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 Expedia, which owns Hotwire, control 95% of the online travel-booking marketplace between them.

Priceline

The older of the two sites, Priceline (PCLN) 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.

Name Your Own Price

While Priceline made its name with its Name Your Own Price feature, it has over the last few years been phasing it out for everything but hotels. And the bidding page is becoming increasingly harder to find on the site.

Still, consumers can indicate how much they’re willing to pay for a hotel room and see if any travel providers will take the deal. To assist in the bidding, the site provides some useful clues, including a “Not Sure What to Bid? Click here” link that will take you to a list of local hotels and their typical prices. If your first bid is too low, the site will warn you that, “Based on recent data, your price has almost no chance of being accepted,” before you go any further.

Until you’ve accepted an offer, the company you’re doing business with is “opaque.” That is, you won’t know the name of the exact provider. However, you can specify some parameters, such as an approximate location and a star rating with hotels, or time of day for a flight.

Other Ways to Shop

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.

It also offers a third option, called Express Deals, which lists hotels or airline flights by price. Once again, you’ll see general information—a hotel's location or the time of day a flight departs—but the actual details are withheld until you’ve agreed to the deal. Express Deals, like the Name Your Own Price option, are nonrefundable.

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, a May search of Chicago-area hotels for a three-day weekend two months in the future came up with 351 choices, starting at $36 per night (and going all the way up to $1,495). 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 63 nonstop flights, starting at $140 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).

Hotwire

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, in contrast to Priceline, Hotwire doesn’t have a bidding option. In fact, it makes a virtue of that difference, stating on its website, “Unlike other discount travel sites, our posted price model makes it easy for our customers to find a great deal. No bidding. No hassle. No games.”

However, Hotline does offer an opaque pricing option for accommodations, the equivalent of Priceline's Express Deals. Called Hot Rate Hotels, it lists a price and provides a general location and star rating, but the actual hotel names are opaque until you actually book. Click the "which hotel will I get?" tab and the site will list four properties and guarantee yours will be one of them. This info is far more specific than 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%.

As with Priceline, Hotwire has no shortage of offerings. For the same Chicago-area weekend that we searched on Priceline, Hotwire came up with 198 hotels to choose from, starting at $33 per night and going up to $739. For flights from LaGuardia to O’Hare, it offered a selection of 49 nonstops, starting at $143.

Key Takeaways

  • Priceline and Hotwire are becoming more similar as Priceline downplays 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 both hotels and flights while Hotwire's is just on hotels; however, Hotwire is more specific on what property you might get.
  • Priceline and Hotwire offer similar discounts, but Priceline seems to have more options in each category.

Special Considerations

Independent rating services give both travel sites close grades but differ as to which one belongs on top. Reviews.com’s 2018 travel website ratings gave Priceline five stars and Hotwire four stars, out of a possible five.

In 2018, Top Ten Reviews gave Priceline 6.60 points and Hotwire 7.13 points, out of a possible 10, placing them fifth and seventh, respectively, in the Hotel Booking Services category. In this case, the highest scorer was Hotels.com, which is also part of the Expedia Group.