San Diego via Priceline
1. I typed in my departure city, dates and destination of choice -- for me, San Diego, but if I had a hankering for, say, steak and insurance (Omaha) or gators and sweating (Jacksonville), I could easily have done so, as Priceline lists about 100 locales.
2. Seventeen detailed hotel options (with pictures) popped up for San Diego, so I did some quick research before continuing, checking guidebooks and Web sites and calling the hotels -- is there a pool, free airport shuttle, nearby commerce area? -- to be sure I was making the right choice.
3. I entered my bid: $340, which veered closer to $400 when taxes and a $9.95 service fee were tacked on.
Then the clock ticked. And ticked some more. After about 15 minutes, I checked my status (a quick press of a button) and found that my bid had been, gasp, rejected. Oh, well, back to Step 1.
The only difference this time, though, was that I had to alter my request -- and raising it by a dollar didn't qualify. Instead, I expanded my airport departure choices, adding Dulles to the already-selected Reagan National. Another time, I changed the date, then the property. Eventually, after seven hours of fruitless bidding, I realized that flying off-peak hours and agreeing to connections were the clinchers. Starting anew, I had one warm-up rejection, which then listed other options in my price range. I clicked on the Wyndham, put in the suggested figure of $349 and, minutes later, heard the angels sing: "Congratulations!" cheered Priceline, my bid was accepted. Wax the surfboard: San Diego, here I come.
As for other tips: When rebidding, be sure to keep your bids straight. It's easy to get frenzied (trust me) and shoot off the same offer, which makes you a loser times two, so make note of what you've submitted. Also, be patient. You will be rejected -- it is part of the initiation (and will make you a stronger, better bidder), but persevere and you will be victorious.
Be flexible -- you have a better shot at a lower price if you are willing to fly off-peak hours, take connecting flights and/or fly smaller aircraft.