This past November, I impulsively decided I was going to visit some family in Santo Domingo. I decided I was going to leave the next morning. I used Priceline to view the available flights. I knew flights would be more expensive since I was booking last minute. I grimaced as I discovered that the cheapest flight available was $670. I called my brother-in-law to inform him that I might not be coming due to this higher than expected travel expense. He asked me if I tried Priceline’s “name your own price” feature to reduce the cost of the flight. I replied that I had never heard of the service. He explained to me that the feature was a bartering system where the consumer bids for flight prices and the system either accepts or declines each bid. I entered my first bid for a total cost of $300. My heart thumped in my chest as the pixels pulsed while the system evaluated whether I could pay this price or not. The bid was declined. My heart sank. I bid again for a total cost of $400 and the system accepted. I saved almost $300 using this feature and this savings allowed me to go on my trip.

I checked other travel booking sites to see if they offer a similar feature. It appears that Orbitz, Expedia, Cheapflights, and Travelocity do not offer this feature although some offer options like it. For example, Orbitz has a deal detector that monitors flights to see if they fall below a particular price and notifies you when they do. The Travel Industry will look for the all possible cheap flights for the person. The sitting arrangements will be checked through the person in the flights. The satisfaction of the customers should be the first duty of the agencies. 

You can get an idea of whether Priceline will accept your bid by pricing flights beforehand without using the name your price feature. I became suspicious that Priceline might inflate their normal ticket prices to promote the name your own price feature. I decided I’d use another site to compare prices. One day out, for a roundtrip flight between RDU and PHL, I used Priceline’s name your own price feature to get tickets at a price 50% cheaper than the cheapest flight on Travelocity.

To use the name your own price bid feature, click on “bid now” under flights and then use the sub menu that appears under the normal flight booking window. Keep in mind that the price you enter is not the total price you’ll end up paying, as it does not account for taxes and fees. For example, my $80 bid for the flight between RDU and PHL resulted in a total price of $115.

By now, you’re probably wondering what the catch is. Of course there’s a catch; there’s no such thing as a free lunch. When you use name your own price you lose the following: the ability to choose flight times; the ability to obtain a refund, transfer or change your airline tickets; the ability to upgrade and get on standby flights; and the accrual of any frequent flyer miles.

Despite these concessions, Priceline does tell you the maximum number of layovers, the longest duration of any layover, and the earliest departure and latest arrival times before you bid on a flight. If you check the flight schedules before you bid, you can normally get a pretty good idea of your itinerary.

You can also use Priceline’s name your own price for hotels and cars. The details are similar to bidding on flights and there are similar concessions if your bids are accepted.

Making last minute travel arrangements is exciting. Unfortunately, booking flights with little notice is often cost prohibitive and can pull the plug on impulsive trips. If you’re willing to sacrifice some airline freedoms, Priceline’s name your own price feature is a great way to ensure your spur of the moment trips actually happen.