Hotwire Versus Priceline: Which is Better?

Hotwire and Priceline both offer some of the best online discounts available-particularly when you use their most robust discount programs-the ones that do not give you the name of your airline, hotel, or car rental provider until after you pay.

To find out which company is better, we sent Rick Archer, president of SearchSummit, to talk with Don Nadeau, the president of BidonTravel. Don Nadeau, a long-time budget travel expert, has worked extensively with both companies, and knows their pros and cons.

Which is better, Hotwire or Priceline?

They’re both excellent, but not identical. I prefer one over the other depending on my needs at the time.

Well, which one is best for discount hotel rooms?

The question of the location or neighborhood of your hotel spells one difference between Priceline and Hotwire.

With either company, you pick the price, quality, amenities, and neighborhood you want, but not a specific hotel. For example, with Priceline’s Name Your Own Price service, you can bid on a 4-star hotel in Priceline’s North Michigan Avenue district in Chicago. When your bid’s accepted, you find out the hotel name.

Because it wants you to have a winning hotel bid, Priceline’s neighborhoods tend to be large with lots of hotels in your price range.

In contrast, when using Hotwire, you don’t bid on your hotel. Prices are displayed.

Hotwire can use smaller neighborhoods because it’s not concerned with you having a winning bid. This makes it easier to pinpoint the location you want. For instance, Hotwire currently divides Priceline’s North Michigan Avenue neighborhood into two neighborhoods.

Then why use Priceline for hotels?

Priceline may be cheaper.

You can easily find out Hotwire’s price, and then bid a bit lower on Priceline. If your bid is accepted, you’ll enjoy a lower price for a similar quality hotel or even the same hotel.

In addition, Priceline has relationships with a greater number of hotels and with hotels in more cities than Hotwire does, which may mean a lower price for your trip.

You mentioned picking the quality. Whose hotel rating system do you trust the most?

Hotwire and Priceline star quality ratings are similar to AAA auto club diamond ratings. At times, both companies increase or decrease star rankings based on customer input. Although their hotels are not always ranked the same, I can’t say one system is better than the other, as both are so driven by customer experiences.

You’ll probably end up happier if you book higher ranked hotels-getting a 4-star hotel for a 2-star price, instead of a 2-star one for a 1-star price.

Which site gives you more information about its hotels before you pay?

Hotwire does. It includes helpful information such as the availability of airport transfers and whether or not you’ll be right on the beach. However, neither let’s you know some basic information, such as if pets are welcome.

What about their hotel price guarantees?

Many Internet sites guarantee hotel prices, but specifically exclude guarantees on the types of deep discounts you get using Hotwire and Priceline, where you don’t find out the hotel name until you pay.

Both Hotwire and Priceline guarantee that you’ll have the best price. If you find a lower price available to the general public for the same type of room, in the same hotel, on the same dates, you’ll get a refund of the difference. Hotwire will even give you back double the difference in price, excluding taxes. Although both have a rather short deadline for applying, these are great guarantees.

How about their cancellation policies?

Neither allows refunds or changes for their lowest prices. So you’ll want to be certain about your trip. However, both companies allow you to purchase insurance in case you are forced to change.

How do they compare on discount rental cars?

Both use top companies like Avis and Hertz. Go with whichever has the best price at the time of your trip. The quality of your experience should be the same.

Which is better for airfares, Hotwire or Priceline?

I really like that you can pick the time of day on Hotwire for a discount, instead of the Priceline system where you must to be willing to depart anytime between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. for travel in the U.S. when using its “Name Your Own Price” program.

Of course, for the biggest discounts, you have to be willing to depart anytime of day on Hotwire, just like Priceline. In addition, Priceline has discount flights to more places.

As with hotels, you can always find out Hotwire’s price, and then bid a bit lower on Priceline. You may be able to get a cheaper ticket.

Our site has numerous Priceline bidding tips plus Hotwire information that helps you save.

Which uses the best airlines?

Both use major carriers like American, Delta, and United. Neither uses Southwest Airlines.

What about vacation packages?

I like that Hotwire allows you to book a hotel and rental car package without an airfare, which is great if you’re using a frequent flyer ticket that costs nothing.

Otherwise, go with the site that has the cheapest price for the same hotel, type of room, and dates. Both companies display prices and hotel or resort names for their vacation packages. This allows you to choose exactly what you want.

How do you decide which company to use?

I always compare them, and go with the one that gives the most quality for the money on the dates I need. You should be satisfied with either company, as long as you realize that you can’t change anything once you’ve paid and you won’t get a refund if your plans change.

Enjoy your savings!