Priceline believes it is onto something with its hotel winning bids emails alerts and website postings, and now has taken the marketing tool to Facebook with a Search Winning Bids app.
Users install the Priceline search winnings bids app on Facebook and a profile is created, designating users' Negotiator ranks -- Rookie Negotiator, Junior Negotiator, Senior Negotiator or Master Negotiator -- based on how many successful Name Your Own Price Bids for hotels you've made over the last 18 months.
When you then use the app to search for previous winning hotel bids in a city on Facebook, the results show winning bids from other app users, the star rating (but not the identity) of the property and the percentage savings off published prices. Today, the search was also showing "winning bids" from fictitious characters used in Priceline commercials and from apps users who are Priceline employees, in addition to regular consumers.
If your profile and previous winning bid is displayed in someone's search and they click "bid now" and secure a hotel stay, then you may earn an Agent Cash referral bonus from Priceline.
The amount of Agent Cash you earn depends on your Negotiator status and it can be used in $25 increments on your future Name Your Own Price bookings. The higher your status the more Agent Cash your earn, a dynamic which encourages you to make more hotel bids so you can earn a higher rate of Agent Cash.
There is lots of fine print here.
For example, Priceline doesn't guarantee that all of your previous winning bids will be displayed when app users search for winning bids in a given city. And, there are other caveats.
"A referring Agent will earn Agent Cash for a qualifying Name Your Own Price Hotel booking," Priceline says. "Priceline reserves the right to reward Agent Cash to Department Agents at its sole discretion."
But how useful are these winning bids as a guide for people seeking to get an edge in their hotel bidding on Priceline?
Priceline itself would concede that the winning bids are somewhat useful but not definitive because you know roughly when the successful booking was made -- "3 months ago" or "yesterday" -- but you have no idea what the actual dates were for the stay.
For example, Agent Dilberto may have successfully bid $177 for a four-star property in the Midtown East section of Manhattan "2 months + ago" and saved 52% off the published price, but there is no indication if Agent Dilberto booked that property for that evening or for sometime in March 2012.
The dollar amounts of successful winning bids may vary widely depending on the season, the dates of stay and the hotel's occupancy or projected occupancy for those dates.
And, I have personally found that Priceline's winning bids information is not always up to date.
For example, I booked a room at the 3.5-star Teaneck (NJ) Marriott at Glenpointe on Aug. 12 for a stay the same evening for $74.
But around 24 hours later, Priceline.com displayed a winning bid for 3.5 star hotels in the Teaneck area at $100.
Users therefore may have been tempted to submit a bid for $100 when actually they may have been able to book a room at a 3.5 star hotel in the area during that weekend for $74 -- or maybe cheaper.
Could it be that Priceline's hotel partners don't want the online travel agency to display the rock-bottom winning bids?
At any rate, many users of Priceline's new search winning bids Facebook app may not be aware that the posted winning bids aren't date-specific or even the lowest winning bids in the area.
Users of the app still will get some value out of the winning bids' postings as a barometer of pricing, and they can collect Agent Cash to use toward their next Name Your Own Price hotel bookings.
And, the app's rewards and badges likely will drive more engagement for Priceline.
But, Priceline itself, with this clever marketing ploy, likely will emerge as the ultimate winner.