Priceline Express Deal Review (Flights)

In the past couple of months, I’ve booked two different flights with Priceline Express Deals. Before doing so I scoured the internet for relevant info but largely came up short. Here’s my attempt to fill that hole in the internet.

I have vague memories of Priceline’s commercials going back a decade. At the time, it seemed to me that their value proposition was to offer discounted hotel rates with the caveat that you don’t find out the specific hotel until after committing. The benefit is discounted rates. The downside is the uncertainty in what hotel will ultimately be selected.

I’m not sure when they transitioned the above strategy to flights, but it’s now live. It’s called Express Deals and accessible here: https://www.priceline.com/flights. I discovered this a couple months back when searching for a flight via Kayak.com.

In my first experience with Priceline Express Deals, I flew from the midwest to San Francisco, CA. I was able to snag a direct flight for $324/person for both my daughter and me. If I recall correctly, we booked the travel on relatively short notice so this was around 40% off the best available price at the time; a non-trivial discount.

Recently I booked again via Priceline Express Deals with a more meager 9% savings this time; still, it’s 9% that I’m happy to take.

Here’s a few screenshots illustrating my experience.

The first shows how the Express Deal appears on a flight query. As shown, there is a ton of ambiguity with the offering. First, you don’t know which of the 5 given carriers (Ameican, United, Air Canada, Alaskan Delta) you’ll fly with. Further, you are given only a broad idea for when the flight will depart/arrive. The first screenshot also shows my preferred flight; all the others were substantially more costly and all of the others required a layover.

 

When I clicked on the blue “View Details” on the first screenshot, I arrived at the second image. Note now intentionally ambiguous they are with the departure time, arrival time, and layover time. Also note also how specific they are with the crossed out $418.10 price. In both experiences (again N=2/2)  when booking through Priceline Express Deals, those crossed-out prices mapped perfectly to my preferred (nonstop) flight to SFO and SLC, respectively. In both cases, I was able to guess that the mystery flight was my preferred flight.

 

 

Other caveats

With pretty much any air travel, the carrier will provide you a 24-hour grace period to cancel the flight. For obvious reasons, this same 24-hour window does not apply to the Priceline Express Deals (to prevent people from cancelling undesirable flight outcomes).

Not all flights appear to have the Priceline Express Deals available. I get the impression that they are most readily available for crappier flight times. In both cases I’ve used them, I’ve arrived home near midnight.

Priceline works with Ebates. Further, I’m getting 5.25% back on credit cards on top as well. As with Expedia, Priceline double counts as both “Travel” & “Online” categories.

 

Conclusion

In my experience (N=2/2), I’ve been able to infer the exact flight of the Priceline Express Deal using a combination of the price of the crossed out flight as well as the timing parameters they shared. Both times I’ve traveled, I’ve gotten my preferred non-stop flight on Delta and saved between 9%-40% in the process. 9% may not be worth the ambiguity in flight times, but 40% certainly was for me.

I remain unsure whether the crossed-out flight price is truly indicative of the underlying flight (in which case you’d easily be able to perfectly infer the flight) or whether the crossed out price is simply a representation of the cheapest non-secretive option. In both of my experiences, the crossed-out-price happened to also be the cheapest non-secretive option so I’m unable to disentangle these alternative hypotheses. Running a couple queries on the website just now, my impression is that the former explanation (the crossed-out flight price is truly indicative of the underlying flight) makes more sense.

 

Obvious Disclaimer

If you end up doing this, should be satisfied with the parameters they provide before committing. If not, you should pay the retail price for the flight to avoid the ambiguity.

6 thoughts on “Priceline Express Deal Review (Flights)”

  1. Congratulations on your 2/2 success! However, I can confirm from painful experience that the crossed out price is simply the lowest available price. In my case, the crossed out price corresponded to a highly convenient direct flight, so I thought I was getting a steal, but after confirming the purchase I was assigned an inconvenient flight with one stop (which happened to have a higher original price). I called customer service to complain, since I was not aware of the policy at the time, having gotten lucky every time in the past. They did not refund the ticket, and I had to pay a cancellation fee.

    On the bright side, from my experience at least, you can pull this off consistently with hotels, where they will tell you details like the average review and number of reviews, which (ignoring the price) often lets you identify the exact hotel you would get. It helps to narrow down the search by choosing which area within a city you want to stay, and it can sometimes help to pay attention to the amenities icons (pool, gym, pets, breakfast, etc.). This has yet to fail for me.

    Reply
    • American Dad,

      I’m sorry you got hosed but I appreciate the really helpful feedback! Moral of the story from your experience:
      * The crossed out lowest price is not systematically informative (I’ve seen it in other queries not correspond to the cheapest available price)
      * In order to do this, one must be prepared to take any flight that meets the advertised criteria.

      Going forward, I’ll probably only do it for a sizable discount (> 25%) and when I have lots of flexibility in my travel plans (i.e. personal travel rather than work).

      I’m unsure why it has worked out so well for me in the past, but I think it had something to do with the fact that my preferred flights, although non-stop, had crappier flight times.

      Reply
    • I’m not sure if this was sincere or not. If sincere, I’m glad it worked out.

      Going forward I’ll likely only do it for savings of 25% or more and when I have the required flexibility if things don’t work out.

      Reply

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