Priceline is one of our favorite OTAs (online travel agencies), thanks, in part, to a generous cancellation policy and and a feature called Express Deals. The gist of this feature is that you can save big on a flight if you’re willing to book without knowing a few key details.
Here’s how it works. Priceline offers deep discounts for certain flights, but they keep the details hidden. You can find airfare up to 50% off (although in our search experience, 30-40% is more common). You’re not always guaranteed to find an Express Deal, and you’re more likely to find them on popular routes and for last-minute travel.
The catch is that while you’ll know the departure and arrival airports, you won’t know the full details of your flight until after you’ve purchased it. Not even the airline. But, if your desire for a great deal outweighs your apprehension, it can mean huge savings on your flight.
What info is shown in a Priceline Express Deal?
When Priceline shows you an Express Deal and you click into the flight details, it’ll give you a rough itinerary, and that’s about it.
- The departure and arrival airport.
- The general departure times. It’s a big window though; morning is from 6am-2pm, midday is from 10am-6pm, and evening is 3pm-11pm.
- The maximum layover duration.
- A list of “trusted airlines” which will include the carrier for your flight.
Once you pay for the flight, you’ll receive the full itinerary and remaining details.
What info is not shown in a Priceline Express Deal?
Priceline withholds a lot of the specifics from you until the transaction in complete. Until you book, you won’t know:
- The exact airline. Before booking, Priceline will show you a list of trusted airlines, one of which includes your carrier, but you won't know which one it is until you’re booked.
- The exact flight times. You’ll get a rough idea of what time of day you’re flying, but you could depart anytime within a large range, and you won’t know the exact departure time, or what time you land, until you purchase.
- Exact layover time. Priceline will indicate a range of layovers (often 0-1) and a maximum layover time, but you won’t know where you layover takes places (and therefore what time of day) until after booking. There’s no minimum layover time other than the airport’s minimum allowable connection time, meaning that catching your connection will always be technically doable but it can be tight.
- Extra costs for seat selection and checked bags. You won’t know the exact fares for advance seat selection or checked bags, but it’ll be clear whether or not these are included in the fare. (They often are included.)
What are some of the restrictions of booking a Priceline Express Deal?
Express Deals come with some caveats.
- All sales on Express Deal flights are final. Priceline has one of the more generous cancellation policies among OTAs but that doesn’t apply here. Express Deals are nonrefundable and cannot be changed once booked.
- You may not be able to get an advance seat assignment.
- There may be additional costs for baggage. It’ll be clear before you book whether or not the fees are included, but if there are fees you won’t know the exact price until after the flight is booked.
- It’s not always the best deal. Even though the Express Deal tells you how much you’ll save, it’s worth checking other OTAs and flight search sites to compare flights. You may find a flight without as much mystery for a similar price.
Priceline does have a best price guarantee, and if you book an Express Deal and find a better deal on the same exact flight (up to 24 hours before check-in), Priceline will refund you 200% of the difference. However, several airlines are excluded from this policy.
How can I guess the actual flight of a Priceline Express Deal?
It’s relatively easy to guess which flight you’re getting with an Express Deal by comparing the deal to other flights available for that route. Here’s an example of an Express Deal from New York City to Barcelona for the dates of June 4-11, 2019.
Let’s search for this flight on Google Flights. If a midday flight is until 6pm, and there are 0-1 stops, there’s a good chance that this departing flight is the first one listed here with American Airlines (also listed in Priceline’s the trusted airlines):
And if the return flight is an evening flight with 0-1 stops, it’s probably this first American Airlines flight:
The round-trip flight is $668, which is just slightly more expensive than the Priceline Express Deal fare.
Should I book a Priceline Express Deal?
If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t mind wingin’ it and potentially sacrificing a bit of comfort with a familiar airline for an ultra good deal, then the savings of a Priceline Express Deal may be worth it—especially for a last-minute flight when the discount can be considerable.
Priceline is a reputable company that works with great airlines and its best price guarantee means you’ll likely get refunded the difference in price if you find the exact same flight for cheaper.
However, booking an Express Deal works best if you’re a flexible traveler. If you need to arrive at your destination at a very specific time, the unknown arrival time can be an issue. Additionally, some of the layovers are long (8-10 hours) and you run the risk of that long layover taking place at night, which could mean added expense for a hotel room, or an uncomfortable night sleeping at the airport.
It’s all a matter of weighing the pros and cons. If the discount is considerable and you’re up for a bit of an adventure (or you’re confident in your sleuthing skills to figure out which flight you’ll be booking), then the savings could be worth giving up a bit of advance knowledge. But if your plans require precise timing or you prefer to be in the know at all times, you might be more comfortable paying a bit more for a traditional booking.