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Expedia to customers: name your hotel room price

Taking a cue from Priceline.com, the Microsoft travel site is now allowing customers to name their price on hotel rooms.

Taking a cue from Priceline.com, Microsoft travel site Expedia is now allowing customers to name their price on hotel rooms.

A feature added to the site yesterday allows customers to search for hotels at specific prices in 1 of 14 areas, including New York City, Chicago, and the San Francisco Bay Area. In contrast, competitor Priceline offers hotel rooms in more than 1,000 cities and towns nationwide.

The new service comes as analysts are predicting a shakeout in online travel sites. Though Expedia is already one of the top-ranked travel sites, its "Hotel Price Matcher" service could help push the site further ahead of competitors.

But that's only if Expedia can distinguish it from what Priceline already offers. The one-time start-up currently offers its popular name-your-price service for airline tickets, hotel rooms, new cars, home mortgages, refinancing, and equity loans.

As with Priceline, the new Expedia service requires customers to name the price they are willing to pay, the area they plan to stay in, and the class of hotel they desire.

Expedia customers must submit a credit card number to use the service. If a match is found, Expedia will automatically bill the complying customer.

Reservations are non-refundable and specific searches cannot be repeated by customers trying to hunt down a lower rate a day or hour later. Customers are limited to one search per geographic location and class of hotel, a policy Expedia enforces to promote realistic bids and appease hotel owners who want to compete on service rather than price.

While Expedia promises "immediate" responses to customer requests, Priceline promises a response within an hour.

Expedia spokesman Erik Blachford said the company wouldn't rule out extending its price matching service into other areas.

"Our plan is that we will expand when our customers want us to and when our suppliers want us to," Blachford said.