A Priceline Cautionary Tale (Day 16)

Today was mostly uneventful — a 9 hour driving day from our campground in Jackson Hole, Wyoming to Couer d’Alene, Idaho. (The stop was chosen to give us a pleasant 6 hour drive the following day to our final destination in Port Townsend, Washington.)

We planned to stay in a hotel, as we’d been camping several days in a row and were a) in the mood to be in a real bed and b) not in the mood to set up and break down camp again.

We’d only stayed in a couple of hotels, but so far had had great luck with Name-Your-Own-Price and Express Deals on Priceline. (If you’ve never used them before, Name-Your-Own-Price lets you offer a bid on a hotel room in a chosen area. Express Deals is a little different, you’re offered a “mystery hotel” for a set price, typically lower than the area average, but you don’t know what hotel you’re purchasing — just the star rating of the hotel and the area it’s in.)

Throughout the trip we’d had an ongoing debate: 2 Stars vs. 2.5 Stars. Ryan thought the savings (usually $15-$30/night) offered by a 2-star hotel warranted at least a test run. I felt the prices were so low, it was a little concerning.

As we were looking at hotels in the Couer d’Alene/Post Falls, Idaho area, the debate raged on. There was a 2-star Express Deal hotel available for $45/night. We had spent more on the first part of the trip than we had planned, so finally I gave in; we just planned to roll in to town, go to bed, and head out early the next morning. How bad could it be?

When we arrived at “Hotel X,” tired and hungry, the exterior was immediately off-putting. But I tried to put on a positive attitude. Maybe the outside was dated, but the interior would be fine. We waited for about 10 minutes as the receptionist first checked a guest into the wrong room (he returned immediately reporting that “there’s someone sleeping in that room”), then checked in four young men who were paying in cash, which I found shady.

We went into our room and it was … grim. The bedspreads looked like they had been there since the 80s. The furniture looked like it came from a garage sale. And to top it all off, when Ryan checked the window (on our ground floor room) he discovered it neither closed nor latched properly.

As I repeated to myself, “We’re only sleeping here,” Ryan announced matter-of-factly, “Nah, we’re not staying here.”

We took our things and never looked back. While eating dinner at Panera, we changed our Priceline search to the nearby city of Spokane, Washington, and scored a positively luxurious room at the Holiday Inn Spokane Airport for about $20/night more than the first room. We had a fantastic night’s sleep … but most importantly, I think, we learned a valuable lesson: That 1/2 star is more important than you might think. (And if you can’t find the deal you want, and there’s another city 20 minutes away, you might try checking there too.) Live and learn!


I’m the oldest of 12 crazy kids and two pretty awesome parents. My love of travel developed during my early years traveling the globe as an Air Force brat. I’m a runner, a writer, and a reader, and I love cooking up good food and cozying up our camper.


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