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How to Beat Hotel Bidding Sites in 9 Steps

Opaque buying can cut your costs substantially. But the trade-off is that you have to pay the full nonrefundable price before you know which hotel you’re booking. You get no refund if you are dissatisfied with your room (unless you can prove it was materially misrepresented). Yes, there are other risks, too, but you can minimize those if you know how to play the game.

Although both Priceline and Hotwire are opaque, Priceline is the more opaque of the two. With Hotwire, you see the price, ratings, key amenities, and some indication of customer satisfaction from the get-go, but you don’t know which hotel you’re booking until after you buy. With Priceline, you “name your own price” by bidding on the basis of star ratings and general location. Beyond that, both systems work in about the same way: In a large city, you can narrow down your search to one or more specific areas. If you want a hotel room on the Las Vegas Strip, for example, you won’t find yourself on Fremont Street. Both sites promise a room that accommodates two adults. Both sites let you specify a star classification. Both deal with pre-tax prices, and both charge their own booking fees.

Within that framework, you can easily work out a plan for buying opaque. Here are nine simple steps to getting a great price when you bid on hotels.

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