October 9, 2012
About ten years ago, I stumbled across this thing called “Priceline.” It sounded too good to be true. It offered ways to bid on groceries, hotels, cars and even airfare with the promise of dirt-cheap prices. As a renowned “early adopter,” this concept was like catnip. I set out to learn everything I needed to know.
I immediately struck gold with the bidding on groceries. I bid low on things like butter and cereal, as well as other common staples, and could never quite believe that I was leaving the local grocery store with multiple bags of food for a total of about $30. I often said that I couldn’t believe Priceline could stay in business with such gargantuan savings for clients, and I was right. Priceline’s grocery bidding program bit the dust within a year, so I turned my energies to bidding on hotel rooms.
Again, I quickly hit paydirt. Our family’s annual summer vacations at that time consisted of driving in big loops throughout various parts of the US, using Priceline bids for hotels on just about every stopover. I learned that if I bid around $45 per night at a 3 star level, I generally got a well-known hotel chain with comfortable beds, big bathrooms, and occasionally a living room or extra suite. If I got frozen out at the 3 star level, I’d change my star levels or widen my search range, and raise or lower my price accordingly, which meant I either got resort-like accommodations or one-star no-frills spots. Either way, we were never disappointed by our summer vacation holidays, and we saved tens of thousands of dollars as a result.
Since Priceline worked so well for us on vacations, I began to extend hotel bids to other types of situations when I needed a room in a pinch. I also shared my methods with the parents of some of my son’s college teammates who wanted to attend the swim meets, but often couldn’t because of the hotel prices.
After a meet one night, we congregated at an IHOP close to the University of Maryland, and several commented that they would have to pick and choose which meets to attend because of the exorbitant travel costs. I whipped out my smart phone and walked a table full of moms and dads through the process of bidding. Bingo! They got all of the same hotels they were already staying in, but for up to $75 less per night than they were paying. I still get thanks for showing them a way to enjoy their children’s college meets.
Perhaps most importantly, Priceline was my secret partner in finishing my two most recent books. Like many people who work from a home office, I found that the distractions were too profuse there for me to spend blocks of time coming up with cohesive and unique thoughts. One day, I was staring down a deadline and no idea how I was going to meet it. Then I had the “eureka!” moment. I would do a Priceline bid on a local hotel and have 48 hours in a cone of silence.
I pulled up the Priceline bidding site, entered $43 for two nights, starting on a Friday, and waited for my answer. Boom! I packed my bags for my weekend, and breathed a sigh of relief that I knew I’d get my work done.
Thus was born the most successful solution to writing deadlines I’ve ever had. I’d work all week from my home office, available to my children for all of their driving and homework needs, but on Friday afternoon, I would wave goodbye to my husband and children and move into wherever I had won a hotel room.
Over several years, I’ve gotten Hyatts, Hiltons, Residence Inns, Springhill Suites, Holiday Inns, and just about every other type of hotel out there. The best part is that I’ve never paid more than about $120 for the entire weekend, plus I’ve never been more than fifteen minutes from the house in case of emergencies. On great writing days, I’ve even met the family for dinner at a local restaurant or attended a child’s football game or swim meet. Recently when my neighborhood lost power for days, I never missed a beat because the hotel’s lights never even flickered
The productivity that emerged from my spontaneous Priceline writing weekends was undeniable. My agent and editors were always excited to hear that a Priceline weekend was coming up because they knew they’d have the materials they were waiting for. It was also a secret thrill for me. For two days I got uninterrupted sleep, delicious meals delivered to my door, hot baths whenever I wanted them, and spotless housekeeping.
Not everyone was a fan of my approach. Some of my friends were extremely judgmental of my unorthodox solution. One fellow Masters swimmer shook his head in irritation when he learned that I was spending weekends in a hotel to meet my professional obligations.
“My wife would never do that to me,” he said disapprovingly.
I took the bait: “Does she stay home when you are traveling on business?”
“Well, my husband travels often during the week and I’m always at home holding down the fort while also working. What’s different about me going away to work on occasional weekends, particularly if I’m nearby? Are you saying that my husband can’t juggle the same responsibilities for two days that I do all the time?”
Men weren’t my only detractors. Some of my female friends were just as surprised by my actions, and not that encouraging. “How can you do that?” one asked, bewildered. “What do they eat when you aren’t there?”
Then it was my turn to be surprised. “You don’t think any of the four of them can create a meal?”
Regardless of what others think, however, I’m delighted that Priceline has given me an efficient and cost-effective way to handle my writing deadlines without leaving town, taking a leave of absence from work, or completely disappearing from my family. Virginia Woolf wrote about how every woman needs “a room of [her] own” to maintain sanity and well-being, and I’m now on record as saying that any woman who wants a soft bed, clean bathroom, fresh towels and control of the TV remote for as little as one night should check out Priceline for a quick, cheap getaway. Your brain will thank you.