It’s ridiculous how expensive hotel stays have gotten, isn’t it? I remember when you could easily get a nice room for under $100. That doesn’t happen much anymore, especially if you’re staying in a more expensive city.

Now, I’m one to shop for a bargain, so when I went to San Francisco with my son Max last week, I took my time to find the best deal.

I knew that, it being Thanksgiving week, likely there would be deals to be had. We stayed near Union Square a few Thanksgivings ago, and the place was dead, and the rates were low. I was a little dismayed using Hotel Tonight: I didn’t find anything less than $140 a night (to be fair, I didn’t wait to see if a last-minute deal would be any cheaper, and that’s their specialty).

So I moved on to Priceline. If you’re not familiar with the travel search engine, it offers the ability to search for a hotel, rental car, cruise, or flight like Orbitz or Travelocity, but its other features are far more interesting.

If you’re willing to spinthe wheel of fate on the specific hotel you stay in (you can designate the area and the level of stars, and they give you examples of hotels at that level), you’ve got two options that could save you more money:

  • Express Deals
  • Name Your Own Price

First I checked out their Express Deals for Fisherman’s Wharf. I could get a 3.5 star room for $99. Not bad, but I knew I could do better. So I went to the Name Your Own Price page and entered my dates, filtering hotels just in the Fisherman’s Wharf area. I then said $80 was what I was willing to pay for a room.

They try to scare you into bidding more, but it can’t hurt to lowball it. The elves went to work behind the scenes, pinging hotels to see if anyone was willing to accept my ridiculously low rate, and BAM. I got accepted by Sheraton Fisherman’s Wharf for $80 a night. Heck yea. Plus tax, the bill for three nights came to under $300. You can’t beat that.

Out of curiosity, I went to Sheraton’s website to see what they would charge me directly. $169 a night! Wow.

So clearly it’s worth a little bit of work to find a discount on a hotel stay. Hotels are concerned about filling to capacity, and if they don’t have a lot of reservations for a given night, they’re willing to negotiate through sites like Priceline.