A new Web site is flipping the script on the Priceline model when it comes to scoring hotel bargains. Instead of you bidding on the hotels, they bid on you.

New travel booking sites come and go so fast nowadays that it’s almost impossible to keep up — and largely pointless to try.

Indeed, if you’ve found certain sites that consistently bring you real bargains on airfare, lodging and the like, you’re probably better off just sticking with them

Unless something truly revolutionary comes along.

Today’s would-be revolutionary: a hotel booking site called BackBid.

These guys are taking the travel auction model made famous by Priceline and turning it on its head. Instead of you submitting a bid for a bargain hotel stay, BackBid has the hotels bidding for your business.

Even better, unlike Priceline, you know exactly which hotels you’re dealing with before your credit card gets charged for your stay, not after the fact. That automatically appeals to me.

You can read about it in this USA Today story here.

Sounds great, but surely there must be a catch, you’re thinking — and you’re right.

First, you have to open an account on BackBid, a fairly quick and straightforword process. Once that’s done, you enter the particulars of your existing reservation into their online form, then forward them the email confirmation of your existing reservation.

After that, it’s a matter of waiting for the competing bids to come in.

Also, you can’t just log onto BackBid, put in your dates and destination city and other particulars as you normally would, and then watch the competing bids come flooding into your email inbox.

It doesn’t work that way.

Before you can use BackBid, you actually have to make a reservation somewhere else, which you then forward to BackBid, along with the confirmation number and that hotel’s cancellation policy — specifically, the date and time by which you can cancel that existing reservation without penalty.

So, as an experiment, I did. And since New York City has some of the highest hotel rates on planet Earth, I figured that would be the logical venue to test out this site.

I made a reservation just after midnight Saturday at a hotel in Harlem I’ve been dying to try out, then followed BackBid’s instructions and started waiting for the bids to roll in.

Hotels have until Feb. 29, the last day I can cancel the original reservation without a penalty, to submit one.

Two weeks later, I had three bids in my email inbox. The first was actually higher than my original reservation, but the second was $54 cheaper over the course of the entire stay — and the third was $114 cheaper than the original bid.

What’s more, BackBid tells you everything you want to know about the place up-front — the name of it, the location, the amenities it does and doesn’t offer. Nice.

You may receive a handful, a lot or none at all. BackBid makes your reservation available to competing hotels and gives them the chance to bid on your business with a lower offer at a hotel of more or less equal quality.

They don’t guarantee that anyone will.

Still, even to create a place online that lets the hotels chase after you with bargains is probably worth trying.

But if BackBid does come up with a better hotel deal for you, just remember to go back and cancel that original reservation before the deadline.

Another big disadvantage to this site, as pointed out in the USA Today piece, is that it’s limited to US hotels only — at least, so far.

If these guys were to go global, the impact on the travel, and the savings they could offer to you, the traveler, could be enormous.

BackBid is still in beta-test mode right now, so it remains to be seen what final form the site will take, but I’d say it definitely shows some promise.

BackBid has a few potentially costly boobytraps, especially for those of you who like to use online travel agencies like Expedia, Travelocity, Hotwire and so on.

I’m talking about the kinds of sites that bill your credit card the moment you make a reservation.

Hotel booking sites that require you to pay up front aren’t going to cancel your existing reservation for free, just because you found a better price somewhere else. So if you want to try out BackBid, be sure that you make the type of reservation that allows you to cancel within a certain date and time without penalty.

Also, take GREAT care when you manually enter ANY dates on BackBid. Why? Because on their site, BackBid uses the European format for writing dates, in which the month comes BEFORE the day.

Our American eyes interpret 5/3/2012 as May 3, 2012. In most of the rest of the world, it means March 5.

Why BackBid does this, I don’t know, especially since their site only works with American hotels, but it’s something to beware of.

Edited by P.A. Rice


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