Risky Bidness

Smart Buying

Risky Bidness

If Priceline makes you nervous, try these other bargain sites.

As the Priceline Negotiator on the company’s popular commercials, William Shatner chides, cajoles and even kidnaps travelers to get them to “name their own price” for travel deals on Priceline.com. What users don’t get to do is name specifics -- that is, if they want Priceline-style savings.

The site does let you book specific travel plans, but its raison d’être is the auction-style booking option, which can cut up to 50% off regular hotel rates and 40% off airfare and car-rental rates. With hotels, for example, you choose your length of stay, preferred neighborhood and a guaranteed minimum star class, then you make an offer. Priceline doesn’t reveal your hotel until after you pay. This blind booking can be especially risky when visiting unfamiliar areas, particularly overseas.

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Those who prefer not to gamble can choose from more than 85,000 properties on Hotels.com and still save big with special offers, including last-minute deals. For flights, Kayak.com fetches the best fares, scouring more than 400 online sources. Bing.com/travel searches just one-fourth that many, but it does predict whether fares will rise or fall in the next seven days and advises you either to buy tickets now or to wait for a drop in price.