Can this trip be saved? Hotwire didn’t have the best hotel — or the best deal

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Christopher Elliott

Hotwire’s low-price guarantee says you can be “sure they’re the lowest prices you’ll find.” But that’s not what Carol McCoy discovered when she booked a hotel in Rehoboth Beach, Del., on a recent holiday weekend.

She paid $140 a night for a two-star hotel, which seemed a little high to her. (Hotwire doesn’t reveal the name of the property until you’ve paid for it.)

The hotel wasn’t what she had hoped for.

Related: The smarter consumer: How to find any manager’s phone number now.

When they confirmed the hotel I looked it up on the Internet and learned that they are pet friendly.

I emailed the Hotwire Customer Service because we have severe pet allergies and either wanted to confirm I would be in a pet-free room or moved to another resort.

A Hotwire representative said they’d move her family to a different hotel, as long as she could send them a doctor’s note verifying their medical condition.

She told me that they can’t ever guarantee pet-free rooms, “…that is not what they do. ” When I pressed, she offered to call the hotel and requested a pet-free room for me.

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I was surprised by her attitude which was stiff (“our company policy does not guarantee….”) and put-off.

But wait! There’s more!

The hotel was, to put it kindly, of questionable quality. It was a motel overlooking a place called “God’s Thrift Shop” and a U-Haul franchise, she says.

While waiting in line for breakfast I overhead the manager and the desk host talking about Expedia customers who had an $82 per night rate.

Upon my check-out the manager mentioned that my 4-day total was $441 when Hotwire had charged me $615.

Rather than raise the price discrepancy with Hotwire while on vacation and risk the frustration and aggravation of speaking to another customer service representative who defines customer service differently than I do, I decided to take it up with them when I got home.

She did, but Hotwire was less than receptive. A representative told her she should have notified it of a better price within 48 hours of booking in order to invoke its price guarantee.

After a lengthy argument, Hotwire agreed to refund the difference between the rate the hotel had given her ($441) and the rate she’d paid ($615) in the form of Hotdollars — credit toward a future purchase.

That’s pretty generous, actually. In the past, when hotels have revealed the “net” rate they charge an online travel agency, the site has refused to lower its price in any way. (After all, the difference between the rate the hotel charges it and the price it charges a customer is its profit.)

It doesn’t work for McCoy, though.

I do not accept that they can not provide me a refund in the form of credit to my Visa. I feel strongly that they oversold the hotel and overcharged me.

I have no trouble believing her overrated hotel cost too much, but she missed her chance to invoke Hotwire’s price guarantee, and waited until she got home to file a complaint. Although I’m sympathetic to her problem, I’m not sure if Hotwire can — or should — do any better.

(Photo: arianr avan/Flickr)

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Tokyo.

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