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

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.)

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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.

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)

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

  1. I’m confused.  There are three rates which to ba analyzed.  The hotel charged hotwire $441.  Hotwire charged the OP $615, Expedia charged its own guests $82.00

    Assuming the above is correct.

    Hotwire should, upon proof, honored its price guarantee with respect to the $82.

    With respect to the $441, of course hotwire pays less than it charges its customers.  It has to make a profit.  So I don’t see the problem there.

    1. It sounds like she was charged $140 a night upfront by Hotwire.  That’s how opaque sites usually work.  Then when she checked out, the clerk told her what **she** would have paid directly for the accommodations.  I’m guessing that Hotwire paid them less than the $441 she would have paid directly to the hotel.

      I don’t know about how they would verify the price.  Since the stay is well over, nobody could actually check with Expedia that their price would have been $82.  Hotwire could verify with the hotel what their regular rate would be, but I’d be surprised if Expedia or the hotel would share what other sites would charge.  I’m not even sure the hotel knows exactly how much Expedia was charging; they get their own cut, which is less.

  2. This is not the kind of customer that should be using an opaque travel site. If she had specific room requirements, she should have used a full service travel agent or made the booking herself. Don’t blame Hotwire for being exactly what they claim to be.

  3. She CHOSE to do business with Hotwire, a site that doesn’t tell you the property until AFTER you pay. If she really has “severe pet allergies” perhaps she should NOT use opaque sites! I mean, I can think of a hundred reasons NOT to use opaque sites but in this case, since that seems to be her first complaint, I’m going to start there.

    I’m not saying she needed a TA, because I’m not one of the B&M here, but she needed to view the property before purchasing it. Or a truck load of Benadryl…one of the two.

    Hotwire honored it’s guarantee although she was way late on the draw to invoke their guarantee. Hotwire funny money is more than she deserves in this case.

  4. I voted no.  Someone who requires a pet free hotel or room has no business booking with a place like hotwire.   Also, I realize she wouldn’t have known the hotel name…but the number of stars and the price – she would have been told.

    I don’t understand this business of when the person sees the amount charged Hotwire..of course they are going to make a profit.

    She needs to know better and book smarter.

  5. If ” $140 a night for a two-star hotel . . . seemed a little high to her,” then she shouldn’t have paid it and looked at what was available on Expedia.   She doesn’t say (or likely know) when the folks paid $82 on expedia. It could have been 3 months in advance, and she booked a week before.  As for the hotel not being as nice as she’d hoped, well, that’s Hotwire.

    1. It could have been 3 months in advance, and she booked a week before.
      —-

      I suspect this is dead on.   If I search Expedia right now for reservations *next summer* in Rehoboth Beach, most of the 2-star hotels are already sold out on weekends!  Even for midweek reservations, at least 3 of the 10 2-star hotels consistently show no availability, and the lowest rate available seems to be $99.  So if the customer didn’t book super long ahead, that is a likely source of the price discrepancy.

      If Hotwire truly sold an opaque room for $615 at the same time that it was publicity available for $441, then IMO they would have some explaining do, even if the OP technically missed the boat on the best price guarantee.  After all, Hotwire prominently advertises that it’s “deeply discounted” rates are opaque because “hotels don’t want to publicize rates this low, so we hide their name until after booking.”

      Unless the OP can demonstrate that the lower rate(s) were really available at the same time that she booked then we should be skeptical that this was the case.

  6. I voted no.  She knew up front she was getting a mystery hotel, and when she didn’t like it, HotWire still moved her. Then when she saw what HotWire paid, she got them to give her a credit for the difference.  HotWire went above and beyond for her twice on this.

    I won’t use sites like HotWire because I want to know where I am going.  But I am actually shocked how well HotWire treated her.  She should be grateful!

    I am usually the first one to bash HotWire, but in this case HotWire was actually not the problem.

  7. I voted no, this is one of those times that the customer should have done their research before purchasing. If you have special needs then you need to suck it up and pay the extra $10-$20 you might be charged by going direct, it is a lot better than having an allergic reaction.

    As for Hotwire making a profit, of course they are. If they weren’t able to make a profit they wouldn’t be in business. The motel had no business disclosing the difference in price between what the customer was paying Hotwire and what Hotwire was paying the motel.

  8. This is another case of someone expecting 5 star service from a third party site. Did she really only check Hotwire and then book the first hotel on the list. She didn’t check even one other website before she gave them a CC number?

    I think this will have to be a lesson learned.

  9. Hotwire type sites are fine for average consumers looking for a place to crash and little more; but people like the LW, who have “severe pet allergies” or other “special” circumstances should be doing their due diligence with research and making reservations directly with a property so they know what they’re getting and have no reason to cry foul later. 

  10. I am a tour operator and sell hotel rooms at a markup from my net rates. I would be very upset if a hotel divulged confidential travel industry rates to a client of mine.  Think of going into a supermarket and demanding butter at the cost the supplier sells it to supermarket.
    I do use opaque sites because I am scared of ending up in hotels that do not meet my expectations. I do extensive research and comparison, checking multiple sites (not just US sites) and use the maps and street view sites on the internet.  I regularly find good – if not the best – rates and rarely am disappointed from the hotel.
    Better luck next time, Mrs. McCoy.  
     

    1. Jonnyboy, you’re right, but even if I did know the price that the supermarket paid for the butter, I realize that they have a need to make a profit.

      It was highly inappropriate for this person to badger priceline into giving up their profit. 

      Carol McCoy – you should give them back that money if you have any moral standards at all.  Priceline has a business model.   You are not a fit for it.  Don’t complain.  You are in no way entitled to their profit.  As for you overhearing the “expedia” rate, did you check Expedia for that hotel?  You don’t have proof.  Overhearing someone isn’t proof.

    2. It doesn’t sound as if the hotel gave her the rate that Hotwire paid to them.  It sounds more like she was given the standard rate that she would have paid if she had booked directly with the hotel.  That wouldn’t be confidential.

  11. Huh… the difference between the $615 and the $441 is how Hotwire makes money!  Of course the hotel charged Hotwire less than the OP paid.

    As far as the price guarantee goes… these are usually not worth the electrons it put to place them on your screen; every one, with every online travel agent, is filled with fine print making it unlikely you’ll ever claim it.  Even if they weren’t, I wouldn’t expect a guarantee to guarantee the lowest rate between your booking and checkout.  Maybe the rate she paid was a great deal at the time she booked, but there was a sale before or afterwards that offered the room for cheaper.

    As far as the pet issue goes: If you have specific requirements like this, why on earth are you using a website that absolutely is not designed to deliver on those requirements?

  12. As someone who uses Priceline frequently with great success, I see a lot of problems.  First, if you have special needs like pet-free rooms, opaque sites are simply not for you.  Period.  Secondly, know your market before you bid (or book).  There are sites like BiddingforTravel.com & BetterBidding.com where you can educate yourself before you bid or book on what hotels are most frequently available and at what price. There also reviews that can be extremely helpful.  Third, be especially careful of resort areas, where quality and service are unpredictable, especially at the two star level. 

    Once or twice, I’ve been handed a bill at checkout that indicated exactly what Priceline paid for my hotel versus what I paid.  I never once thought I was owed the difference. 

    Hotwire’s guarantee clearly provide a 48 hour window after making your purchase for you to find a better deal.  That implies you should go ahead and book before you know the market.  My suggestion, use that 48 hour period BEFORE you book to educate yourself and decide if an opaque site is really the right way to go for your trip. 

  13. Hotwire says lowest price, so they should refund the difference, or if they give her credit, give her more than the difference. She was not totally off the hook, since she did wait too long. As for the two star, I never book anything at Hotwire that is less than three stars, as their ratings are a little inflated.

  14. I voted no.  She does not know when the expedia customers booked their room, she does not know if the hotel had discounted rooms closer to her booking, that is the reason for the 48 hour window.  I also do not think, given that she and her husband have “Severe pet allergies” that booking through hotwire/expedia/any thrid party service is a good idea.  Most of the services pretty clearly state that special accomodations can be requested, but not guaranteed.  Unless she made her reservation the day before her vacation began, then she was most likely outside her 48 hour window to get the lower price.  It simply sounds like she was not satisfied with the results from hotwire and is trying to get a refund.  She should have known the risks before purcahsing and if she was not happy with them, she should have booked elsewhere. 

  15. I figure it’s all evened out here.

    She ended up not paying Hotwire’s (grossly inflated) price of $140/night.  We know it’s inflated because Expedia customers were only paying $82 for the same stay.  Figure Expedia / Hotwire was paying around $60 for the rooms, so there’s still some margin there.

    On the other hand, this customer has no business using a service like Hotwire with pet allergies and so forth.  Plus, the customer sounds like a complainer – did they expect a TWO STAR hotel to be in a prime location?  So what if it was next to a U-Haul business?  That kind of detail just shows the customer is whining.

    Hotwire did what they needed to do and I believe the resolution is fair.  Next time, perhaps the customer will do even a minimum of research rather than blindly buying the first two-star rate she sees and then complaining about it later.

  16. If you cannot live up to the T&C’s of the Hotwire or Priceline business model, please do not use them. I prefer they stay on their model to keep prices low. I have used them hundreds of times, but I do my research, keep my end of the T&C’s and have NEVER been unhappy with a price or hotel assignment obtained through either site’s opaque side. (Yes, I have even booked two star properties and they met expectations…which I kept low.)
     
    If you have a severe pet allergy, they are plenty of hotels that do not accept pets. Seach for them online yourself or pay a travel agent to do the research for you. 
     
    Once again someone who messed up their own reservation and wants to blame others.

  17. $140/night for a 2 star hotel, and that didn’t raise red flags at the time of booking??

    I voted no, It sounds like Mrs McCoy should have done some more research before booking her hotel room. The fact that hotwire gave her a credit at all is generous, given the rules. Also, when booking with an opaque site, it does require some research on behalf of the consumer to make sure you’re getting the best deal. 

  18. Honestly, after reading all the complaints about the bargain price websites, I don’t know why anyone would use them. I would rather know where I’m going up front and deal directly with the hotel about special accommodations. If that costs more, it is worth it to me to be where I want to be in a room that meets my needs.

    1. Why use opaque sites (one type of “bargain” sites)? I use them to save serious money.

      I do my homework and can usually anticipate which hotel I am getting at which price.

      I can live with the non-refundablity. If a client cancels, my cancel fee more than covers it. Similar formula for non-refundable airline tickets.

      I do not care about points, ultimately I prefer to save money. I usually build an average per diem in my quotes and if PL gets me under, I save money.

      If I don’t think I can save about 50%, I usually don’t use them.

      Smoking or non-smoking room, I can use either. When it is just me, I have no special requests.

      I do NOT use it for family travel as we want to be able to choose our room type.

    2. I use Priceline regularly and, like MikeGun says, if you do your homework, 99.9% of the time you’ll end up with no surprises, a nice room, and a very good rate.  We have saved thousands of dollars over the years this way.  This past weekend, we booked a beautiful room at a Marriott downtown in a major city for $42 a night.  It’s the same hotel where we always stay when we visit there, and we always “bid” using  Priceline to get that hotel. A friend of ours, who was wary of the whole Priceline thing, stayed across the hall for $129 a night. She wasn’t happy to see that our room was bigger and had a better view.  Go figure. 

      As nearly everyone has mentioned, there are times and places where the opaque sites don’t work.  Certain resort areas, certain cities, etc., but it’s incredibly easy to avoid those if you do a little bit of homework.  In my experience, the complaints come mostly from people who don’t do their homework, and who have needs and expectations that are wholly inconsistent with the nature and purpose of these sites. 

      I certainly understand how some people feel about sites like Priceline and Hotwire. Some don’t travel enough to be bothered, others don’t want to work for the savings, and some are just risk averse — no matter how small the risk. Whatever the reason, that’s fine.  But for many of us who understand these sites and how to use them, they work very, very well and save us a lot of money. 

    3. A couple of years ago a friend and I went to Seattle.  We’ve both backpacked a lot, and we looked at the website for the Seattle youth hostel.  For a double room with a shared bathroom, in the youth hostel, it was $90 per night plus tax.  With that as my jumping point I used Priceline, and we got the four-star Sheraton for $92 per night, including tax.  That was a pretty good reason to use an opaque site! 

  19. IMHO, there are a few different issues here.

    The first, and easiest to dismiss, are the customer’s complaints about the location of the hotel. A U-Haul franchise was nearby? The horror! (If she had a specific gripe that actually affected her comfort – say, if the nearby business was making lots of noise late at night and it was audible from her room – I assume she’d mention that rather than complaining about the mere proximity of it).

    The second is the pet issue. If you’re so severely allergic to pets that you can’t stay in a room that has ever had pets in it, you shouldn’t book on an opaque site that doesn’t guarantee that the hotel won’t allow pets.

    Third is the price issue, and I think the customer *may* have a point here. We all seem to be assuming she’s asking for a refund of Hotwire’s profit, but I don’t see any proof of that. The story says that other guests had gotten rooms through Expedia for $82 a night – I assume that is what they paid, not what Expedia paid the hotel. If that’s true, it would seem that Hotwire most certainly did *not* give her the lowest price, and if their low-price guarantee means anything, they owe her the difference – and not in their funny money, either. (If she is merely complaining that Hotwire made a profit on her stay, then she’s out of line. But I’m not so sure that’s what’s happening here). 

  20. Agreed that the OP should not be using an opaque site with her specific requirements. The fact that she booked a 2-star property and then referred to it in her letter to Chris as a “resort” speaks volumes about her unrealistic expectations.

    Also, as soon as the “hotel” name is revealed by your opaque site, why wouldn’t you check the price on other sites to make sure you got a fair price? What was the point of booking online if you’re not going to do your own research? If you expect to site back and have someone (in this case Hotwire) handle everything for you, use a brick and mortar travel agent.

  21. Another “no” vote from me. Never use opaque sites if you have specific needs, or if you’re not willing to accept the risk.

    I’m actually a fan of opaque sites – I’ve saved hundreds of dollars using Priceline – but ONLY in very limited circumstances. First, you can’t have any special needs, e.g. two beds, or no pets, or a particular part of the hotel, or anything else. You may end up in the worst room in the oldest part of the hotel – but that’s the risk. Second, NEVER use an opaque site unless you are very familiar with one of the educational forums such biddingfortravel.com. Using an opaque site without also using them is asking for trouble. Third, you have to be willing to accept that this is a gamble – you might win, or you might lose. Even using biddingfortravel will just tell you which hotel you’re LIKELY to get…but you may not get it. If you lose, suck it up. You took the gamble.

    If it really matters to me where I stay, it’s worth it to me to pay a higher rate and know exactly what I’m getting.

  22. I do not use Hotwire.  We like to know exactly where we’re staying or with whom we’re flying.  We’ve had good experiences with Travelocity, recently booking an air/hotel package with them to Cancun.  A day or two after our initial booking with them we noticed a price drop for the exact same package, same flight times, etc. at the Travelocity web page amounting to close to $300 less.  We emailed Them pointing out their price guarantee indicating a refund if cheaper packages were found on ANY web page including their own and we were credited for the difference plus given a $50 credit for any future booking with them.  Mind you this guarantee as with others requires that the cheaper package is identical to the one booked.  Any differences, airlines, room request, etc. voids the guarantee.

  23. I agree with the others here that state when you have any special requests about a room you should not use a site that does not allow you to specify those requests.  Something that provides the lowest price room near your point of interest sounds great, but can lead to problems.  The OP should take the offer and be happy.

    Given that, I feel it is a missed oportunity where the opaque travel sites could provide a service where you can request certain types of rooms (non smoking, pet free, whatever) and they can provide you a room guaranteed to have those characteristics at a similarly low price.  Of course the more restrictions you specify the more expensive your room would probably be.  This can’t be any more difficult than just assigning the cheapest room in the hotel to those who have no specific restrictions on what type of room they will accept.  The customer would have to be made aware that by restricting the acceptable room types they would most likely end up in a more expensive property than someone who has no restrictions.

  24. I’m sorry, but if you have ANY specific requirements for a hotel, you should not be using opaque sites.  Also, the rate that Hotwire is charged by the hotel for your room is not what YOU pay.  It’s a net rate based upon how much volume the company does with that hotel.  If Expedia does more than Hotwire, they get a lower overall rate.  Those rates are proprietary and should never be given directly to the guest.

  25. Another case of someone wanting something for free.  Is anyone else tired of this? 

    Without rehashing what others have stated, if you have a health concern, DON’T book on an opague site.  Stupid is as stupid does so pull up your big girl panties and move on and don’t waste Chris or someone else’s time on your mistake!

  26. I had similar experience with hotwire. On a drive from Ohio
    to California we had to make a stop in Santa Rosa, NM. We looked for a hotel on
    hotwire.com. The website listed a few 2 star properties ranged from $40 to $60
    and one 3 star property at $56 + tax marked as a “best deal”. We
    selected 3 star property, it was Best Western, which can be a 3 star property.
    When we arrived to the hotel it looked like a roadside motel, dirty, stained
    sheets, no toiletries, etc. Immediately after check in we went to a front desk
    and complained about all that. It was around midnight and a girl at front desk
    was really nice, offered another room, but it had the same problems. She also
    said that the hotel is not a 3 star property and there are no 3 star hotels in
    Santa Rosa, NM. I called hotwire right away and confronted them about of
    misrepresentation of star level and addressed all the problems with the hotel.
    They put me on hold and called the front desk. A person at the front desk was
    right in front of me when she told hotwire representative it is not a 3 star
    hotel and all the rooms they have the same quality and we already checked out
    several rooms and were not able to accept any. She also told a representative
    she authorizes full refund. But hotwire was refusing to issue refund and try to
    convince us to look at another room. So, we were on the phone going back and
    forth for almost two hours finally they agreed to issue a refund but only after
    they’d talk to a hotel manager. There was not a manager on duty and a girl at the
    front desk had to call the manager. The manager came in the middle of the night
    and told hotwire representative to issue full refund. The hotel staff was the
    best they even recommended us other hotels which were almost new and clean. We
    ended up at Quality inn which was pretty nice. We paid $60+tax, but because it
    was directly from the hotel the total was even less compare to hotwire’s
    $56+tax and service fee. Also Best Western’s staff told us the price they
    billed hotwire for the room was only $40 and not $56 as hotwire charged us. I
    didn’t use hotwire since and it was almost two years. But I use priceline very
    often and like it very much. Priceline even refunded some of my purchases due to  discrepancies in the description/location but it almost never happens.

    1. I would only say that what Hotwire pays for the rooms is bound to be lower than what you pay to Hotwire.  That’s how they make money.  I’m surprised that they told you this.  I would have thought that the hotel had a confidentiality agreement with Hotwire.

      1. Hotwire also charges a service fee. Here is an example:
        Location: Central South Beach Star rating:HotelStarRating: 4.5-star Check-in date:CheckInDate:Fri, Sep 23 Check-out date:CheckOutnDate:Sat, Sep 24 Amenities:See all amenitiesPrice summary
        HotelRate per night:PricePerRoomPerson:$144.00Nights:noOfNights:1Rooms:noOfRooms:1Tax recovery charges
        & fees: $23.83 Subtotal:subTotal:$167.82

        The problem with it:
        hotel taxes in South beach 13%, meaning $144*0.13=18.72.
        Hotwire charges 23.83 in taxes with $5.11 premium. They are already making money here plus they mark up the hotel rates.

        In the case with Best Western, the hotel told they were billing hotwire $40 and if I would just walk to the hotel it would be $44 rate. Many hotels offer 10% comissions to travel agencies. Hotwire charged me $56 instead of $44 + tax + another $5.95. So it had over $20 premium and if they were billed only $40 it was over 50%.                      

        1. Okay, but so what.   Hotwire sold you a room.  As long as you are satisfied with the deal, what does it matter what Hotwire’s deal with the hotel is.

          When you rent a room directly from the hotel, you don’t inquire into the hotel’s cost or profit.  It is crucial to remember that hotwire is not booking inventory from the hotel like a travel agent,  but rather Hotwire is a reseller of distressed inventory.

  27. I’m sorry, but do your homework before you book or use a travel agent to do the research for you if you don’t have time. Check rates with multiple travel providers and buyer beware when you book with a site like Hotwire, Priceline, etc. They exist to move “merchandise,” that’s it. They don’t care about room preferences, etc. It amazes me what people expect when they book on these sites. If you have specific preferences, needs, or heath issues, aren’t they worth the extra time, effort, and cost to get what you need/want?

  28. Don’t mediate the amount, mediate their putting the refund on her credit card, not as a voucher “for future travel”.  This is a crock.

    If the hotel or the travel site wanted more money, would she be able to put in the form of a voucher?  Did she pay with a voucher?  She paid with a credit card, she should get the refund on her credit card.

    1. Because sometimes it has amazing deals.  I personally don’t use it because I like to know where I am staying, but if you care more about the price than the property, or specific room. it can be wonderful. 

      Hotwire, like Priceline, works wonders for a specific segment of the travel population.

  29. Anybody that believes that “we guarantee” the lowest price needs electic shock therapy. Ralph Nader, where are you when we need you? I have 10 bridges in NY to seel you.  NO…No….No….you do not deserve anything when you book with the internet. On-line is just what you see…..blips. To give a credit card online against dealing with a real live person is so ridiculous. ASTA travel agents will tell you straight up that there is a charge, but what the heck is a fee against a dump and then a mind meltdown?

    1. Another ludicrious, anti-internet, pro-travel agency rant.  Unfortunately, though presumably well meaning, you hurt your own cause.  Most would agree what a travel agent serves a useful purpose for certain types of bookings, e.g. complex, international, newbie, etc.

      But when you look me in the eye and tell me that even a simple overnight hotel stay within the US requires a travel agent, the legitimate travel agent position becomes lost in the sea of incredulity.

      Would you at least concede that an internet booking is reasonable if you are a regular at the destination property

  30. I’m on the fence about mediating her case (since it sounds like she didn’t think the hotel was two-star quality anyway and Hotwire does guarantee hotels of the quality you choose). But that said, practically all cheap hotels and many nice ones are pet friendly, so I feel kind of sorry for her but I’m not sure there’s anything to be done about it.

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