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:
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.