Priceline Pulls "Name Your Own Price" Airfare Option

As more consumers move from desktop and laptop computers to mobile devices, Priceline's original reason for being, "Name Your Own Price" airfare deals, was pulled from the site on September 1, 2016.

Skift, a news and analysis website devoted to the travel industry, reports that the bidding process became too cumbersome on mobile devices, and that Priceline still offers "Express" airfares at discounts of around 30-40%; like NYOP deals, these deals are "opaque" in that you don't know the name of the airline, the number of stops, the departure and arrival times, and what kinds of extra fees you might get stuck with until you purchase; but they are easier to book since they do not require bidding.

NYOP rental car and hotel rates are still offered, although who knows for how long.

In case you're unfamiliar, opaque airfares are entirely non-refundable and non-changeable (there's a difference), meaning "you buy it you fly it" even if you're willing to pay $200 (the typical fee to change a domestic airfare).

Traffic jam on the Van Wyck or the 405 and you miss your flight? No, you will not be put on the next available flight, unless you're willing to pay for a very expensive "walk up" fare. Kiss your money goodbye. The normal rules do not apply.

Even the U.S. Department of Transportation's "free 24-hour cancellation" rule doesn't apply to these airfares. Were these D.O.T. cancellation rules to apply to opaque airfares, a consumer could book a flight without knowing the full details and then cancel for free if the schedule, airline, or other factors were unfavorable to her once all was revealed.

Daniel Zim, an attorney specializing in travel law, finds a bit fishy some other rules that the D.O.T. has given Priceline a free pass on.

And while Priceline's Express airfares are indeed almost always less than "published" airfares, they're not always so much less that it's worth taking a chance. Searching today for a NYC to LA flight for a September 9-11 trip, I found a $306 round-trip opaque fare on Priceline but Expedia had the same travel dates on Frontier for $340 round-trip (albeit with onerous departure and layover times). Speaking of Frontier, if you buy a Priceline Express airfare and discover that it's on Frontier Airlines, Spirit, or Allegiant, you'll get hit with a fee for a carry on bag (about $50 these days, round trip) which might wipe out some of the savings. Also, opaque airfares might not be eligible for frequent flier points or miles, which could also lower their value to some consumers.

And chances are that anyone booking a super-discounted opaque deal on Priceline, in addition to suffering a long layover on a terrible airline, might be at the bottom of the queue when something goes wrong with a flight. I remember years ago I booked a NYOP hotel room for a stay in LA on Priceline and ended up at The Standard Hotel in West Hollywood. I had requested a non-smoking room but was put in one that reeked of smoke. When I mentioned my request to the front desk I was told, and I quote here verbatim, "For what you paid, you don't get to choose!"

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