Sunday, October 29, 2006

Contemplating Priceline name your own price for air travel

I use Priceline "Name Your Own Price" for hotels. It's great and gives great deals, assuming you take the time to figure out how to use it properly. It is extra work, but the savings always blow me away. Air travel on Priceline is a completely different story. For the most part, I am very schedule sensitive about air travel, or at least the ground transportation portion. Nonetheless, I have it in my mind to at least try Priceline air travel at least once.

The main problem is that I may have to allocate an extra day on either end of my trip, or add a cheap hotel stay at either end of the trip so that I'll be near the airport when ground transportation may be problematic.

If I simply want to be in a city a certain morning, I can simply accept any shcedule for the previous day.

But if I want to be in a city some evening, I can't simply request Priceline to travel on that day since the arrival may be very late evening or even in the middle of the night.

If I intend to leave on the morning of a date, I can let Priceline schedule me for any time that day.

But if I want to be in a city until mid-afternoon, I can't depend on Priceline that day since it may schedule the departure too early in the day for my own schedule, so I would have to ask Priceline to return me the next day even if there was a good chance that Priceline could have gotten me on an afternoon flight the desired day.

The next issue is that Priceline may schedule my initial departure or final arrival so that I am unable to use public transportation to get to and from the Airport. A 6:00 a.m. departure is a non-starter even if I am willing to get up at 3:00 a.m. Ditto for an arrival after 11:00 p.m. since the last bus may have left by the time I get to the bus stop, especially if the flight happens to be even modestly delayed or slow to deplane, which is very typical.

My thought is that the only way I can contemplate Priceline air travel is if I factor in the cost of a cheap hotel room on both ends of the trip. Maybe 60% of the time the schedule works out fine. Maybe 20% of the time I need a room on one end of the trip, and maybe 20% of the time I need a room at both ends of the trip.

What bothers me is that even at a budget rate of $65 (or $75 when you add in taxes), two nights hotel may be greater than the delta between the Priceline air travel and the "normal" air travel. But, that's the worst case scenario, and maybe that happens one out of evey three or four trips.

Still, it leads me back to thinking about whether saving $150 is really worth all of the aggravation I would have to go through to save that money.

Nonetheless, at least one time I would like to try it.

The difficulty is that I may try it and it works out great, do it a few times, feel comfortable with it, and then WHAMO, get a schedule which makes the whole trip really suck. Cheap hotel rooms are an entire crap shoot in their own right.

An alternative is to plan a stay in a reasonably decent hotel near the airport as an integral part of my whole adventure. Sounds great as a theory, but maybe in practice it's not as satisfying as on paper, and the overall financial cost will be significantly higher. Another great idea that may have to stay on the shelf.

And then there is the issue that Priceline may put you on connecting flights that significantly add to your travel time.

I was just looking closely at Priceline and for this coming Friday through Sunday, the "lowest published fare" for a roundtrip to San Francisco would be $380. I was thinking that $150 might be a good enough price to induce me to try Priceline. But, to get a price of $150, I would have to bid $125 for the ticket since the taxes and Priceline service fee bring that up to $150.60. If I had to get a $75 hotel room on each end to meet flight times, that would bring my total cost to $300.60. That still feels a bit pricey to me, but is modestly better than the $380 "published" airfare. Of course, I could get lucky and not need to two extra hotel nights. A $150 flight is a great deal. A $225 flight is also a rather good deal, but less so with all of this planning anxiety. And that's if I could actually get a $125 flight on Priceline. I would rate my odds about 50%. Priceline talks about the potential for up to a 40% savings.With hotels, I always have done better than that, but air travel is different. A 40% savings on $380 would be $228. A 30% savings would be $266. And taxes and the Priceline service fee need to be added to those prices. Add on the extra hotel nights and the prices are modestly attractive, at best.

I may just do this once simply to find out what it is like. Maybe. But not this week.

Thanksgiving weekend is a possibility, especially since travel on Thanksgiving Day is always a good bet. I just checked and a Thursday departure and Monday return is listed as $293. That's a semi-decent fare, so if Priceline stuck me we a lousy departure and arrival, even a $125 fare would expand to more than the straight fare.

This is so complicated. And the net potential benefits so iffy and marginal.

Still, adventure does call.

Maybe, someday.

-- Jack Krupansky


At 9:54 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

WOW! Was trying to research if this was a scam and your posting lets me know why it is real. I will give you an example of how this feature could work out great. Today is Friday. I get a call from my cousin that is like a brother. He got married with out telling anyone and invited me to a party on Sunday. I live in Philly. He lives in Denver. Got a $900 quote for airfare and rental car. Went to priceline selected fly in what ever time Saturday and leave whatever time Monday with rental car. The price quoted with tax was $109. Amazing!!


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