British Airways 100k Miles Promo – Booking Award Tickets On American Airlines Using British Airways Miles

Update 5/6/11: The 100k mile card promotion is now expired. The information on using British Airways miles should still be accurate.

First, a quick reminder that the British Airways 100,000 mile promotion mentioned previously is scheduled to expire in less than two weeks on May 6th. To recap, the Chase British Airways Visa Signature card (expired) is offering 50,000 British Airways (BA) Executive Club miles for new cardmembers with first purchase, and another 50,000 BA miles after spending $2,500 within 3 months of opening, for a total of 100,000 miles.

There are many options on how to spend these points, for example we spent them on business class tickets to London and Rome. But to show the basic value of this offer, I looked into how to use British Airways miles to book award travel on American Airlines, their partner in the US. If American Airlines has a domestic award seat available in their “MileSAAver” category, then in general you can book it with British Air miles. A flight within the continental US costs 25,000 BA miles plus $5, with no fuel surcharges. (Other combinations of less miles and more cash are available, see below.)

If your flight is a direct flight with no stopovers, you can search and book an award online at On the site, go to “Spending BA Miles” and then “Book with partner airlines” and then “Make a reward booking”. They always try to find BA flights first, but once you search for domestic flights, you’ll see this option to include partner airlines.

Here is a screenshot of an award I found from Los Angeles to Dallas/Ft. Worth for 25,000 miles + $5:

(click to enlarge)

Note that I can see the availability even if I don’t have enough miles to actually book it yet. Alternatively, you can book an American Airlines flight from the continental US to Hawaii for 35,000 + $5. Here is an award I found from Los Angeles to Honolulu during the summer for that amount:

(click to enlarge)

Of course, it’s better if you can book ahead of time for the best availability. If your flight has a stopover, you might want to look for award availability on the American Airlines website first and then call British Airways to book the award flight. Since you can’t find the airfare online through their search system, you can try asking them to waive their phone booking fee. Thus, with the 100,000 miles from this offer (plus $20 in fees), you could by four domestic round-trip tickets in the lower 48, or nearly three round trip tickets to Hawaii. Car Rental Price Search Engine

It’s always fun to find out new tools to save you time and money. Started by some regulars on the Flyertalk travel forum, is a website specifically made for car rentals. Yes, all the big guys like Expedia and Hotwire do car rentals. However, this one is a bit different.

First, you need to remember the unique quirk of car rental reservation systems. When you make a reservation at most car rental shops, you simply get a quote and make a non-binding reservation without giving any payment information. You can cancel at any time, without penalty. Heck, even if you just don’t show there is no penalty, besides the bad karma of knowing that you maybe messed up their inventory management for others.

Second, you add in the fact that for us deal-hunters, there can be hundreds combinations of discount codes, CDP numbers, and promotional codes that must be found to get the actual lowest rate on a rental. Autoslash uses computers to test out the codes in its database for you. The best part? It keeps checking every single day to see if it can get you a lower price. If it does, it automatically cancels your last reservation, books the new one for you, and sends you the new reservation code.

Last week, I was searching for a week-long rental in Orlando, FL next month. I checked the usual suspects like Expedia and was getting about $700 for a week-long rental of a mid-size car. Must be some huge event going on that weekend?! So I tried Autoslash.

  • Day 1 – I was bummed to see the lowest price was also $665.61 including all taxes and fees, with Payless.
  • Day 2 – I was rebooked on Dollar Rent A Car at $346.18.
  • Day 3 – I was rebooked again on Dollar for $320.41. Sweet!

The primary drawback that I can see is that they don’t support all the rental car agencies. Specifically, I did not see Avis or Budget in my comparison matrix. Also, the quality of their results depends on the quality of the coupon codes in their database. Basically, it may be possible to get a better deal on your own. However, given the fact that I can always cancel, AutoSlash does provides a very good baseline deal for almost zero work.

Hotel Bidding Tools For and Travel

I’m working on planning our next travel adventure, and discovered a few new sites to help people navigate “opaque” hotel price engines and In my 5-Step Guide to Finding The Lowest Rate For Hotel Rooms, I outlined the benefits of using database sites like BiddingForTravel and BetterBidding to gather information from successful purchasers to remove some of the mystery. Hopefully, these will help you even further.

With Hotwire, you know the price, but not the actual name of the hotel before you commit. A while back, I pointed out the ability to figure out the hidden hotels behind the price on Hotwire primarily using the number of reviews shown. Shortly afterward, they removed that description. The job became harder, but BidGoggles attempts to use all the smaller clues given to you in order to do the same thing again. Here’s how it works.

You provide them with the following: Star rating, Country, State, City, and Subarea (Neighborhood). Then you match up the little logos that show you what amenities the hotel offers, such as a fitness room, swimming pool, or free breakfast. The results have been hit or miss with me, although I found that it helps if you omit a few amenities if you get no matches. Hopefully their database gets better with time, although the site seems to have slowed down development.

The Bidding Traveler
With the ‘Name Your Own Price’ feature of Priceline, you have to bid auction-style for the price of a room, in addition to only knowing the general neighborhood and star-rating of the hotel. So you have to decide how much to bid on any given hotel quality level, as well as having to deal with the rules of how you can bid again if you’re initial offer is rejected.

TheBiddingTraveler has you choose your hotel’s neighborhood (“zones”) along with the highest quality star-rating you want, and then provides you with some guidance as to what your starting bid and your final offer (the absolute highest price you’d be willing to pay). Recently rejected and accepted bids are provided, along with actual hotel names. Finally, the website actually walks you through the “optimal” bidding strategy, step-by-step.

The main downside I noticed was that some of the accepted bids are sparse for some cities and can be a bit old, so again the quality of the database is very important. Happy travels!

Added: You can save another 2% or more with cashback sites like eBates ($5 new customer bonus), Mr. Rebates ($5 bonus), and BigCrumbs.

Lonely Planet Offers 13 Free iPhone City Guides

In response to Snowpocalypse 2011, Lonely Planet has again made several of their iPhone City Guides free for download. 13 guides will be free in the iTunes App Store until to 6pm PST Friday, February 4th 2011.

Here are the cities: San Francisco, New York City, Boston, Washington DC, Chicago, Seattle, New Orleans, Vancouver, Las Vegas, Miami, Toronto, Los Angeles, Montreal.

Hyatt Credit Card: Two Free Nights! List of Best Expensive Hotels To Use Free Stays At

Hyatt Regency Maui

Hyatt Credit CardThe Hyatt Credit Card by Chase offers you two Free Nights after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months from account opening. The upfront two Free Nights are valid at any Hyatt hotel or resort in the world! The free nights have no resort fees, no internet fees, no redemption fees. No foreign transaction fees for international purchases as well.

You will also receive an additional Hyatt Free Night Award each year on the anniversary of your account opening. The anniversary free nights are eligible for redemption at any category 1-4 Hyatt hotel or resort. There is a $75 annual fee.

You also get 3 Hyatt Gold Passport points for every $1 spent with your Hyatt Card at all Hyatt properties, 2 Hyatt Gold Passport points for every $1 spent at restaurants, on airline tickets purchased directly with the airline and at car rental agencies, and 1 Hyatt Gold Passport point for every $1 spent on purchases elsewhere.

If you have a free night at any Hyatt hotel, what should you do with it? I went over to Condé Nast Traveler’s Top Hotels and Travel+Leisure’s Top 500 Hotels, which helped me find these spots with sample rates from $300 to $900 a night:

Planning a Round-the-World (RTW) Trip For Under $10,000

The following is a guest post from reader Chris, who shares a quick and dirty (and cost-conscious) examination of Round-the-World Travel. He writes about about making a life of long-term travel and other related topics at

$10,000 goes a long way. That’s a healthy drop in the retirement bucket, a sizable boost to any portfolio, a new(er) car or, as I’m about to advocate, an adventure of spirit and culture and affirmation that most never embark upon.

Would you believe me if I told you that you could travel the world for $10,000? Hopefully, by the end of reading this you’ll see the opportunity for what it is. Of course we aren’t talking about stopping at the nearly 250 UN recognized nations, but rather circumnavigating the globe while stopping at a selection of countries and cities. Your time frame, your itinerary, your budget (and your sensibilities) will set the limits of your travels, so keep them in mind at all times.

Being readers of, I think it’s safe to assume that you’re all fairly versed in saving methodologies and tips and tricks and are in, at least, a decent financial state. If you’re a new reader or simply don’t have that kind of scratch lying around, I didn’t leave you out. I’ve left some time honored travelers tips at the bottom to both save money for your travels and to pinch pennies while on the road. General rules of this study:

  • I am traveling solo.
  • I have gear and vaccinations.
  • I have $10,000.
  • I will travel for 3 months – 1 week in the US. 5 weeks in Europe and 6 weeks in Asia.

Consideration #1 – Airfare

Costs: $1,700
Remaining budget: $8,300

Airfare these days is not only the most economical choice, but also the least logistically imposing method of traversing the globe. There are two main schools of thought when it comes to RTW airfare – have it your way or go prepackaged. Customized itineraries allow for greater flexibility of schedule, freedom of destination and directional independence, while “pre-packaged” RTW tickets typically want you flying East-to-West (or vice-verse, no hopping back and forth), have a handful of stops and must be used within a certain date (usually within one year from purchase).

My focus on traveling will be South East Asia and Western Europe in a west-to-east route. I’ve opted for an itinerary from Boots’n’all Travel, who partners with the Airtreks to bring all this in at $1299 (as of September 2010, see current RTW specials here) . There are always some hidden fees, so let’s buffer that up to a straight $1500.

Flight itinerary – SE Asia & Europe Budget Ticket: San Francisco or Los Angeles – Manila – Borneo (Kota Kinabalu) – Singapore – Angkor Wat (Siem Reap) – surface – Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City – Bangkok – surface – Kuala Lumpur – London – Amsterdam – surface – Paris – San Francisco or Los Angeles from US$1299

Note: This sample itinerary is good through September 30th. Each month Boots’n’all offers different routes, but the prices, and locations, generally stay the same.

In the interest of creating as realistic a scenario as is reasonable, I’ll dish up the fact that I don’t live in San Fran or L.A. I’m a Colorado Springs resident…a quick check on shows that round-trip airfare from my home to the Bay Area and back runs less than $200. Done (and subtracted from our budget).

On a side note, if you’re concerned about the environment impacts of air-travel, you’ll be happy that the sustainability movement has more than a foothold in our modern travel climate. Carbon offsetting is an option as are bio-fueled jets (not commonly available…). Of course, these will up your costs and for the sake of staying under budget I’ve left them out.

Consideration #2 – Lodging

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Lonely Planet Offers Free iPhone Apps To Travelers

In response to the disruption caused by a certain Icelandic volcano, Lonely Planet has made their iPhone apps for 13 European cities free until April 22nd. These usually cost $15.99 each, and seemed to work fine on my iPod Touch. From their blog:

‘Travellers stuck in unfamiliar places need access to practical information as well as suggestions on what to do whilst stranded’, said Tom Hall, Lonely Planet Travel Editor. ‘That’s why we’re giving away iPhone city guides to major affected destinations.’

I think it’s a nice gesture on their part and also good PR. Heck, I didn’t even know Lonely Planet offered apps until today. Should make for some neat reading. Here are direct iTunes links to the included cities:

Interview: A Couple Spends A Year In Asia For $9/Day Each

This is a interview/guest post with blog reader Ariel Hoffman, who recently spent a year traveling around Asia with his girlfriend Michal with a combined budget of only $10,000 – and managed to come back with $3,500 of it! I love to read nonfiction travel essays, so not only are there some great frugal travel tips below, it was also very exciting to read about their adventures. Thanks again for sharing, Ariel!

What was your inspiration to go on this adventure?
In Israel, it is mandatory to serve in the armed forces for at least 3 years. After that you just want to get away, and Asia is the perfect destination for someone who’s just saved up 3 years worth of the army’s 100$-a-month salary. Also, Israel’s a pretty small country, so there isn’t much domestic travel to be had like there is in the US.

The itinerary my girlfriend (Michal) and I came up with was mostly about avoiding the rainy season, and minimizing air travel. Air travel is expensive and boring, and you try to avoid it if you have a lot of time to spend.

How did you come up with your budget? Did it end up costing more or less than you thought?
We sat down and did some serious homework, mostly on websites like and their forums. The budget they offered sounded ridiculously low, so we nearly doubled everything we read about, and came up with a rough estimate of about 10,000$ for the two of us, for the entire year.

What we realized, however, is that not only were the estimates online pretty accurate, but also that two people don’t spend exactly twice as much as one – lots of things are shared (such as meals, transportation, hotel rooms etc.) and so it’s more like budgeting for a person and a half rather than two.
We were very pleasantly surprised when we came back home to count our remaining traveler’s cheques and see we still have about 3,500$ left over for next time!

How did you fund it? Did you save up the cash upfront, borrow some money, work while on the trip, or some other combination?
In preparation for our trip, we both took on extra work and saved up every Shekel we made. It took us about 5 months. Once we reached our goal of 10,000$, we exchanged all our cash into traveler’s cheques – a great way to keep your money both liquid and safe when abroad. Luckily for us, the exchange rates were in our favor the whole time, which gave our savings an extra 2%-5% throughout the journey.

Walk us through a typical day on your Year in Asia trip.
Most days would begin with trying to find breakfast – not always an easy task. Most Asian countries do not serve what we would consider breakfast, especially my vegetarian Michal. Although chicken porridge and spicy rice is very nice, it’s not everyone’s idea of the right way to start your day. After eating some novel type of cookie in spiced tea, we would set off to whatever National Monument/UNESCO World Heritage Site/Giant Temple/Yearly Festival was in the town on that day. After a day’s tour of the attraction we would start hunting for a suitable lunch, which meant looking around for a street stall with a good crowd, or a local restaurant with a queue. Nothing says fresh like a long line of customers, and Asian vendors normally close their stalls every day when they’ve exhausted all their stock, so food is never kept overnight and doesn’t have time to spoil. Another plus is that the food is not made of pre-cut ingredients, which makes preparation slower, but at least you see exactly what you’re getting so there are no surprises.

Evening was normally a time for sitting on the beach, going to some performance or sitting in some tea-shop with friends. For a while we had a small kitchen in our room, so I would cook dinner for us while Michal practiced yoga. In China we bought a Wii, and at night we’d plug it in and invite friends over for kart racing – it’s OK to enjoy modern fun even when on the road!
We spent a lot of time on trains and buses, getting from A to B. Sometimes as long as 27 hours! Israel’s longest train ride is only 4 hours long.

What are some basic money-saving tips you might offer us readers?
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Budget Long-Term Travel: Explore Longer For Less

The following is a guest post from Matt from NomadicMatt, who as you might guess has a passion for travel and doesn’t like to stay in one place for too long. He wrote this while running around Spain! If you like what you see, I encourage you to check out his site for his travel blog and other travel tips.

One thing that always irks me about my fellow countrymen is the huge perception that travel is expensive. With only two weeks away a year, I can see why a lot of people would want to splash out on an expensive holiday. There’s nothing wrong with that. But a lot of people spend more money and get less value. They spend money on things the travel industry tells them they need but could find much cheaper. I’ve been traveling around the world for three years and whenever, I have friends come visit me in places, they are amazed at how little they spend compared to what they thought they would. I don’t penny pinch but I don’t spend money stupidly.

Take for example my trip to Thailand with a co-worker. Flights to Thailand can run anywhere between 800 and 1200 dollars for an economy class ticket. You can only hope to get on the lower end and sites like Momondo and Mobissimo are good at that. Additionally, you can check out my page on how to find cheap flights. My friend asked me how it would cost her for the two and half weeks we were going to be there. Should she bring 1,000 dollars? 1,500? Thinking about what I had planned for us, I told her $700 should be enough, unless she wanted to shop – then she should bring a few hundred more. She didn’t believe me but I was right. Here’s the break down:

  • Accommodation – Typical double bed room with shower, fan, or a/c. Nothing fancy but not super dirt, “I see a cockroach” cheap either. It cost us 20 dollars a night, which was split by two people.
  • Transportation – We took the local buses and trains around the country. They are very cheap with a train costing only a few hundred baht. (It’s 35 baht to one dollar). Overall, we spent $50 dollars on transport.
  • Food – Having lived in Thailand, I know the best food there is on the streets, which is also the cheapest food. A meal is about 30 baht. We also ate a lot of seafood on the islands which is about 300 baht a meal. Throw in a few sushi and Italian dinners at about 800 baht each and in total for 2 1/2 weeks we spent about 3,500 baht on food, which is $100 dollars.
  • Alcohol – We like to party so this was a bit of a budget buster. We easily spent $100 USD on going to clubs and beach parties.
  • Tours – We took one tour through the national park that cost us 1,500 baht for two days. The guides spoke perfect English and new things about the area that amazing. When we went to the beach, we did a snorkel tour for 500 baht.
  • Other sights – We spent about $10 dollars on the palace and temples in Bangkok.

So for 18 days we spent about $560 dollars per person, or about $31 a day, without skimping on anything, eating the local food, taking a few tours, and doing nothing really cheap. For 18 days, that is not a lot of money.

Thailand is a cheap country so I’m always amazed when people walk away spending lots of money. A typical two week tour to Thailand runs about $1,000 dollars from Gap Adventures, which actually specializes in inexpensive tours. We spent less in longer. (Editor’s note: Or you could stay an entire month for the same price of $1,000.)

Moreover, when most people travel to Thailand they stay at the big international hotels like the Marriott or the Sheraton, fly everywhere, and stay at luxury beach bungalows for 2,000 baht a night. When they eat, they eat out at fancy places. Relative to their home country, whether the U.S. or Europe, this may seem like a bargain (Wow! I just got a beach bungalow for 70 dollars a night!) but compared to how living locally is a third of the price, you aren’t getting good value for your money.

If luxury is what you want, go for it but if you want more value for your money, live more like a local, take the local transportation, and stay in middle of the road places. You’ll save a lot of money but also get to know the pulse of the location more. There’s nothing wrong with spending money but I find not getting the most out of the money you spend a waste.

(Photo credit: NomadicMatt)

Finding The Actual Hotel Name On Before Purchase

This is a follow-up to my 5-Step Guide to Finding The Lowest Rate For Hotel Rooms, which includes tips on using “opaque” sites like and to save on hotel rooms.

Specifically, I’ll show you how to greatly improve your guess as to which hotel you’re actually bidding on before pulling out your credit card. This was initially inspired by a helpful comment by reader Nasty N8, but I expanded and altered his advice a bit.

Finding The Hidden Hotel

When you run a search for hotels on Hotwire, you only get the price, star rating, and the general neighborhood. For example, here’s a search result for hotels near the Orlando airport (MCO) on 12/20/09.

Hotwire Participating Hotels
I see that I can get a 4-star hotel near MCO for $56+taxes. But which one? How do I know if it is any good? Using the Hotwire Hotel List for Florida at, I scroll down to the Orlando MCO section and see two listings: Hyatt Regency Orlando Airport and Renaissance Orlando Hotel Airport (Marriott). Again, this list is not 100% accurate, but it does provide a shortcut possibility and also another data point for later (see scenic route).

TripAdvisor Clues
I click on the red box “Continue” to see the total with taxes per night ($69.45), and also learn more details about the actual hotel. If I scroll down I see some information from

With this information, I can usually reverse engineer the specific hotel from the TripAdvisor (TA) site. There are three points of interest here:

  1. Tripadvisor Traveler Rating (Out of 5). Based on customer reviews, this is an average rating of quality. Sometimes they won’t match up perfectly (i.e. TA will show 3.5, but Hotwire will round up to 4), but most of the time they will.
  2. Number of reviews. This will not be exact, but instead be rounded off to the nearest 20. So if TA has 35 reviews, then Hotwire will say 20+. If TA has 41, then Hotwire will show 40+.
  3. Date of last review. Simply look at the date of the first review you see on TA, and compare with this date.

Let’s go back to the initial hotel list. Here are the Tripadvisor pages for the Hyatt Regency (4.5 dots, 163 reviews, last on Aug 2009) and the Renaissance Hotel (4 dots, 57 reviews, last on Aug 2009). Remember, 57 is the same as 40+.

We see here that the most likely hotel is the Renaissance Orlando Hotel, with all factors matching. At, this hotel would have cost $112 per night with taxes on the exact same day. By doing a little legwork, you could secure a savings of over $42 per night (38%).

The Scenic Route
If you did not find a match, then the hotel may not be updated on the list yet. Here, you’ll have to run a search on Tripadvisor. Use the “Hotels” tab and act as if you want to book a hotel, using your travel dates and everything. Do not just use the search box. Now, the left sidebar will have a ton of options to narrow down your search results. Again, use your region, your Tripadvisor rating, and also the star class rating. (Note: The hotel class “star” rating by Tripadvisor will sometimes vary from the ratings from Hotwire, so you might allow one star difference either way.)

Here is a nice screenshot that shows how I narrowed it down to 6 hotels. As you can see, the only hotel left that matches the Tripadvisor stats is… again the Renaissance Orlando Hotel!

You can also do this down the line with all the different Hotwire search results. Now that you can figure out the actual hotels, you might feel that $50 a night at a 3-star Holiday Inn is better than $100 at at 4-star Hyatt. Happy hotel hunting!

Free US Airways Silver Preferred Status For 90 Days

US Airways is running a promotion where you can try out their Silver Preferred “Elite” status for 90 days. Normally, you’d have to pay $200 or fly 25,000 Preferred-qualifying miles (or 30 qualifying segments) within a calendar year. You must register by August 31st.

The perks of Silver Preferred include:

  • Priority check-in, express security lines, and early boarding.
  • First and second checked bag (free of charge)
  • Free upgrades to first-class when available.
  • 25% bonus miles flown on US Airways

A pretty good deal if you are making any US Airways flights in the next 90 days. I’m not sure how they count the 90 days, it may be a good idea to register near the end of the promotion if you’re traveling during the winter holidays.

Try Preferred status on for size. See how you like it. At the end of your 90-day trial, you may want to keep it! Once you register, you’ll be Preferred within 14 days. […] Just register between May 15 and August 31, 2009. Then, check your Dividend Miles profile to make sure we have your contact information so we can send you an email with your new status.

5-Step Guide to Finding The Lowest Rate For Hotel Rooms

Whenever I’m not traveling on the company dime, I usually run through a checklist to find the lowest price on hotel stays. Let’s say you’re like me and need to find a room in New York City for a few nights, checking in August 30th. I’d like to stay somewhere near Times Square in Manhattan, close to all the sights and action. I’m also leaning towards something reliable and not bargain basement – this is NYC and I don’t want a Hotel Carter experience involving bed bugs, roaches, and urine smells. (Note this for later: At their website, they charge $99 a night.)

1. Check the hotel’s direct website.
If you have some favorite chains due to corporate agreements or loyalty points, then this narrows your search down and you can try and check directly with their website. For example, there is,, and for Sheraton/Westin/W Hotels. Here are some quotes (all prices not including taxes):

Hilton Times Square, $195
Hilton New York, $169
W NY Times Square, $272
Westin NY Times Square, $232
Sheraton Manhattan Times Square, $189
Four Points Midtown, $157

This gives me a benchmark to work from. Another benefit here is that they usually have some form of “Best Rate Guarantee”. Starwood will beat a competing vendor’s price by either 10% or give you 2,000 Starpoints.

2. Try to use loyalty program points.
An extension of the above, at times it is better to redeem your points, or some combination of cash and points. For example, the Westin NY Times Square would only cost 12,000 Starpoints per night, or 48,000 points for 5 nights (avg. 9,600/night). Keep in mind the point redemption even covers taxes, which would turn the $232 listed above to $268 per night. Too bad I’m low on Starpoints after visiting Madrid.

You can earn Starpoints faster and get up to 25,000 bonus Starpoints with the Starwood co-branded American Express card.

3. Use the travel search engines. Expedia, Kayak,, etc.
You know the drill. Actually, you can search most of these all at once through Sometimes one site like Expedia may have special rates for a block of rooms that aren’t available on other sites.

From Kayak, I note that the prices for the Starwood and Hilton hotels were basically the same. After sorting by price, I see that the Holiday Inn NYC is slightly cheaper at $160/night + taxes. A bit farther away in Midtown East there is the DoubleTree Metropolitan at $149. Not too bad. Oh look, Hotel Carter is discounted at $67. Too bad it doesn’t include the cost of burning your clothes afterwards!

4. Use opaque sites like Hotwire and Priceline.
Finally, there are what are called “opaque” travel sites, because you don’t know the name of the hotel until you’ve paid for the non-refundable room. You must decide only based on the star quality rating and general neighborhood of the hotel, which means you can’t look up reviews easily either. Priceline is done using a reverse auction format, while Hotwire just gives you the price.

On Hotwire, I find that I can get 2-star hotel (examples given are Comfort Inn, La Quinta, Days Inn) for $93+tax ($112 total) in a large and vague area that basically covers everything south of Central Park.

5. Using database sites to reverse engineer the hotel information. Sites like BiddingForTravel and BetterBidding gather information from successful purchasers to remove some of the mystery.

For example, what exactly might be a 3.5 star hotel in the Midtown area? Does Hotwire call the Westin Time Square 4 stars, or 3.5 stars, or 4.5 stars? What if Priceline disagrees? What one site calls Midtown West might be Midtown Central to another.

Well, here is a list of hotels in NYC that Hotwire and Priceline has sold rooms for, complete with star rating and neighborhood. From this list, the only 2* in Central Park listed is WooGo Lincoln Center. Of course this might not be the hotel you end up with, but it is a good possibility and you get a sense of quality (mixed reviews).

In addition, you can find a list of winning bids posted by users, and BetterBidding even has a calendar for easy searching. Here are the applicable ones for my situation:

Hotwire Winning Bids
4*, Central Park, Empire Hotel, $139
3.5*, Midtown Central, Sheraton Times Square, $119
3.5*, Midtown East, Millennium UN, $116

Priceline Winning Bids
4*, Midtown Central, Sheraton NY Towers, $125
4*, Midtown West, Sheraton NY Towers, $115, $110, $126
4*, Times Square, Westin TS, $169

Putting things together, if Hotwire is offering me a 3.5* hotel in Midtown Central on these dates, it is most likely be the Sheraton Times Square. Or, in the same price range, I could likely get the Sheraton NY Towers. After reading some reviews, I chose the Times Square location. The prices keep fluctuating, but when I was searching it was at $113. That’s a pretty good price for a solid hotel.

To be the most aggressive, I would go onto Priceline and bid about 20% below the Hotwire price for a 3.5* hotel in the Times Square region, say $95. I don’t want to bid too low, because each time I get rejected, I must change a search parameter (star rating, neighborhood) to bid again. Also, I run the risk of getting another 3.5* hotel that I don’t like as much.

So I held my breath, used Hotwire… and got it. Whew! In the end, I got what I wanted at 40% off the “guaranteed” low price, $113 vs. $189 per night at the Sheraton Times Square.. Over few nights, that’s hundreds of dollars in savings.

To think, if you did no research, you might end up with the Hotel Carter for $99/night! If you have tips to improve this process, please leave a comment below! I know I could try hostels or even couchsurfing and such, but that’s not what I was looking for on this trip.