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Boldface Cheek: Priceline Uses Subtle Game-Changers On Blind Bookings

Beware all ye weary wayfarers … and all those who travel by plane, train and automobile too.

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Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” hotel blind-booking service lures customers with cheeky advertisements starring William Shatner and the prospect of saving 60% on bookings, then dumps them at a run-of-the-mill skyscraper in a less desirable location.  I wonder has Shatner ever used the service himself? If so, he may want a Priceline colleague on standby to beam him up.

Here’s how Priceline safeguards its blind-booking system:

I wanted to book a Manhattan hotel in “Soho/Tribeca” with four stars. Priceline gave me four boutique options: the Tribeca Grand Hotel, Soho Grand Hotel, The James New York and 60 Thompson. Tucked snugly between these hotel options is that button: “Name Your Own Price. Save up to 60% off hotels in New York city.”

Press it at your peril:

Step 1: Choose where you want to stay.

Step 2: Choose the star level for your hotel.

Step 3: Name Your Own Price.

I re-entered my requirements and bid $170, which was not accepted.

But … Priceline encouraged me to bid another $40. “Normally you are required to change additional terms (add zones, star level, or dates) in order to try your request again. However, we are able to extend this one-time opportunity to you because of the zone, quality, level and dates you requested.” (That’s Priceline’s boldface typeface, by the way.)

I re-checked the area listing, four-star rating and bid $210. The result? A skyscraper hotel chain with nearly 500 rooms. Whatever happened to the 60% discount and the choice of boutique hotels in Soho/Tribeca? I paid $210, over 5% more than the hotel’s $199 price. (Priceline customer service later gave me back the difference and $25 as a “promotion”.)

And how the hell did I end up 16 blocks south of Soho, suffering from vertigo in a skyscraper in the Financial District? The Name Your Own Price service makes subtle changes to the area listings: “Soho/Tribeca” becomes “Soho/Tribeca/Financial District” and, cheekily, “Chelsea Village” becomes “Chelsea Area”.

It doesn’t look like much, but it’s a massive game-changer.

Priceline spokesman Brian Ek says these changes are stated on the website.

The slogan “Save up to 60% off on a New York hotel in three easy steps” is in a size-13.5 dark blue boldface font and – crucially – “Please note that any filtering/sorting options previously applied or hotels viewed on prior pages do not apply when you Name Your Own Price” is only written in faint red size-9 normal–style font.

I suggest Priceline swaps the font sizes and boldface type for those two messages. Ek replies, “I will certainly pass that along.”

Priceline widens and tweaks the neighborhood boundaries, adds more hotels and gets creative with fonts for those all-important alerts. Do you think it’s fair game or sharp practice?


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Comments (5 of 8)

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    • Nope. Best you can hope for tomorrow from Heathrow is about a3193 on BA. BD if full and Air France don’t do a fare much under a3230 ruretn (even though they are empty funny outfit!) Luton and Easyjet you know are full in the very cheap seats and RyanAir Well, it will cost you more to get to ruddy Stansted than it will to get to Paris. You should think of places like Paris Amsterdam, Brussels etc anywhere that is within about 1 hour or so flying time as a commuter place so you have to avoid the rush hour. A flight to Paris at 0630 will not leave you much change from a3300! If there are any cheaper flights, they will be midday-ish it is exactly the same principle as on the trains. But not tomorrow, sorry. You are looking at a Friday in the busiest working period of the year.

    • so basically if you try to get a soho hotel you are really going to get the Marriott Financial Center every time. Which by the way was magically upgraded to four stars and moved into this section. Blah.

    • just go to travelosity, they just can’t be beat.

    • Priceline got me too with the bait and switch. Resulted in my paying 15% above the hotels rate. I have not used Priceline since. – - appreciate the tip Eric, if I ever do try it again will not go for their counteroffer, and wait it out.

    • Bait and switch for sure same thing happened to
      me in barcelona I pulled up a list of four star hotels that all looked good but then was won a bid on business hotel in remote location and spent more on taxis and room upgrade than I would have paid

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