My love/hate relationship with Priceline.com
This post has nothing to do with internet marketing other than it might teach some lessons on user experience and choice.
I travel quite a bit and am a little cheap but like to stay in nice hotels - my solution for a long time has been Priceline.com. I get to select an area in the city I am visiting and then a star level and then choose my own price.
Through some experimentation I have found that if you look daily starting about 2 weeks before a trip you can often get the price you want at the star level and location you want within about 3 days. Waiting until the last minute actually seems to cause the price to go up a little.
So I am in Chicago every other weekend it seems and I have gotten into the routine of using Priceline to stay on Michigan Avenue close to my destination. Just counted and I have now stayed 15 times in the last year and never paid more than $69 a night for my hotel choices - typically getting Hilton and Hyatt type hotels.
Anyway over time, I have found some hotels that just dont work for me - my aircard is in a dead spot or the fitness room is crap or they want $18 for me to workout or they dont have a desk or in one instance the star level was just wrong. I have also found some hotels that are perfect for what I am looking for - maybe free wifi or closer to my destination or really nice free workour facilities.
Now I realize that I am not the typical priceline user since I tend to stay in the same area repeatedly and thus see a larger sample than the normal user.
Some suggestions I have for Priceline to improve their service:
Allow me to establish criteria I want - Free Wifi, Free Workout Room (maybe even a star level on workout room), Only a king bed, indoor pool, etc. If I am bringing my kids, I require 2 double beds and probably an indoor pool, if it is me and my wife on a weekend getaway I want a king… Right now I get stuck with what I get stuck with - and since I am paying a low rate, the hotels have no incentive to accomodate my change request. This variability keeps me from using Priceline on certain trips and almost certainly has first time users left unsatisfied so that they will not return. In most instances, if i have certain requirements I am happy to pay a little more to get what I need. A bargain room that does not meet my needs is a bad customer experience. Ultimately it means that I cant use Priceline when I would…
Allow a radius request around an address - In the spring I am ok with being a mile away from where I am going and walking - it is actually a nice thing. In the dead of winter, I end up taking a $10 cab ride to and from the hotel - with a radius search I might prefer to spend that $20 a day on lodging but be very close to my destination. As it is now, I can spend more and still be a good distance away - so I have no incentive to spend more - allow me to target especially in the big cities like DC, NY, Chicago, Miami etc…
Allow users to opt out of getting a hotel ever again - I was getting a consistent great rate on 3.5 stars hotels (which are usually suite hotels like Hilton Garden or Embassy) until one time I got a hotel that was at the extreme edge of the zone, was 80+ years old, the rooms reaked of smoke, the workout facilities were rusty, the room temparture was a choice of 60 or 80, it was off the beaten path and had no cab stand etc etc… A really bad experience in what had at one time been a 4 star hotel but was now categorized as a 3.5 stars - my rating would have been 2 stars. So in essence a single bad experience in a star level I was getting excellent value out of has forced me to remove that zone and star level from my bidding because I would not want to risk getting that experience again. If they allowed users to proactively opt out and provide some reasoning, they might be able to better filter. Sure they get paid either way, but one bad experience is probably enough to prevent an average user from returning. Maybe you have already lost the first few customers, but no reason to continue the cycle by not allowing some sort of filtering.
If Priceline would allow the user a little more control - they would get even more of my business. As it stands now, I cannot use them on trips with the kids, or even romantic weekend getaways with my wife, it is not an option for family vacations, or anything at all where I am overseas. So I typically end up paying 2-3x what I would have paid on priceline to get what I want. I am ok with that, but I would love to pay priceline a premium over the lowest possible rate to get what I am looking for.
Imagine that i could get the same room by pure random chance like I frequently do for $70 a night, but because I have specific needs (wife travelling with me and we want a king) I am happy paying $85 to know I will get what I want. Priceline gets much larger margins (that room is often available for $70 - now they are just charging more for it) and has much happier customers who will use them over and over again. Their hotel partners are probably also more pleased because they have fewer disgruntled guests and more guests in general because people now feel more comfortable using priceline knowing they have some control over what they will get…