Priceline Users Be Careful: Name the Wrong Price and You May Go To Jail

I bet you didn’t know Priceline had a jail.

I didn’t either until I got tossed into their web-based hoosegow for 24 hours. Heh.

What was my “crime” you ask?

This is kind of embarrassing to admit, but I recently made an offer on a rental car for our upcoming family vacation to the East Coast that was apparently a bit too low for Priceline and their affiliates’ liking.

I still don’t understand what I did that warranted such treatment.

I had been diligently pricing minivans on other websites and found them to be running for approximately $100 per day. Then, I noticed a Priceline ad that proclaimed this: “Name your own price and save up to 40%!”

Forty percent! Awesome!

So, taking Priceline at its word, I decided to offer them $60 per day. That is 40% off, right?

Anyway, when I clicked the button to seal my bid, I got a suggestion from Priceline telling me that I might want to consider a higher price. Might.

To be clear, Priceline didn’t say I had to submit a higher price; but they did note that $71 would give me a “good chance” of making a deal, and $77 would give me an even “better chance” of getting the minivan of my dreams — although they couldn’t exactly tell me what the make and model would be until after the deal was sealed.

Well, I decided to say “phooey!” to their lame suggestions. After all, Priceline bragged that I could save up to 40% off, and a bid of $71 comes to, um, let’s see, carry the one … Ah yes, barely 29% off.

Not good enough, I figured. I was determined to get 40% off — so I stuck to my guns and entered another $60 bid.

And Priceline rejected it again.

Fair enough. So I made a third offer — this time for $70.

That’s when I ended up in the Priceline penitentiary. Here’s a screen shot of what it looked like:

pricelinejail

In case the fine print is too small for you to make out, here is what it says:

Negotiation On Hold: Duplicate Offer Detected – We’re sorry, but your bid is identical to another offer you submitted in the past 24 hours. Your credit card has not been charged. If you wish to submit a new rental car offer for the same location, car type, and pick-up and drop-off date & time, please wait 24 hours. If you would like to Name Your Own Price® again right now, simply choose a new car type below.”

Priceline likes to tout their negotiation skills, but they sure have a funny way of doing it. Can you imagine if people negotiated with each other the same way Priceline does with their customers?

“Hey, Len. Nice garage sale you got going here. I see you’re selling this ash tray for $2.”

“Yeah, it’s a beauty, isn’t it?”

“It sure is! Say, Len, what do you say I give you 50 cents for it?”

“Fifty cents! Sorry, bud. No can do. That ash tray has a lot of sentimental value to me.”

“Oh, come on! A think 50 cents is a reasonable offer.”

“Naw. I think that’s a bit low.”

“Well, okay, Len. Then how about …”

“Hut! Stop right there, my friend. You made the exact same offer twice over a 24-hour period! But feel free to come on back tomorrow and I’ll let you bid again. Have a nice day!”

Right.

Anyway, the rules behind this Priceline “name your price” dance seem like a bit of a joke to me, especially since my bid is non-refundable — that is, assuming it’s ever accepted. Nevertheless, I’m going to serve my time and then try again tomorrow.

Maybe I’ll take their suggestion next time and bring my price up to $71.

Then again, maybe I won’t.

Photo Credit: HarshLight

Comments

  1. 1

    says

    I got put into “Google Jail” recently.

    Too many searches in too short a time. They thought I was a spambot or something. Locked me out from searching for a few hours.

    I find it hard to believe my search volume places meaningful strain on their servers…

    You’d think they (and Priceline) would set the bar a little higher before blocking somebody out.

  2. 2

    says

    From their explanation, it doesn’t seem like you got put in jail because of a lowball offer, it looks like it assumed, possibly incorrectly from the way you described the situation, that you had made the offer, gotten rejected, and came back and made it again. Their ‘suggestion’ of a lower price wasn’t an outright rejection. It was all part of the same offer.

    It sounds like a potential technical glitch to me. I would contact Priceline and say that you only made one offer but got locked out because it thought you made more than one.

    • 3

      TK says

      Money Beagle sounds like you’re a veteran with Priceline. First time I’ve ever used them and I made a bid and the first 2 times I did they said my bid was too low…I came up each time and on my 3rd try I they didn’t say I was too low they just started asking for personal information including credit card number so I naturally “assumed” they accepted the bid. Went through all the filling out template and finally I thought we were ready for the confirmation only to have them say “your bid is too low!” Now I’m worried as they have the card number…Is there anything I should do?

  3. 4

    mdb says

    I can see this being necessary in order to get hotel/airline/car rental companies to participate. The company sets a floor rate it will accept, if your bid is above the floor your bid is accepted. Without this rule all you need to do is start at $1 and increment up by $1 to get the floor price. I could see many companies saying no to such an arrangement.

  4. 5

    says

    This is a hysterical story, Len. I guess you offended the computer algorithm. I’ve never really used their website because of the rule that you couldn’t find out what you bought until it was non-refundable – like an airline ticket for a flight that leaves at 5 am and has 5 connections.

    • 6

      says

      @MoneyBeagle: I was, technically, in the hoosegow the minute my first offer was rejected – I just didn’t find out about it until I made the second offer. I bet a lot of folks never know they are tossed into the Priceline jail because they get rejected the first time and don’t come back.
      @mdb: Agreed. But like Mike said, you’d think they would set the bar a bit higher. It’s not as if I bid a price that was 99% off the regular price – I only bid 40% off!
      @Jen: It is a bit scary not knowing what you will be getting. That’s why I will not take a chance on naming my own price for a hotel or flight – for the reasons you mentioned. Red eyes, multiple connections, etc. For a rental car, I wanted a Grand Caravan. I did a bit of research and found well over half the agencies that dealt with Priceline carried them.

      For the record, I came back 24 hours later after I was released from jail and entered another bid – this time for $71 (hey, I figured I would capitulate and take their suggestion.) They accepted my offer and I saved a grand total of $350! (about 30% off). Oh – and I got a Grand Caravan. Yea! Thanks, Priceline!

  5. 7

    Chris Fulmer says

    Look at this from Priceline’s point of view — they’re in business to maximize profit. If there’s a hotel room for which their minimum price is $50, they want to stop you from bidding $1, then $2, then $3, then $4, until you get to $50 and hit their floor.

    The “regular” price isn’t built into their system — how do you even know what that is? Is it the “rack rate” or the best rate you can find on, say, expedia? Is it the AAA rate?

    There are ways around this, especially in hotel searches — if your second bid is somewhat different than your first, you can immediately rebid. For car rentals, that probably means accepting a different car class, different rental date or different pickup location.

    • 8

      says

      Thanks for the tip, Chris. :-)

      I would venture the “regular” rates are the unadulterated no-discount basic rates. Before naming my price with Priceline I checked published car rates on Expedia and Priceline and also the car rental agency sites. For the most part, the prices between the travel sites like Expedia and the rental car sites lined up almost to the dollar. (That is not to say that will always be the case, which it isn’t – but it was in this instance.)

  6. 9

    says

    I think you should drop one of those William Shatner karate chops on them for false advertising.

    The longer I buy online, the less I like the auction format. I have switched from buying things on eBay to Amazon and Craig’s List. I have found that I am more likely to get tied up in a bid I don’t win than to save any real money. But, I will use eBay’s Buy it Now function if the price is good.

  7. 11

    says

    I haven’t used Priceline in a while for booking travel arrangements, but I was thinking of trying to bid on a flight to NYC. It’s good to know that if you bid too low, they’ll boot you off their system for a day. I was really hoping to put in a bid of $300, or 35% less than what I’m finding everywhere else. They’d probably think that was too low since it is pushing 40%! Thanks for sharing.

  8. 13

    says

    Great post Len. We use Priceline’s bid features for vacations and for the most part enjoy it. There is a bit of a system to getting good deals for hotels. Some sites online have forums where other travelers share their winning bids for a city.

    We usually bid 2 months ahead and will slowly increase it until we get our bid accepted.

    With flights, I’d start earlier if you’re traveling during peak vacation time and are very specific about nonstop flights.

    • 14

      says

      You know, Elle, I think you hit the nail on the head when you suggest starting as early as possible and slowly increasing. I booked my flights and hotels three months early but, like a doofus, I waited until four days before leaving to book the car – and it kind of put me at a bit of a disadvantage. Thanks for the tips! :-)

  9. 16

    says

    There might be workarounds – trying from another machine, using different email address/credit card. Not sure what their terms are surrounding that.

    Anyway, it’s not the most user-friendly process, I certainly agree. By the way, I found your example entertaining, and well-put.

    I have to say, I have obtained some pretty good deals using Priceline, but I have focused only on hotels. Some very good places at well below rack rate.

  10. 18

    says

    Never used Priceline before. I guess I don’t like the idea of not knowing what I’m getting. Plus I rarely travel. Thanks for letting us know about this interesting experience that you encountered.

  11. 22

    twiggers says

    Wait, you’re complaining about Priceline’s system? This is the way is ALWAYS works. If you clearly read their instructions you are only allowed one offer PER 24 hours UNLESS you change something about your criteria (i.e., different star level of hotel, different zone, different car type, etc.).
    If you’d like a great primer on how to bid on Priceline and determine what people are getting winning bids for, then check out sites like betterbidding.com.

    Priceline wasn’t being unfair to you because you “lowballed”, they just did what they do to everyone.

    Believe me, you weren’t lowballing either. I start 5* hotels at $50-75 (when the rack rates are $300-500).

    • 23

      says

      Well, Twiggers, I like complaining. It makes for more interesting posts! LOL

      Oh sure, I realize NOW that’s how things work. For the record, I am an engineer and we never read instructions on anything – we’re too smart for that. ;-)

      I’ll play the game next time – and I’ll like it too! I just need to make sure I do it far enough ahead of my eventual departure date, that’s all.

  12. 24

    says

    You put in the same bid twice in a row and were rejected both times, that’s why you were put on hold because you’re wasting your time and theirs.

  13. 27

    qaz says

    If you bid a second bid while “in jail”, does the original 24-our sentence remain intact, or do you acquire a new 24-hour sentence commencing on the date of your second bid?

  14. 29

    says

    Hey Len,

    I know it’s a year later after your posting but I found the EXACT same thing this week. I was so ticked off, I started looking on line to see if anyone else had this problem. I was looking for a minivan too. Did the exact same 40% lower (in fact – I found a price that was significantly less then Priceline’s on a van website and started negotiating with that price in mind). I was sentenced to the Priceline Penitentiary. Priceline, however, out of the kindness of their heart asked if I wanted to negotiate for a different type of vehicle (not one that wanted or need…thank you very much). So – they don’t really want the cashola. Strange, very strange.

    • 30

      Len Penzo says

      I agree. At least give us a second attempt if the price is perceived as “insulting” and warn us we’ll be thrown in jail if we do it again. Right?

  15. 31

    John says

    I’m not quite sure I understand why you’re so upset. By your line of thinking, you could start at $1/day bid for a $40/day car, then subsequently increase your price by a single dollar until you got the lowest possible rate….this would be very bad business for priceline and other bargain sites. It’s just smart business. One bid every 24 hours assumes you’ll be a more aggressive bidder, that is unless you plan far enough ahead of time and bid once a day for several weeks.

  16. 32

    Una says

    I can’t help to laugh when I read your example of how bidding works with priceline…

    Nonetheless, here’s the secret. The exact same thing happened to me when I do that, but the secret is re-entering everything and resubmitting your bid of whatever price you want. It worked that way for me. Just going back to re-enter a different price or re-entering a different price when that stupid page comes up didn’t help at all and just gets you more frustrated…Give that a try and it should work…

    Good Luck!

  17. 34

    Dave says

    I enjoyed the article and all the ensuing responses that in their totality were very insightful……Shatner is, publicly, a very entertaining character…..I just hope, with the onset of senility, I don’t forget this information!!

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