Priceline vs. Hotwire: An Overview
Used by millions for both business and leisure trips, the travel booking sites Hotwire and Priceline have a lot in common, including how much they claim they can save you. But they also have some key differences. These similarities and differences can help you choose which site is best the next time you make travel plans.
- Priceline and Hotwire are becoming more similar, as Priceline has retired its Name Your Own Price feature.
- Priceline and Hotwire both offer opaque pricing, in which the provider's name is hidden until you book.
- Priceline's opaque pricing covers hotels, flights, and car rentals, while Hotwire's is just on hotels.
- Priceline and Hotwire offer similar discounts, but Priceline seems to have more options in some categories.
If blind bidding isn’t your thing, Priceline has other ways to shop. You can search its listings of hotels, flights, rental cars, vacation packages, and cruises to find the best price; with that type of search, the providers are named, rather than opaque, so you know exactly what you’re getting.
The older of the two sites, Priceline—a subsidiary of Booking Holdings Inc. (BKNG)—began operating in 1997, making it something of a venerable institution by internet standards. A long-running ad campaign featuring actor William Shatner (beloved of Star Trek fans) helped make it a household name.
Priceline's Special Deals
While Priceline made its name with its Name Your Own Price feature, it began phasing it out over the last few years, and finally retired it completely in early 2020.
Instead, it offers special features called Pricebreakers and Express Deals. With Pricebreakers, you're shown three hotels that have been grouped together, all offering the nightly rate; click "choose" and you'll be assigned one of them.
The Express Deals feature applies to hotels, flights, and car rentals. This is a blind booking arrangement, though in the case of rental cars, they'll name the car agencies (Avis, Hertz, etc.) involved.
Blind booking means that, until you’ve actually made a reservation, the company you’re doing business with is “opaque.” That is, you won’t know the name of the exact provider, and some other actual details are withheld until you’ve agreed to the deal. However, you can specify some parameters, such as an approximate location, amenities, and a star rating for hotels; or time of day for a flight; or size and features for an auto.
Express Deals, like the Pricebreakers option, are nonrefundable.
Priceline and Expedia, which owns Hotwire, control 95% of the online travel-booking marketplace between them.
Other Ways to Shop
Although one of the major motivations for travel providers to partner with sites like Priceline is to move their hotel rooms, plane seats, rental cars, and other perishable inventory that would otherwise go unsold, Priceline generally has a large selection to choose from even months ahead. For example, an April search of Chicago-area hotels for a three-day weekend two months in the future came up with 420 choices, starting at $39 per night (and going all the way up to $525). As to getting there, a traveler flying from LaGuardia Airport in New York City to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, for example, had a choice of 19 nonstop flights, starting at $231 per ticket.
Overall, Priceline promises savings of up to 60% on hotels and 40% on flights and rental cars (if you use the Express Deals feature).
Launched in 2000, Hotwire is part of Expedia Group (EXPE), which also owns Expedia.com and Hotels.com. Like Priceline, Hotwire allows consumers to price-shop for named hotels, flights, rental cars, and vacation packages (it doesn’t include cruises). Also similar to Priceline, Hotwire promises savings of up to 60% on hotels, 40% on flights, and 40% or more on rental cars.
However, Hotline does offer an opaque pricing option for accommodations, kind of a cross between Priceline's Express Deals and Pricebreakers. Called Hot Rate Hotels, it lists a price and provides a general location and star rating, but the hotel names are opaque until you actually book. Click the "which hotel will I get?" tab and the site will list three properties and guarantee yours will be one of them—similar to Pricebreakers.
Sometimes, though, you'll only see guaranteed one of four hotel chains—similar to the intel offered by Express Deals, which says only "our collection includes these brands." Sometimes the Hot Rate Hotels discounts are even deeper than the general 60%.
The higher the star rating category, the more likely you are to see actual hotel names, not just chain names.
Hotwire has no shortage of offerings, though less than Priceline. For the same Chicago-area weekend that we searched on Priceline, Hotwire came up with 30 hotels to choose from, starting at $39 per night and going up to $213. For flights from LaGuardia to O’Hare, it offered a selection of 18 nonstops, starting at $259.
In 2021, Top Ten Reviews awarded Hotwire 2.5 stars and Priceline 4.5 stars overall, out of a possible five. On its Best Online Travel Sites list, Priceline ranked three ("best for user reviews") and Hotwire ranks four ("best for renting properties").