Airlines

Adventures in Attempting to Priceline International Flights

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When’s the last time you’ve Pricelined a flight? I think for me, my first and last time was 13 years ago?

When a friend asked me recently if I would help her Priceline a trip, I had no idea she meant flights. But it gave me a chance to brush up on my knowledge of how it works.

Situation:

  •  She had decided to go to Europe last minute with family and was hoping to get flights for less than the $1500 price tag she was seeing.
  • None of them fly that frequently, so getting airline miles for the flights was not as valuable as saving several hundred dollars apiece.
  • They were arriving and departing from different countries.
  • Their dates were only flexible by a day or two.

Since Priceline doesn’t offer a multi-city or open jaw option, she’d need to book two one-way trips.

The first step was determining what her price ceiling was — what was the least amount of money she’d need to save for a Priceline ticket to be worth it.

Note: When going through Priceline, you don’t earn miles, your status doesn’t count, you have no idea when you’re going to depart and how long your layovers are, and (most troublesome for me) you’re low priority for rebooking your flight if anything goes wrong.

She determined a $300 per person savings or more would be worth it, which gave us $1200 for two one-way tickets, roughly ~$600 each way to start figuring out a bidding strategy. So if she got one leg for cheaper, she’d have more to spend on the other one. Then it hit us. What if she won one ticket but couldn’t Priceline the other?

She might wind up paying a heck of a lot more if she had to buy a one way directly from an airline. That changed her maximum bid dramatically. We looked up the cheapest one-way fares for each leg, as that would determine what was the most she could bid on the other. The outbound was coming up the cheapest — $750 to purchase if she couldn’t get it by bidding.

That left us with $450 to bid for the return segment. Not much considering buying a one-way ticket on those dates was running $1700. But it was worth a try.

So the next step was to figure out how we could get “free rebids,” essentially avoiding Priceline’s one bid per 24 hours constraint without having to add other airports or dates she didn’t want. I found the perfect approach from PortlandTravelTrips who recently did a series on Pricelining techniques.

For flights, his workaround is to enter cities rather than specific airports. And since most major airports have at least a dozen cities around them, you have nearly limitless options. Better yet, I discovered you only have to enter in a city in one of the fields to get by the 24 hour rule!

Priceline flights city free rebid

So we started, arbitrarily, at $350 using Fairfax, VA as our destination. No luck. We then raised our bid $25 each time using Sterling, Arlington, Alexandria, and Dulles to let us tag the same airports.

Priceline flights city free rebid airport options

Not surprisingly there were no bites since the bid also included all taxes and airline fees. But at least she had tried everything possible to save money before spending the $1500. I’m just glad we  realized she might only win a ticket for one direction before we started bidding!

 

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Living for the little (and big things) that make life so fun, especially mistake deals and crazy last minute weekend mileage runs across the world. www.twitter.com/klatravel

10 Comments

  1. aliB

    July 28, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    I was really hoping that she’d get a bite and at least save a small amount. Thanks for the post and the buyer beware tip.

  2. Jeanne Marie Hoffman

    July 28, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    I used to use Priceline a lot in college. My boyfriend lived in Boston and I was in Philly. I would basically think “I’m willing to travel for X amount” and try that bid with upcoming weekends. When it worked, I visited!

  3. iolaire@usa.net

    July 28, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    I’d be interested to read if PriceLine bidding EVER still results in a significant discount on airfare. We continue to use it for cars and hotels, but somehow for the past 8 or more years don’t even bother to try it for airfare.

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  5. Scott

    July 28, 2013 at 10:21 pm

    With inventory being so full it is hard to maximize savings on flights using Priceline. On popular routes it will be near impossible. The Great Recession caused airlines to get real good at filling their seats, thus less supply to bid on and less savings to be had.

    • Jeanne Marie Hoffman

      July 30, 2013 at 7:02 am

      I remember flying from PHL to BOS roundtrip for $60. Ah, those were the days.

  6. Robert

    August 8, 2013 at 12:08 am

    Have used Priceline a couple of times for cars, worked out ok, but found it took a lot of bidding and time to finally get what you wanted. I’ve never tried it on flights. Thanks for sharing the info!

  7. ted

    July 25, 2015 at 1:53 am

    I used it recently and saved 200 dollars on a last minute flight. From my understanding is the only time you save, I think I paid less than the value of the ticket months earlier.

  8. Dave

    August 24, 2015 at 8:21 pm

    Hi,

    Is this still the case? I just got off the phone with a British Airways rep and I was going to buy a multi-city flight through priceline ( no bidding) and was told that I would still get points. Have you tried booking a international flight on Priceline lately?

    • Keri Anderson

      August 24, 2015 at 8:42 pm

      You are correct, you can earn miles for booking through the non-bidding feature but trips booked using the Name Your Own Price feature won’t earn miles.

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