Priceline. They’re not providing the service, so they’re not free to release the customer from the reservation.

    This is not a customer service issue. It’s simply their business model. If getting a location that’s not exactly suitable for a particular purpose isn’t acceptable, then don’t bid on Priceline.

  123. Actually – there’s no real description other than a “star rating” and zone maps showing specific areas where a hotel may be located. No pictures – no nothing. There may even be a blurb about certain amenities being available like free WiFi, although that’s more typical of their “Express Deals” that’s basically a copy of Hotwire’s model.

    Just before approval, there’s a preview page that outlines the area(s), star ratings, bid amount, and total price with taxes/fees.

  124. I want to say he should accept it as a learning experience and move on but.. he’s 80+ years old. Knowing how folks are that age (sometimes), they don’t want learning experiences because they don’t have time to use them. :-)

    Refusing to use the hotel and just make the best of it seemed to me unreasonable. He could pay for the spa separately. He could converse with the locals on the tram. It’s not that bad. My fondest travel memories are of going to out of the way locations and discovering hidden gems.

    I sympathize with priceline on this one.

    On the other hand, priceline did once get me stuck with paying a BS parking fee after I named my own price. It was disclosed on their website and after I disputed the charge, and got it waived, I got them to modify their disclosure. So when you read that, that’s me!

  125. Yeah, opaque sites do come very much with caveat bidder-but still, it’s weird to me that they would propose to book him at a completely different site that wasn’t “representative” of what he was looking for when they first listed 8 hotels that he could bid on that fit his qualifications.

  126. My guess is that the people described are the same people who go to the casinos. They don’t win every time, but even after losses, they keep returning hoping for a big score the next time.

  127. Frankly I think Priceline provides better value. Casino games are specifically designed to give the house an edge. With Priceline’s NYOP system, they are pretty much guaranteed to make money on every transaction. The hotel is almost guaranteed to have a source of income that the customer can’t back out on once they accept a customer. The customer gets exactly what they were promised, although that may not be what they wanted.

    And in any case they generally give the customer what they promise, which is a hotel room of a certain type at a rate of the customer’s choosing. There may be quibbles about how good a hotel is, but for the most part I’ve found that the star rating is pretty accurate with Priceline.

    What some people are trying to game is perhaps a specific hotel, or a narrowly tailored area. As for me – I’m fine with a place that costs $50/night – even if it could be any one of a half-dozen different places. It’s a lot harder to play that game when there are more options. In such cases I’ve just booked knowing exactly where the hotel would be. I think CE should probably decline any more requests where the LW is essentially writing about not being happy about being unable to game PL into getting a specific place or a narrowly-defined location.

  128. There’s no guarantee that “retail list” hotels are participating in NYOP for any given set of nights. There’s no guarantee that NYOP hotels will have “retail list” rates for those nights, if at all. However, it’s a starting point for rate comparison.

    They’ve never promised that a winning-bid hotel will be listed for retail rates. I understand how the game is played, but to me Mr. Shapiro seems to be complaining that he couldn’t outwit Priceline and wants a do-over on that basis.

    This isn’t a matter of “fine print” as many people put it. This is clearly the way they operate. Someone new to Priceline simply looking at the basic promise that it’s a hotel of a certain quality rating in a specified area would understand the limitations. However, Mr. Shapiro thought that he had more information (albeit incomplete) that he thought he could use to overcome those limitations to get exactly what he wanted.

  129. You NEVER have any indication of what hotels might be offered on “name your own price” deals…is this his first time using priceline? for his final and most important trip to a city he has visited many times? Did he check out the retail prices for five stars in Pest before bidding, or only afterwards?

  130. 1] The truth hurts? Once in a lifetime trip, and cuts corners with a fly-by-night outfit whose product is uncertain to save a few bucks? Sorry, but the guy went “cheap” and guessed wrong.

    2] You don’t like my Yiddish? You have something against Jews?

  131. Actually, PL doesn’t list any hotel names when bidding, only the star level and location. The LW must have researched PL’s full price hotels at his preferred star level and location, and mistakenly assumed he would get one of those. It’s not even an issue of not reading the fine print, it’s an issue of not understanding how the bidding process works.

    Next time (maybe not for them) try going to Bidding for Travel or Better Bidding to identify possible hotels or just get some general bidding strategy.

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