HotWire.com says "Smoker? Non-Smoker? Use Something Else"

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I booked and paid for a room using Hotwire.com last weekend and then ended up paying for a second hotel room. Why? It turns out that there is a catch with the HotWire service that you should know about.

If you are not familiar with HotWire.com it is a site that sells unsold hotel rooms at a significant discount. It is similar to the better known Priceline.com. With Priceline you bid for what price you are willing to pay (which is a hassle). With HotWire they will tell you what price you can pay for a hotel that is rated a certain number of stars with particular set of amenities. Neither site tells you the name of the hotel before you pay for a pre-payed, non-refundable room. On HotWire you choose a general geographic area, decide if you need the pool at a 3 star hotel or if the 2 star hotel with free internet is what you want.

I want to be clear that I have had many wonderful experiences using the HotWire service. I have stayed in a 4 star hotel near UCLA / Beverly Hills over the 4th of July holiday in a penthouse suite for $70 a few years back. The star ratings I find usually give you enough information to know the class of the hotel. For example a 2 star hotel is:

Economy 2-star hotels

Our 2-star hotel suppliers include Comfort Inn, La Quinta, Days Inn, and other respected hotel brands.

These economy establishments offer reliable accommodations with a few extra features. Features may include:

  • In-room coffee maker
  • Cable TV
  • Alarm clock
  • Continental breakfast
  • Off-site dining is usually located within walking distance.

But… there are two things you need to know before you use this service:

Room Size

The majority of hotel rooms in the United States have two double beds, but HotWire is not promising you one of those rooms because many rooms also have a single bed. So they are never promising you a room that will sleep more than 2 people (in the same bed). After you pay for the room (remember pre-paid and non-refundable) you can contact the hotel and request a room with two double beds, but they may not have that in the inventory that they gave HotWire. We (my wife, 2 kids and I) walked into a hotel room in Boston and found it had one double bed. They were able to bring in one roll away bed and I ended up sleeping on the floor (which is good for my back anyway).

Smoking / Non-Smoking Rooms

Last weekend we reserved a room at a 2 star hotel in San Rafael north of San Francisco. The hotel was a Travelodge. When we arrived they told us that we had requested a smoking room. We politely told them we had not. Now, to be fare HotWire had not promised me either, but their customer service rep told me that they request a non-smoking room when available. The hotel manager assured me, showing me the reservation, that they had received a reservation for a smoking room. The only rooms they had were smoking rooms, and they had saved one for us. My wife in particular has a very keen sense of smell and we would have been miserable in the room so we ended up paying for a second hotel room at the Courtyard by Marriott (a smoke free hotel) were we had stayed previously.

Yesterday HotWire’s customer service representative called me in answer to my letter to them. I had requested a refund which I did not receive (and did not really expect). I had also asked them to clarify the situation and their policy. Their rep told me they had faxed themselves what they had sent to the hotel and it did not say anything about smoking or non-smoking but only had some code that the hotel had given them for HotWire rooms. It is likely she said, that they had only put smoking rooms in the HotWire inventory. HotWire’s policy is that as with the number of beds after you have paid for your (pre-paid, non-refundable) room you should call the hotel and ask if you have a preference for smoking or non-smoking. But, as she clarified, it might very well be that the hotel will not give me my preference.

Q: How do I take care of special service requests (e.g., smoking/non-smoking, accessibility)?

A: Once your booking is made and Hotwire gives you the name of the hotel, you can call the hotel directly with any special requests. Our partners are willing to help whenever possible, but the ability to accommodate special requests may be subject to availability. If you have any special needs that are crucial, we recommend calling one of our hotel partners directly rather than booking through Hotwire.

In other words, HotWire is saying if you care about whether you get a smoking or non-smoking room… don’t use HotWire. This was reinforced for me by their representative. In short they were telling me that I should not use their service and perhaps you should not as well. I am saddened by this policy and hope that they will change their interface to allow me to specify my preference in advance. Until them… my days of buying cheap hotel rooms through HotWire may be over.

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by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast, and a co-host for This Week in Travel podcast.

10 Responses to “HotWire.com says "Smoker? Non-Smoker? Use Something Else"”

Herne

Says:

Sounds like a dodgy service. I doubt I would ever use it. I’m not gambling my money on the off chance that the room they reserved for me MIGHT be decent.

Julia Rosien

Says:

I refuse to use Hotwire – it has too many variables that I’m not willing to gamble with. And to be honest, I can often find better prices elsewhere.

These are my favorite airline websites: http://www.gogirlfriend.com/reviews/7-new-airline-websites-we-love-7000

chris2x

Says:

Please don’t take my review as saying HotWire is not a legitimate company. It has the same parent company as both Expedia (top online travel destination) and Hotels.com. And again, I have had a lot of good experiences, but yes this did sour me on the service.

Sydney

Says:

I think that overall the Hotels are playing games with what is a smoking room and what is a non-smoking room at this point. They’re using Hotwire in order to fill in the rooms that they otherwise can’t rent out because of the smell. They use ionizers and air fresheners in the rooms that smokers have been in and still say they are non-smoking. The rooms are just as if not more poisonous than with the smoke. And the smokers don’t want to stay in the smoking rooms because they have to inhale that stuff.

If a Health Dept. were to investigate problems in Motels and Hotels all they would have to do is check in to rooms through Hotwire. You want a room that’s next to the elevator, cantilevered over a freeway, full of bed bugs and next to a jail…book through Hotwire (joke, sort of, well, true, actually).

minnemom

Says:

We had the same smoking-room problem with Priceline a few years back. The hotel moved us to a non-smoking room for the second night of our stay when one was available, but that first night was miserable in the smoky room.

Now we only book a room that is guaranteed smoke-free, or better yet, a smoke-free hotel.

No more priceline for us!

Jill

Says:

I had this exact same experience this weekend. There should be legislation passed to prevent companies from booking you in a hotel with smoking rooms without clear disclosure!

chris2x

Says:

Jill, so sorry to hear this still happens 🙁

Diana Smith

Says:

I’m putting up with a smoking rm at the hotel we got on Hotwire, bacause that is all that is available – hotel is full. Makes me very skeptical of using Hot Wire again.

deiv

Says:

Well at hotwire if you want to be guaranteed of a non smoking room, you can use the amenities filter and select “smoke free rooms”, in that sense you will be guaranteed of non smoking room. If the filter does not show the said amenity, then, it would be based on hotel’ availability.

sonia king

Says:

On January 2 2015 I had my very first and most unpleasant experience with hotwire. Speaking to the representative I made it clear that I wanted a smoking room and he assured me the room was a smoking room when I was getting the information from him he had to give me. Mind u the room had been paid for. I hang up from hotwire and immediately called the hotel that I was booked in to confirm my reservation and make sure I was placed in a smoking room. Here’s the kicker the hotel he booked me in has been non smoking from the day it opened it doors. The hotel was very understanding and cancelled the reservation. And of course I had to pay for another room. I was very disappointed n using hotwire. Its so strange my account suddenly ended up with a negative balance. Not saying they took money from my account. Its just strange that my account began having issues and I never saw the money I paid for the room. My opinion somebody took my money. I’m just saying. Beware. So many other issue’s with hotwre trying resolve the issue. 6 days of speaking to hotwire,bank,card company numerous times and NO MONEY. NEVER AGAIN. Trying to save a few bucks cost whole lot of bucks. Wasn’t worth it. Buyer beware

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