For The Best Travel Deals This Summer, Try This Method


Risk = Reward When It Comes To Scoring Deals

I like to joke with my friends that I have a Type A-Minus personality; I’m not so organized that my life is actually organized, but I will waste exorbitant amounts of time planning things like vacations and the exact pasta dishes I am going to eat at which restaurants on which days (and yes it is totally obnoxious for everyone I’m on a trip with, glad you asked). Thus, I am a very thorough shopper when it comes to air travel. Or at least I thought I was until last week.

Some context: Every year, my family rents a house on the east side of Oahu. I’d been keeping an eye on plane tickets via alerts from Kayak and Hopper for nearly a year prior, because as I mentioned previously, I have zero chill. Anyway, non-stop out of LAX, they generally run in the $600-$700 range for a roundtrip ticket, so when I got an alert that prices had dropped to $497, I jumped. Or rather, I almost jumped. And I’m lucky I didn’t.

Here’s what I discovered instead: Priceline Express. If you’ve never used it before, you might’ve heard of it in passing and chalked it up to some sketchy coupon Ponzi scheme where you’ll wind up with an accidental timeshare in Atlantic City--that’s what I used to think. But this time, just I was about to purchase the $497 ticket for a “basic economy” seat on Delta, I noticed there was a banner at the top that said “Express Deal: $388.” And so I clicked on it.

I was then presented with a set of parameters: In exchange for a 22% discount on the fare, I would be booked on a flight that had 0-1 stops, leaving and returning in a designated 10-hour window. The kicker is that the flight details wouldn’t be revealed to me until after the purchase had already gone through, and after that, I’d have to stick with what they gave me.

Sounds scary, right? What if they routed me through Minneapolis or something and it took me an extra 10 hours to get there? But after my initial skepticism subsided and I looked a little closer at the parameters and the pricing, I realized that you don’t have to be Carmen Sandiego to figure out that the flight they were probably going to put me on was the same one I was just about to buy. The retail price of the ticket they were going to discount was the same price as the one I was about to buy at $497, which was the biggest tip off, and considering there are a whole bunch of non-stop flights from LAX to Honolulu going out per day, I was really confident it would work out without me getting stuck with a layover. 

And it did. I was put on a Delta flight that was more or less the same one I was planning on buying, and for a ticket that’s normally in the $600 range, I paid $388. Roll those savings over into the shave ice fund, thankyouverymuch.

Priceline Express offers the same setup for hotels, where they’ll tell you the star rating and the neighborhood you’re looking in, but not the name of the hotel until after you book it. But again, a little mild sleuthing can go a long way: Pull up their regular Priceline hotel search engine and look at where on the map the hotels are located; compare this with the general neighborhoods provided on Priceline Express as well as the hotel’s amenities (pools and pet-friendly rooms are distinctive features can that help narrow it down) and you’ll usually be able to figure out what hotel they’re offering up. You can also reverse engineer the pricing; that 5-star room that’s discounted 36% at $194 on Priceline Express just so happens to be 36% cheaper than The Modern that's in that same neighborhood and retails for $305 on regular Priceline. Ta-da!

Even if you don’t end up getting the exact flight or exact hotel room you had in mind, you’re also not going to fall that far outside the parameters you’re searching within; as a business, they’re trying to make you happy. It’s also weirdly exhilarating in those couple seconds where it’s securing your deal--it's like the briefest whiff of gambling. And what is a vacation without a little spontaneity? We’re now a society that mentally (if not literally) makes an Instagram shot list for our vacations. Take it from a Type A-Minus who has the tendency to plan a vacation to death: Surrendering to the spontaneity of vacation is a good thing, and if it results in extra mai tai money? Yes, please.

-Deena Drewis