Now, I can make my final judgment on our recent experiment using priceline.com to book our hotels.
A brief recap:
- We decided to book our hotel(s) on a San Diego trip via Priceline’s name your price program.
- We bid for 3 nights at a minimum 3-star hotel at $75 per night – fully expecting to be rejected
- We “won” the bid, to our delight at the Woodfin San Diego.
- We decided we could afford another night at that rate and attempted to extend the day an additional day at the same rate.
- Priceline could not match the $75 and instead was able to offer $116. We decided to decline.
- We thought we’d be clever and tried to extend the stay the other direction and arrive one day earlier.
- Having already bid on an extension at the end, Priceline would not allow us to try to arrive earlier, either.
- We decided to bid separately for another night, knowing it would be at a different hotel.
- We again bid $75, but this time chose only 4-star hotels.
- Again to our surprise (and even greater delight) we got a room at the Omni San Diego.
Actually, before we attempted to extend the stay at the Woodfin, we checked the place out online. The hotel seemed just fine, and we noted that most of the rooms at the hotel were actually suites with a bedroom, living room with sofa bed and kitchenette. We inquired with the hotel and learned we could “upgrade” for $20 more a night. The kitchenette meant could prepare our own breakfasts and save nearly $20 each day, and a sofa bed for the kids wouldn’t go amiss.
We took that into account before we bid on the extension, so, in essence, we were prepared to pay a total of $95 per night (still cheap by San Diego room rates available online.) That meant that the $116 became $136 and that was just out-of-bounds.
The hotel itself was perfectly acceptable. It was clean, quiet and close to several of the places we wanted to go. It was also close to fast food and other restaurants, a Fresh & Easy for shopping and a park where we took the kids to play in the evening.
We were never troubled in any way by staff or other guests. There was the fire alarm incident, but you can’t hold anyone to blame for things like that.
If I had any criticism of the it might be that one evening we called and asked for extra towels and they said housekeeping would bring them up and they never did.
Priceline Experience 1: Woodfin San Diego. Good price, good room, no complaints. If this is an example of the typical Priceline experience (especially if you don’t go trying to change things after you’ve started) then it’s all recommended by me.
Now, on to the Omni San Diego…
Largely what you might expect from the Omni would be a top-class hotel, and indeed it was in every way. The facilities were immaculate and well designed. The staff were all friendly, efficient and almost comically eager to please. I described elsewhere how they found Sawyer the Cat for us. The hotel also provides a toy bag for each child staying in the hotel. the bag, somewhat mysteriously, also contains a kazoo. Who in their right mind would give a kazoo to kids in a hotel?
Being just an “ordinary” room with two beds, we didn’t have nearly as much space as we did at the Woodfin, but it was more luxurious (I’m not sure that’s quite the right word but it will have to do.)
The stay wasn’t quite as uneventful as at the Woodfin. The first night (and remember, we were only booked for one) there was a room party of some kind 2 doors down. It didn’t sound exactly like a big party, but the music was a bit loud (enough to come through the walls from two rooms down) and two or three children kept running out of the room, slamming the door, and running up and down the hotel corridor every few minutes.
Unfortunately, the doors to the room opened inwards, and I was unable to swing it open and give them an “accidental” face full of door as they passed our room over and over. They quieted down by 10:00PM. That’s a little late when you’ve got small children going to bed at 8:30, but not excessively, so I hadn’t reached the point where I would call the hotel. Either they voluntarily shut down before I decided to call, or the hotel shut them down.
Despite that, we decided on the first night that we were going to test Priceline again and try to stay yet another night. We realized we wouldn’t get the kids to the beach if we didn’t add a day.
Here’s another restriction we learned about Priceline: You can only extend a stay by the same number of day (or less) of the original bid. In other words, we could have attempted to extend the stay at the Woodfin up to three more nights, but we could only try to extend the stay at the Omni by one night. This was no problem because we only wanted one night, but it’s good to know for future reference.
We weren’t hopeful we’d get an extension. We were scheduled to depart on Friday morning, and so we’d be trying to book into a weekend slot, which is no doubt busier and normally more expensive.
Once again, Priceline couldn’t get a $75 extension, but came up with $94, which we felt was reasonable enough to accept.
Indeed, the next day the hotel was noticeably livelier. It turns out that the Omni is next door to Petco ballpark. Sadly, they don’t play cricket there, but instead that baseball game that’s all the rage in this country, and there was a game Friday night, so the whole area was packed, and, from our window, we could watch the left fielder (cow corner) play ball.
So, the Omni itself was just about perfect. Just about. My complaint? I think the complaint is more about Priceline. It’s hidden costs… the Omni charges $30 per night for their parking (which is valet only.) That would have effectively bumped our $75 per night room to $105, or a 40% increase over what we bided and accepted.
We parked at a garage across the street for less than the $30, but that was still an unexpected additional cost “gotcha.” At no point in the Priceline bid process do you have any opportunity to specify any form of minimum requirements such as “free parking.”
So, Priceline Experience 2: Omni San Diego. Great price, but hidden costs. Exceptional experience otherwise.
Overall I’m quite pleased with the Priceline experience. It reduced our costs down so much that we were actually able to take a short vacation, which we had pretty much concluded was not going to be able to happen this year due to finances. In fact, that worked so well, we were able to take a two-day longer vacation than we originally planned.
I would; however, take from this a couple of lessons.
The first is to be wary of hidden costs, and plan accordingly. I don’t know any way you prevent them from happening based on the system they’ve got and I don’t know how often these things happen. I’m sure that 99.9% of all hotels in California have free parking, so this was just “one of those things” but it does seem like it might need to be taken into account.
The second is to go with the 4 star hotels and bid low, really low. The same room we got at $75, booked online at the Omni’s website costs $219 per night – but includes “complimentary valet parking for one car per night”.
Third, plan your vacation a lot better than we did. Figure out exactly how many nights you’re going to stay, in advance, and stick to it. Even if you have to say to yourself, “We’ll stay five nights if we can get $75 and only four if it is over $90…” etc, and then bid accordingly. Save any further thoughts of extending your stay until you’re in the room.
Next domestic trip, I can assure you, we will be using Priceline to book our rooms.