Priceline's "name your own price" hotel service is a great way to save on hotels, though you have to relinquish control on exactly what that hotel may be. For two years, the Better Bidding bulletin board (along with its older rival, www.biddingfortravel.com) has helped travelers take the mystery out of Priceline.
Now the number-two bidding board is becoming number-one in cutting-edge services with a cool tool that plots Priceline wins on city maps, thanks to Google's mapping system.
BetterBidding's Hotel Maps tool (www.betterbidding.com/show.php/act/ST/f/174/t/14724) shows dozens of hotels in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle and LA in the familiar Google Maps interface. Click on a hotel, and a balloon pops up letting you jump to the hotel's website, see how much recent Priceliners have bid to get that hotel, or read a review of the hotel.
More cities and more features are coming soon, says Betterbidding.com's Steve Nassau. Volunteers have to hand-associate known Priceline hotels with latitude and longitude coordinates, so there's quite a bit of work involved in adding hotels to the maps; once a hotel is on the map, though, its list of wins and reviews will update automatically.
The maps aren't totally complete, because they only track hotels that BetterBidding has seen wins for. That leaves out, for example, the one-star Travelodge Space Needle in Seattle and the four-star Sofitel Chicago O'Hare, which are in BiddingForTravel's Priceline database but not on BetterBidding's hotel list. Those missing hotels only underscore the fact that there's no way to take all the mystery out of Priceline; you could, after all, get a hotel that neither board had previously seen a win for.
You also have to use a bit of imagination to overlay Priceline's zones on top of Nassau's maps. It helps to open up both sites in parallel windows, and to make liberal use of BetterBidding's "recent wins" feature, which shows the zone each individual hotel belongs to.
Still, Nassau's maps are a tremendous help to Priceliners trying to get the lay of the land. You can see at a glance, for instance, that bidding two-star near LAX airport means you might get one hotel (the Furama) that's distant from the main crowd of airport hotels, and you can see that bidding the Lake Union zone in Seattle could put you on the east or west side of the lake.
The Priceline maps aren't BetterBidding's only unique service. Both BetterBidding and BiddingForTravel like to steer people to EasyClickTravel (www.easyclicktravel.com), a hotel discounter, when Priceline doesn't work out. EasyClick has their own mystery hotels, which they call "Off the Record" deals. Nassau hacked together a tool which can identify many of those Off the Record hotels given their booking URLs, taking some of the mystery out of that process. That tool worked sporadically for us -- it got one out of five hotels we tried, but that's still worth a try. Nassau says the tool will improve as he gets more data from people who booked with EasyClick. To use the tool, click "Reverse EasyClick Travel" near the top of BetterBidding.com's home page.
For more details on bidding on Priceline, check out Nassau's site at www.betterbidding.com or pick up a copy of Priceline.com for Dummies (www.frommers.com/bookstore/0764575929.html), available here on Frommers.com.
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