I just booked this hotel (Holiday Inn SouthBeach) for $30/night for 12/14-12/16/01 through Priceline.com.
The lowest rate I could find on Holiday Inn's website for these dates was $119/night!
I read about other people's success using Priceline on another cruise board and tried it myself... All I can say is WOW! I had never booked anything through Priceline. It's a bit intimidating not knowing exactly which hotel you'll be staying at.
There is a $5 "coupon" link available at BiddingForTravel.com. Basically the coupon "adds" $5 to your bid.
Be sure to read through the FAQ in the message board at the above site. There are several techniques that you can use to get lower rates. Most valuable are user posts listing which hotels and rates they received for specific areas.....helping you to decide what to bid.
Kevin, I have heard other stories about getting great prices through priceline.com. I have also heard others that have not gotten a very good deal, and some that actually got the shaft so to speak. Personally, I would not book anything unless I know what and where and how much. I know of one instance where a very savy traveler paid 1/3 more for his hotel than I did for mine and his was not nearly as good a hotel. He was not happy. Be very careful about deals that are too good to be true. Sometimes you get lucky, most often you get squashed.
The key to getting a good deal on Priceline is informed bidding. Read the forums and FAQ at BiddingForTravel.com. There's a definite art and strategy to bidding. Your friend likely didn't do his homework prior to bidding.
That said, some people are not at all comfortable with paying in full at the time of booking and not knowing exactly which hotel they are booked at until after paying, and that's understandable. Those people should not use Priceline.
I just had a bad priceline experience, as when I didn't get a reply within the hour, I ordered my own ticket through Continental, the price was ONLY 30.00 more, she was great at finding the time I really wanted, very helpful.I only have a printout to dispute priceline, and the times the tickets were charged, but since I didn't send them an e-mail, I am stuck. Make sure you keep track! continental again was helpful, waived any fees, can use the 2nd ticket within the year with no change fee. I found Castillo del Mar on South beach for 35.00 a night on expedia, just want a hotel with a shuttle - that saves some money.
A word to the wise and a few tips from a hotelier...I have had bad, bad experiences booking car rentals through expedia, priceline, etc. If you show up at the counter and they try to charge you more, their answer is that you have to call expedia. It's a total run around when you just got off a cross country flight with two children...enough said there. I finally raised my voice and got the Avis girl to give me my deal since she felt sorry for me.
As far as hotels...best deals are usually on the internet through expedia is ok, or by calling the hotel and asking directly for their best possible rate. When they give it to you, tell them that's high for you and ask if there is any other special, managers special, etc. available. If you do get a very low priceline rate you can pretty much bet you're going to get the worst room in the place. If on the other hand you have a managers special, they will generally even upgrade, hoping that you will return. Also with priceline you may be guaranteed non smoking only to be told on arrival that only smoking is available. The hotel clerk will then tell you to call priceline....
Now about South Beach, I have spent some time there. The last time I was there in 98 I checked out of my hotel upon arrival. It was being renovated, had no lobby and I was directed to use an outside unsecured staircase to get to my room. Single woman travelling, enough said, I was out of there in a hurry. Most hotels right on South Beach are fine but for you ladies, I would ask some basic questions about hotel layout and security. Is lobby manned 24 hours? Do outside doors lock after 9pm, etc. South Beach is definitely a happening place and you wouldn't want the wrong happening. I also know of travellers who had their passports, etc. stolen in South Beach. It's a beautiful place, but be aware.