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Priceline Hotels Pro may become the next version of, or a twist on, Express Deals. Priceline shows the price up-front and identifies the handful of the hotels in the mix to give travelers additional confidence in where they might stay. But, there is enough wiggle room for the hotels to participate behind a Pro app without diminishing their brands.
Priceline officials and their William Shatner and Kelly Cuoco advertising duo talk a lot about the company’s mobile apps and Express Deals, but Priceline has an iPhone app you’ve most likely never heard of — Priceline Hotels Pro.
This iPhone-only app is Priceline first paid app, and it goes for $0.99 per download.
But, even beyond that, Priceline Hotels Pro is unlike any app Priceline has ever created.
The well-known and free Priceline Android and iOS apps for hotels, rental cars and flights, features three ways to purchase hotel stays, just as you can on Priceline.com. You could:
- Shop for hotels the old-fashioned way, viewing the published rates that you can find all over the Web.
- Use Name Your Own Price and bid for a room at discounts up to 60% off published rates. When you bid, you know the section of the city and pick the star rating, and learn the name of the hotel only after your bid is accepted.
- Try Express Deals for discounts up to 45% where you know the section of the city, the star rating and the price up-front, but learn the hotel’s identity only after you book.
But, with the Priceline Hotels Pro iPhone app, you can find discounts up to 45% without bidding, just as you can with the Express Deals that Shatner and Cuoco are touting all over the airwaves, but Priceline tells you both the price and the name of the hotel in advance.
Well, sort of.
In fact, with Priceline Hotels Pro, you can search for Boston hotels deals, and then Priceline will show you the names of six hotels that you can book for $167, but you can only book one. For a stay last night, the properties included the Loews Boston Hotel, The Colonnade Hotel, the Sheraton Boston Hotel, the Lenox, the Copley Square Hotel, and the Westin Copley Place.
At the same time, Priceline.com’s published rate for the Westin Copley Place was $199, the Sheraton Boston Hotel was $215, and the Lenox was $255, for example.
You see the hotel names and can read them quickly as an image of each of the six hotels darts across the screen, with the $167 rate at the top of the screen.
Priceline informs that you can book one of the six for $167. The hotel names speed by because Priceline and the hotels don’t want you to stare at the fact that they may be offering such discounts off the regular price on the hotel website.
Then comes the zinger. The way it works is that you pay the $167, plus taxes and fees, and, as Priceline tells you in advance, “Priceline will choose one of the six hotels.”
You don’t choose the hotel from the six possibilities. Priceline selects it.
Priceline Hotels Pro is therefore a variation of Express Deals in that you know the price up-front. But, Priceline Hotels Pro gives you much more confidence in where you will end up staying because you know what the specific hotel possibilities are.
It’s just that Priceline in the end will decide which hotel you are staying at.
The hotels, which are anxious to hide the fact that they may be diluting their published rates with these discounts, get the added buffer that their rates are somewhat hidden behind a Pro app, although it costs just under a dollar to buy.
They also have plausible deniability. After all, perhaps Priceline was merely stating that the Lenox was in the mix for $167 to entice more bookers. Perhaps the Lenox wasn’t really offering a room at that price, or at least at that moment.
iTunes says version 2.1 of the Priceline Hotels Pro app was updated on February 11, 2013, so the current incarnation of the app has been flying largely under the radar for around six months.
Priceline has never announced the app’s existence or talked about it publicly until now, although there have been tons of announcements, advertisements, and verbiage about its other apps.
There is a link at the bottom of the Priceline homepage for its “Express Deals” iPhone app, but if you select it you end up navigating to Priceline Hotels Pro. On the other hand, the Windows Phone Express Deals link right underneath the iPhone app link indeed takes you to an Express Deals app.
There is no Windows Phone or Android version of Priceline Hotels Pro.
Priceline is obviously testing Priceline Hotels Pro, which is geared for travelers who want the same discounts they can get with Express Deals, but won’t tap the book button unless they have more information and confidence about where they are ultimately going to lay their heads during their next hotel stay. Naming the hotel possibilities would seem to provide just that, as Priceline hopes to convert these lookers into bookers.
The app currently offers deals in about 50 U.S. cities, and hasn’t been marketed.
“In a nutshell, this app was developed in response to some consumer demand from people who want discounts, but with a bit more information,” says Priceline spokesperson Leslie Cafferty, in response to an inquiry from Skift. “We’re still testing this model, and overall, it’s a small piece of our broader mobile strategy.”
Cafferty says it’s not unusual for Priceline to forego announcing a product while it is being tested.
But, depending on the consumer response, this model for getting a hotel deal, with Priceline disclosing the price, detailing the names of the hotel, and picking which hotel you will get, could take on a larger role.
Maybe it will be more fodder for Shatner and Cuoco.