Tips for Getting the Best Deals on “Mystery” Hotels (and Avoiding Bad Options)

It’s not secret that I love bidding for my travel. I like the excitement of the process of bidding and the detective work involved in trying to get an amazing price while minimizing the risk of getting a bad deal.

For the US, I mostly use a combination of Priceline and Hotwire.

Priceline “Name Your Own Price” deals (bidding) tend to be cheaper than the same hotels listed as express deals (fixed price but mystery hotel). Not all hotels participate in both options, however sometimes you can get the same hotel A LOT cheaper by bidding than what it seems to be listed at as an express deal (after you’ve won a hotel via bidding, you can usually figure out if it’s likely to be the same hotel that’s listed in the express deals section).

If there is only a small difference in the price you’re bidding, you are probably better going with the express deal as you will see the full amenity list there. This is especially true if you need a hotel with free parking. Parking rates of up to $35 are not unheard of.

I also sometimes prefer the express deals in locations where there are “resort fees.” If you are bidding in these locations (e.g., Las Vegas or Palm Springs), try to bid in the 2 1/2 to 3 star range, which usually avoids resort fees or at least avoids large ones. In the express deals, you will see the resort fee listed after the taxes in the breakdown on the second page before you confirm your purchase.

I use sites like Better Bidding and Bidding for Travel to get a sense of what to bid. Most importantly, I look at the lists of previously reported hotels to see if there are any properties I want to avoid. Relying on these crowd sourced lists is not foolproof but I’ve found them extremely accurate.

For example, recently I avoided bidding because the hotel I believed I was most likely to get has had reports of bed bugs. In this case, I actually booked in a next door neighborhood to avoid the possibility of getting the hotel I didn’t want. Other times I’d choose to use the express deals on Priceline or Hotwire where I could make sure the amenities listed didn’t match the hotel I was trying to avoid.

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