Over the years we have had great success getting significant travel discounts on hotels using Hotwire and Priceline. These sites have regular listings for hotels, but the discounts usually come from paying for an unknown hotel. Because you don’t know the name of the hotel until after you book, you can get a bargain price by taking a chance. Of course, the risk is you don’t get the hotel you want. In this post we thought we would show you how we are usually able to narrow it down to the exact hotel we are likely to get before making a commitment.
As an example, we thought we would show you how we booked a hotel in Los Angeles for our recent trip to Universal Studios Hollywood, the Los Angeles Farmers Market and the La Brea Tar Pits. By doing some research and simple detective work we were able to surmise that our hotel would be the Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City. We were right, and using this method got us a nice discount over what we would have paid if we had just picked the Sportsmen’s Lodge direct from Hotwire or another web site.
To help determine what hotel we are likely to get we have used the web site Better Bidding for many years. This site has a list of hotels available on both Hotwire and Priceline. They also have a lot of forums and bidding strategies. We mainly use the hotel lists and usually do not do bidding which involves naming a price and seeing if a hotel accepts it. Bidding is significantly more work and in our experience simply not worth the time and hassle.
Narrowing Down Your Region
When you go to the Better Bidding web site you should see a box that says Hotel Lists. Click on that and it will ask which service you want to use, Hotwire or Priceline. We will do both starting with Priceline. Once you click on that, there will be a pulldown list for your location by state, in our case California. When you click on your state, Better Bidding will ask you to open a window to Priceline (or Hotwire) in a separate tab. Presumably this is so if you book a hotel, Better Bidding gets credit. Fair enough.
Once you open Priceline or Hotwire you get a list of regions within California to pick from. We want Los Angeles so that is what we click on. Here is where things get a little weird on the Priceline list. We want to narrow our search down to the Universal Studios-Studio City region of Los Angeles. Priceline has about 17 regions for Los Angeles, none of them near Universal. When we go to Hotwire we find that under Los Angeles they have a Universal Studios-Studio City broken out as a sub-region. A little more sleuthing on Priceline we find that Universal Studios-Studio City is broken out, just as a sub-region of the San Fernando Valley, not Los Angeles. This is strange because a big part of Los Angeles is in the San Fernando Valley. We wonder how many tourists would realize to look here. A little thing like this is one of the reasons that 90% of the time we end up booking via Hotwire (usually prices are almost identical).
Continuing with Priceline we find Universal Studios-Studio City is one of about 12 sub-regions of the San Fernando Valley. Opening this region up we see a fairly short list of 4 hotels available on Priceline. Most important it indicates the star ranking and amenities associated with each hotel. While you don’t get to pick the exact hotel you can see the general area the hotel is located, its star ranking and what amenities are generally listed with that hotel. Note that listed amenities are not that accurate in our experience.
Okay we have checked prices on Priceline, now we will move to Hotwire where we ended up booking. On Better Bidding just go back to Hotel Lists at the top of the site, click on the button, select Hotwire hotels, California, open the Hotwire window when promoted and select your region, Los Angeles, in this case. You can see Hotwire has over 40 different regions for Los Angeles, including Universal Studios-Studio City. Clicking on this region we can see a list of about 8 hotels ranging in rating from 2 to 4 stars,
At this point we can start searching on Hotwire or Priceline. As noted, Priceline added another step liable to trip up anyone not aware of the LA region. If you put in you want a hotel in Los Angeles and plan to go to Universal Studios, which is smack in the middle of LA, you will not see any hotels on Priceline. To get hotels by Universal you need to be sophisticated enough to put in either San Fernando Valley or Universal City. We are from Southern California so with several minutes of messing around we were able to figure it out.
Back to Hotwire, you simply enter your destination, Los Angeles, the dates of your stay and number of people/rooms. Hotwire pulls up a list of a ton of hotels in the area on the left and a coded region map on the right. The map is convenient because we want to narrow this down to Universal Studios-Studio City region. IF you know where your area is simply select it on the map. Otherwise, use the pull-down menu at the top of the list to select Universal Studios-Studio City from the whopping 49 regions in the LA area.
Narrow Down Hotels
Doing this narrows the list to about 12 hotels that qualify. You don’t get the name of the hotel but you get the price, the star rating, the amenities and a general range of how many people liked it. Now we can do some detective work to figure out what hotel we are likely to get. The first thing you notice is that the number of listed hotels available on Hotwire is more than on Better Bidding. This is because Better Bidding does not always keep up-to-date with the offered hotels. They also tend to be off on the amenities offered on each hotel. This means you need to do a little extra detective work.
Better Bidding offers a bunch of forums where users can post feedback on what hotels they are getting. This can be helpful, but most times we can figure out the specific hotel without much hunting. The easiest way is to see what hotels are offered on the regular Hotwire (or Priceline) list. The hotels without names are considered by Hotwire to be Hot Rate Hotels. In the upper left corner of Hotwire you can simply shift to the list of Hotels in the right tab. This will pull up a full list of hotels with their full names, features and price for your selected dates. Note you will manually need to narrow your search down to Universal Studios-Studio City when you shift to this tab.
Figure out Which Hotel You Will Likely Get
Looking at the list we can start trying to match hotels up. From the Hotwire Hot Rates hotel this 3.5 star Boutique hotel for $139 looks promising. Going to the Better Bidding list we see two 3.5 star hotels in the area, the Sportsmen’s Lodge and the Sheraton Universal. We bet our hotel is likely one of those. Clicking on the actual price of these hotels we see Sportsmen’s Lodge is going for $179 and the Sheraton Universal is $243. We would be more than happy with the Sheraton as we know it is right next to park but we can almost guarantee at this point it is the Sportsmen’s Lodge.
Now we do a little research on the Sportsmen’s Lodge. We are somewhat concerned as it is not listed as a “boutique” hotel as Hotwire describes it, but everything else seems to match, including the number of people that recommend this hotel. It is almost definitely this one and actually this place seems pretty cool. It is an old haunt of many Hollywood celebrities and exactly the type of place we like to stay at in Los Angeles.
Book Your Hotel
A quick comparison with Priceline shows a similar 3.5 star hotel for $144 ($5 more). So we are going to pull the plug and enter our credit card info into Hotwire and see what we get. If we were still unsure what hotel it was we could have done some more hunting on the Better Bidding forums, but really any 3.5 star hotel should be fine for our one night stay. Just be aware, once you hit the send button you are stuck and it is always a moment of tension. A few seconds later and we find we have landed the Sportsmen’s Lodge! Time to hit Los Angeles and Universal Studios.
One final note, we were also careful to check the price on the Sportsmen’s Lodge site before pulling the plug. We found they offered free parking when booking on their site versus $18/night if booking on other sites. This combined with a AAA discount they offered meant we only ended up saving $10. But we note it would have taken us more time and effort to find this place by ourselves and in the end we did save money. Next time we may be more likely to go directly through the hotel. For Sportsmen’s Lodge, being in the Hotwire/Priceline hot rate program may have landed them a repeat customer.
We had a great time on this trip and the kids both said they appreciated LA more seeing this new area. The Sportsmen’s Lodge was older but had a lively night life. Also it was within walking distance of many cool restaurants. Picking a place to stay in Los Angeles can be a real challenge. It can take an hour just to drive 5 miles so in the thick of LA traffic, so a little research pays off. Look for us to do a similar post on staying to go to concerts at the Hollywood Bowl, Disneyland and other areas. If you know what you are doing you can get significant travel discounts on trips to Los Angeles.
If you want to see our trip went be sure to see our posts on surviving Universal Studios Hollywood, ranking the rides of Universal and our guide to the Los Angeles Farmers Market and the La Brea Tar Pits.