No, this isn’t a Hotwire bait-and-switch (or is it?)

Kim Gandy is an experienced traveler, and she’d like to think she wouldn’t fall for a scam. But when she tried to book a rental car through Hotwire recently, she thinks she may have been duped.

This case — and Hotwire’s explanation — lift the veil on an often misunderstood world of electronic reservations. And it offers some guidance for those of us who make our travel reservations online.

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Gandy’s troubles started when she booked a rental car through Hotwire in New Orleans.

“The price was a really excellent $10.95 per day, which totaled just over $86 for the three days, plus two hours,” she says.

Gandy filled in her name, address, phone, credit card, and other details. She double-checked her rate, which appears immediately above the “agree and book” section, checked the required terms and conditions box, and then on the “book” button.

And then the Hotwire confirmed her rate for $125 instead of $86. That’s right, the rate had change after she clicked the “book” button.

And Hotwire’s rates are fully nonrefundable.

Efforts to fix the misunderstanding were unsuccessful.

To condense the following hour on the phone with two people at Hotwire, they said too bad, it’s not refundable, you were told about the change in rate, it happens when our inventory of cars goes down, and there’s nothing wrong with our system, and there’s no one here that you can talk to.

But it gets better.

After I fumed for a half hour or so (and wrote a negative review on Hotwire and Tweeted my experience), I went back to Hotwire at 1:43 a.m. and input the same trip dates and times again, just out of curiosity to see whether it had gone above $18.95 in the hour since my “purchase.”

Yep, you probably guessed it — it was $10.95 again, for both economy and compact, and only $11.95 for midsize and $12.95 for the standard size! No more $18.95.

Gee, at 2 a.m. their inventory was magically restored?

The more time she spent online, the more frustrated she got. She would click on the $10.95 economy car and on the confirmation screen would say, “We’re sorry, the rate has changed from $11 to $19.

“Methinks there is a pattern here,” she says.

Is Hotwire bait-and-switching? Here’s the company’s response to Gandy’s problem:

Kim is correct in noting that there was a difference between the daily rate in the search results vs. the final purchase price.

It’s not a regular occurrence, but this can happen because of the dynamic nature of our supplier inventory and pricing. You and I have worked together on a similar case in the past where the difference between our site’s “cached” price point and the more updated final purchase price has caused confusion.

But it’s important to note that we would never allow a customer to purchase on our site without providing the most updated and accurate pricing info for his or her review prior to completion.

As a quick summary, most of the data on pricing and inventory availability resides on our supply partner servers. If we pinged those servers every time a customer ran a search that returns dozens of results, the load volumes would be immense, and the browsing experience would be slow, so we gate the volume of pings sent back and forth to streamline the process.

The most important place where the data must be updated is prior to purchase, so every time a customer clicks through to the details page for one specific deal, a ping is executed between servers.

Initial searches, as mentioned before, are treated differently. Search data is cached regularly and updated with a bit less frequency, which varies depending on the number of searches being generated at any given time.

In Kim’s case, she was seeing an older $10.95 price point during her initial searches, and then seeing the updated $18.95 price point on the details page prior to purchase. This happened because the inventory was recently changed by the supply partner, either because of recent bookings or market dynamics. In looking back through our session logs, we can see that the accurate $18.95 price was displayed prior to Kim’s actual purchase.

I’ve attached a screen shot of the details page from her purchase.

In regards to her continued searching and the resulting price discrepancies, Kim was simply seeing the update process happen to the search results for different inventory as time went on. However, I can assure you that all of the prices on the details pages were 100 percent accurate prior to final purchase, regardless of what time it was or how many searches were conducted. I can also assure you that this isn’t a common occurrence, and only happens in those instances when there’s a discrepancy between the cached pricing for searches and the final pricing set by the supplier during the short time between our updates. This was evident in the consistent pricing returned when Kim conducted her final search.

In all of these cases, our final price points were below the retail price for that same booking because of the deals that are available through our opaque business model, so Kim did receive a good value.

I checked with Gandy, and she’s highly skeptical of Hotwire’s explanation. She doesn’t recall seeing the updated rate.

But for the rest of us, the lesson is pretty clear. Anything you see before the booking screen is a negotiation.

And even sometimes, afterwards, according to some travelers.

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73 thoughts on “No, this isn’t a Hotwire bait-and-switch (or is it?)

  1. Don’t think it’s a scam if she was presented with a confirmation page before booking. Call me gullible but I don’t think even Hotwire would have the chutzpah to change the rate after the confirmation page. Is there an industry standard for how long the price is locked in while you enter your payment details, I wonder?

    Also, I’d be interested in knowing how much time actually elapses between “pings”. If they’re leaving it unnecessarily long in order for more people to see a lower rate, I think that’s dishonest.

  2. Having used OTA’s for pricing airline tickets (but then usually buying them elsewhere), I see this frequently. The initial return of fares is often “stale” inventory. When I click on a low price, I often get the message that the fare has changed due to the dynamic pricing as described above.

    I don’t think this is a scam, just a con of using an OTA who is not displaying the most up to date inventory. However, I have never purchased anything where the actual final price wasn’t displayed prior to hitting the submit button.

    The OP indicates that in her booking she noticed the price changed after she sent the payment details. However, in subsequent attempts to replicate the problem, she noticed the price change before she had to enter the details. It sounds to me like she just didn’t see the new price when she made the original booking.

    1. I do know that with airline pricing, you are not seeing live inventory, even on most of the carriers own websites. I don’t understand why, but my guess as someone else mentioned is cost. The only place I know of that gives you this is on what I work on and that is a GDS. A GDS is government regulated, but the internet is not. Heads up folks!

      1. I got two negatives on this? Really? Did the idiots who voted even read what I wrote. Just because something you see online has one price, it might not be current and when you go to buy it, you get a new price back. Fact of dealing online, not my doing!

        1. I think you got negative votes because most airline web sites query their own internal system for the correct pricing, which is linked to the GDS. Those prices are pretty much live and not at all like the cached systems for OTAs that we’re discussing here. Yes, there are in intricacies with different fare types and other complexities, but most times you can rely on the airline website pricing right from the start, unlike OTAs.

          1. Actually you are incorrect according to my inside desk at one carrier I have spoken to about this. The GDS is live inventory, but what you see online isn’t live. I find flights that you don’t see and get pricing you can’t get because of how the airline’s websites are set up because what I see is government regulated and the internet isn’t.

  3. So was the OP lying when she said she saw the 10.95 rate on the final booking screen? Sounds like Hotwire caught her red-handed if they truly had a screenshot of that moment.

    Sure sounds like it. “She doesn’t recall seeing the updated rate.” She was very adamant when she double-checked her rate, which appears immediately above the “agree and book” section but now she “doesn’t recall”?

    It’s frustrating when pricing changes as you book. It might even be a scam to reel people in and hope they decide to book anyway. But don’t try to parlay it into something it isn’t.

    1. No one has screenshots of what was displayed prior to the purchase. In fact, no one has screenshots of the purchase. It all goes into a database and log files – and what displays on screen may NOT be what is written to the log file. So on that point, I can tell you that Hotwire is absolutely lying – nobody’s system is built to store “screenshots” of web purchases because what is displayed is on the screen of the user, not the host.

      1. All you need to save is a copy of what was in the output buffer when it was returned to the user’s browser. I think that’s reasonably considered a “screenshot” by a normal person.

        1. That’s impossible! How can someone else not in the room with Kim say they have a screenshot of what Kim saw? We don’t even have a third party who can corroborate what both Kim and Hotwire are saying they saw.

          However, I think the real issue here is the bait-and-switch tactic and not the proof that Kim made or did not make a mistake. Luring a customer in at one price only to increase it just before they hit the buy button is just plain bad.

          1. It’s impossible to analyze web server logs and extract what was sent to the user’s browser? Are you kidding?

          2. Certainly that is possible. However, it is also possible to construct a site that doesn’t constantly display outdated information pulled from the cache. Can Hotwire do the first while failing badly at the latter? Possibly. I’m not saying Hotwire is lying, but I can’t exactly confirm they’re telling the truth, either.

            And I find it a bit disturbing how readily they admit to the outdated information problem as if there’s absolutely no way of fixing it. Their cache explanation seems a bit hard to believe when you’re talking about a major destination like New Orleans where there should be numerous searches and purchases happening constantly and thus continually updating the cache. Maybe the initial search screens pull from a different cache than the interior screens of the site? But why would that be and why wouldn’t they take steps to fix a known issue like that?

          3. I agree with everything you said. The difference at this point is that I’m addressing the merits of the OP’s original complaint – that the price changed AFTER she booked.

            Everyone else is arguing how bad Hotwire is because they don’t update the original screen, or that they could be bait-and-switching. All of those things are bad. But that’s not why OP wrote Christopher, and that’s what I’m specifically addressing: Did Hotwire change the price AFTER she booked?

          4. Perhaps beause caching is such a common practice that admitting to it is not a detriment. Caching substantially speeds up computer. Consider your own web browser. When you hit the back button it goes to the previous page almost instantly. However, when you type in a new URL it takes substantially longer. The same is true for online inventory. Live inventory is possible but at a certain cost.

          5. Accuracy in a sales transaction is quite a cost. It’d be an awfully lousy excuse that showing outdated lowball prices is necessary so the page will load quicker. And most other sites where updated information is critical are built to combat outdated info showing up. You will almost never go to a news site and see yesterday’s home page, for example.

          6. Poor analogy. A news site is frozen solid compared to an airline website. Consider a major market like SFO to LAX. There are about 50 nonstop flights. Suppose each flight has 5 price points. Each person who makes that a query requires the OTA too obtain 250 different dynamic prices from diverse sources. Now multiply by that number of people making that query and it becomes obvious that that one market can generate hundreds of thousands if not millions of data requests. If the OTA had to run a hard query each time someone wanted pricing data the networks would melt into slag.

          7. @backdrop
            Any minimally competent computer forensic examiner can do exactly what you are suggesting. If the logs showed that Hotwire transmitted the higher price before the book button, than that’s the most likely scenario.
            It is possible the the OP’s computer browser had a hiccup, but that’s not Hotwire’s fault or problem.

    2. The issue you bring up is “non-repudiation.” There are techniques for protecting all sides in this sort of situation: for instance, encrypting all submitted/acknowledged content with the user’s digital signature (e.g. private password) and using an outside auditor to verify the process and potentially to investigate disputes (which the vendor can’t do on it’s own w/o the user’s password/signature key)..

      I’ve been involved with systems that do this sort of thing. Judging from Hotwire’s response, I gather that they don’t.

      1. Hotwire replied to Christopher: “I’ve attached a screen shot of the details page from her purchase.”

        I assume what they attached was the web app output of the confirm/book screen which Hotwire saves and associates with each customer in the case of later disputes like this one.

        Unless there’s reason to doubt its veracity — we’re not talking a murder case here — then Hotwire either has a fair representation of the screen as the OP saw it….or they’re committing fraud by cheating customers, then faking evidence to bolster their case. The simpler explanation is the former.

        Not sure if we can see said screenshot, Christopher, but I’d be very interested in it.

        1. I’m going by: “ In looking back through our session logs, we can see that the accurate $18.95 price was displayed prior to Kim’s actual purchase.” Which suggests to me that the basis for the conclusion is the session logs, not necessarily the “screenshot.”

          Look: I’m not questioning either Hotwire’s honesty or the OP’s honesty. In my experience, these sorts of situations are “user error” the vast majority of the time. But as a developer myself, I can attest from personal experience that we can be over-confident in the systems we spend long hours laboring on. Once in a while, they behave in completely unanticipated ways. And sometimes independent verification will catch problems we might miss on our own.

          1. “I’ve attached a screen shot of the details page from her purchase.”

            I don’t know what else that could mean..whether they call them screen shots or logs, they apparently have a system.

            My original comment was mainly in reference to the OP being so adamant at first, and then backing off to a milquetoast “I don’t recall” after Hotwire sent its response and the screenshot to Christopher.

  4. Cached and Switched is Hotwire’s explanation to this phenomenon?
    Their response clearly shows how the online agency model employs bait and switch tactics.
    According to them it is unavoidable, therefore it is OK???
    Why is it OK to lure customers with a cheap price and make them go through a process only to increase the price at the end, right before they hit BUY?
    What a lame excuse, sorry.

    1. Time for a federal rule allowing for a 24-hour cancellation for rental cars, with full refund, just like with airfares. That’s a fair and simple solution.

      1. It sounds like it was a booking on the opaque side of Hotwire. If so, does the federal rule apply air tickets purchased opaquely?

        1. This is a very good question and folks should pay attention to it.
          Based on what I read and hear from Travel Association gurus, travel agents are not part (they are exempt) of the DOT 24 hour free cancellation ruling. They claim that the ruling is only intended for airlines.

          Following that line of thinking, Hotwire (which is an agency) is not required to provide a 24 hour free cancellation for
          airline tickets it sells. Click BUY and you’re done for good.

          Travel agencies, however, have the ability to void tickets (up to the next day) they issued through ARC (the payment settlement company of all airlines and agencies WITHIN THE USA). But there is no law that requires travel agencies to void tickets for their customers (at least I don’t know of any). They do it as a matter of courtesy.

          So, the DOT 24hr cancellation rule is CONFUSING to the
          general public. Not all airlines actually offer it since they have
          option to HOLD a reservation for 24 hours instead of refunding a ticket. I understand that some who offer it will not return the refund as money but only as certificates. Finally, you have travel agencies who do not live by the same rules. So this is really buyer beware territory as consumers should never assume they have 24 hours to cancel and get their money back.

      2. The majority of car rentals can be cancelled at any time and don’t even require a credit card until one shows up at the rental counter. I’ve made quite a few bookings where I’ve found a better rate and just cancelled. Even regular bookings with Hotwire and Priceline don’t require a credit card and can be cancelled at any time. One could even fail to show up and there’s nothing the rental agency can do other than maybe blackball the customer.

        The only difference is with opaque bookings. I would never do this with a rental since one could end up with Fox or Advantage. The other issue is that sometimes one could end up off-airport when there are options right at the airport (SNA is a prime example) that can save precious time when one is trying to catch a flight. Yet another issue is that different rental agencies have different hours. Las Vegas is off-airport at a central location, but some close at midnight (Enterprise does) while others are 24 hours. Someone arriving on a late flight might end up at a closed counter when they could have found an agency with a 24 hour counter.

          1. I know. However, the vast majority of bookings don’t require a deposit or prepayment. Leisure travel rates can often be really competitive. I’ve been looking into renting a car, and I’ve seen mid-size rates for as low as $11/day or $90/week from one of the major rental companies.

            I don’t know why anyone would take a chance with opaque car rentals given how low non-opaque bookings get. I don’t want to end up with Fox given their reputation for bad service and sticking consumers for “damages”. I also want the option for an on-airport rental if available and longer hours if I’m going to be arriving near closing time.

  5. Re: Anything you see before the booking screen is a negotiation.
    I never thought you could negotiate with a vending machine!
    Looks to me that the vending machine keeps on flashing the cheapest price even when it has run out of that item.

  6. As was noted by Hotwire, this is Standard Operating Procedure for online travel agencies. The actual booking systems have a cost associated with every “hard” query. Because the “conversion” rate of searches-to-bookings is so much lower with online vs. traditional travel agents, all online systems use cached fare data for initial queries, as cached data is much less expensive.

    I do wish that the booking systems would update their cache if a “hard” query showed the cached data to be out of date.

  7. I can see that if there is a query done on a price for a seldom booked item like a rental car at an out of the way location that the cache might be slightly outdated and the price is not current. But, after someone books that item and the new price is retrieved, why isn’t the stale cache updated? Are these two separate systems (search and booking) that don’t talk to each other? I agree with the OP on this one – it is a scam by online booking sites to draw you in because, after you are there, you are more likely to book there than go somewhere else.

    1. Excellent questions. I was wondering the same thing. “Nowheresville” might be subject to outdated cache, but New Orleans? And according to the OP, it was still outdated long after she’d purchased at the higher rate.

      Hotwire could well be correct that this is unavoidable under their current system, but it’s hard to believe this couldn’t be fixed or improved upon if they wanted to do so.

    2. I was thinking the same thing. The cached database should be updated when she booked. Hotwire was made aware of the new price when she booked. I think this is like the maketing scheme “As low as $10.95”, but they left out the “As low as” part. This sounds like bad database programming that works in Hotwire’s favor.

    3. Question for computer gurus.
      Is the usage of the term ‘cache’ here a misnomer?
      My old fashioned understanding of cache is the usage of fast, temporary storage near the CPU so it does not add more latency to the process (compared to waiting for a read-write operation to hard disk). But the information or data inside the cache is fresh not obsolete.

      In the OTA excuse, they know that the UNDERLYING DATA or information is volatile and can change in a heartbeat. Given that, then WHY WOULD THEY CACHE STALE DATA?

      By design, their data is not going to be accurate at first glance, so bait and switch is just a normal expectation in their system.

      1. “Cache” can mean anything that’s stored such that it can be retrieved faster. A CPU has its own cache (or even multiple levels of cache) that accesses recently accessed data that’s faster than looking it up from the main memory.

        Your web browser has a “cache” that typically means data stored to the drive and/or memory. Pulling it up from the drive is generally faster than reloading it from the internet, and reloading from the internet means using up bandwidth and/or adding to data taken from data limits. That’s why when you go back to a previous web page, the photos typically don’t slowly load. They’re still located in the “cache” and can be pulled up quickly rather than get reloaded from the internet.

        As far as “cache” goes in this context, it could be used to describe a system where web pages are stored temporarily just in case there’s a dispute as to what happened. Even if you “reload” the same URL each time, there could be a unique identifier for each reload attempt in the “cache”. Anything like this could be used for a forensic query of previous activity.

      2. In this case, I believe it is more of a copy of information stored on the web site’s computers used to generate the search results. For example, the OTA might receive a dump of pricing information from the rental companies once a day (or even once a week) which shows the lowest possible price for a rental at a specific location. Then when you type in your search, it returns that information from the dump. This saves bandwidth and computer time for the OTA which might be doing thousands of searches a minute. Since most of the searches don’t result in purchases, this saves the OTA quite a lot of money.

        Is it the right thing to do? For the OTA yes. For the consumer, not so much. It is the same thing as when you book an airline ticket on a web site and you start at the page that says “Fly to Europe starting at $299.” Of course there are never any $299 tickets for the dates and cities you want to fly. The OTA search pages should also state prices “from” the low amount instead of “at” that amount. This, while really not any different than what is currently shown, at least seems more acceptable.

  8. I believe that the OP might have missed the final rate prior to booking but at the same time the searches should not have come back at a later time with a lower rate. Despite the explanation from the company I believe that they count on enough people not paying attention to the final price just before they accept to make a few more dollars.

    It appears that their ‘cached pricing’ is the bait. Once the OP had accepted the higher price shouldn’t the ‘cached price’ have been update since that was now the actual price for that rental?

    1. “Despite the explanation from the company I believe that they count on
      enough people not paying attention to the final price just before they
      accept to make a few more dollars.”

      I agree with this, 100%. I don’t agree that the price changed AFTER she booked, which was the reason for the OP to begin with.

  9. SCAM.
    Their techno-babble cover doesn’t make any sense. Translation: We rip people off, blame it on technology, and then think we’re awesome.

    Just another reason to avoid Hotwire, kids.

  10. how does a rental company know days in advance what kind of car they will have when u show up?? iseem to never get the car i requested when renting,..they then try to sell u an upgrade or else u have zip.. the whole rental car industry needs some cleaning up in soooo many ways and the sub-set of taxes u pay is nuts..but not just the rental co fault it is also the airport and city and county layers who want to get some of ur hard earned $$$$

    1. They have broad categories. However, sometimes it’s a dynamic marketplace. There are no penalties for no-shows, so they might overbook knowing that.

      I’ve arrived in Maui with a reservation for an intermediate-sized car. They were out of them but gave me a minivan at the same price. It ate gas, but my passengers loved the extra legroom.

      They’re not going to give reservation and say tough luck you either pay double or get nothing. They’ll often just take a hit when the overbook knowing that more often than not it works for them.

  11. Another reason why contracts and tickets printed on paper, with an actual signature, are better than electronic forms with buttons which can never really be proven as having been seen, acknowledged, and accepted by the consumer.

    1. That’s just not true. A customer can claim that they did see something in the paper contract just as easily. Moreover, an unscrupulous person can just as easily replace pages with doctored pages.
      I recently litigated a case in which the defendant was accused of forging my client’s name to a contract. We settled confidentially.
      Had it been an electronic contract, we would have had an infinitely easier time as the metatag data would have substantiated or refuted the various allegations and claims.
      Its the same reason why the electornic contracts you sign with car rental agencies are actually better than ink signatures.

  12. Whatever the case, Hotwire should be confirming the same rate as whatever it was when she pressed the Book button, not give some techno-babbly response to justify “Sorry, you’re out of luck.”

    If I ever use Hotwire or any other “nonrefundable” booking site, and I never have, I’d keep screen shots at my end of whatever the transaction rate is as well.

      1. No, Hotwire confirmed a different rate than what she saw when she clicked “Book.” There needs to be a rate freeze at that point, not a confirmation with a higher rate. When that happens, it’s wrong.

  13. Wow, booking a non-ref car at one price and being charged a higher price? If that’s not a B&S, I don’t know what is. Hotwire should clearly, make that emphatically, state that ‘the rate might be higher’ on the initial screen, before booking. Then the consumer can choose to take the chance or not.

  14. Its getting to the point where you shoudl whip out your iPad/cellphone and take pics of each screen through the process..Sheesh!

  15. Put me in the camp with those who feel that this is, if not a scam, at least an indefensible bait-n-switch. Honestly I don’t care if the higher price flashed on the screen before she bought it – it shouldn’t have gone up to begin with. As far as I’m concerned, the price they showed her in earlier screens was a QUOTE, not a negotiation. What kind of negotiation have you ever heard of in which the seller gets to UP the price once the buyer agrees to buy? Total BS! That right there is one of the slimiest things I’ve heard a travel provider say, and as far as I’m concerned it rules out Hotwire from EVER getting a penny of my money. I don’t do business with snakes like that.

    This whole scheme is one of my biggest complaints with purchasing travel online. It can take so long to get to the point where you’ve found a product, itinerary, and price that you want…so you finally make your decision, begin the process of buying, and BAM the price goes up! Whether it’s taxes/fees that aren’t disclosed until the last screen, or this “cache” BS, doesn’t matter – we don’t know the actual price until we have entered in all of our information and are ready to click the final purchase button. So then you have to go back and find all the previous options you found before, and enter in all of your information into THOSE sites before you get to see their actual price…and on and on. Oftentimes the one that ends up being the best price is one that had the highest price at first glance – because that option was HONEST from the start!

    It’s all a con. And after that sleazy explanation from Hotwire, they are permanently off my list.

    1. While the problem seems to happen more with third party booking sites, I’ve had two large hotel chains contact me to advise they would not honor a price booked on their own websites. While it is a bigger problem with OTA’s (not just Hotwire) the only travel providers that failed to honor their price after booking were those two. I was schooled on how to best handle it by my attorney brother and, without threatening legal action, was able to get them to honor the original rate. (It took several calls back and forth.)

      My crime, according to the hotels? I booked too far in advance before their rates were fully in place. The rates I was seeing were “old”. Six months after booking is when they called to tell me the “new” rates. One even accused me of “hacking” their reservation system to apply a non-valid rate with the date selected. (I wish I knew how to do that!)

      1. What did you just say, Mike? The hotel will not honor the rate on their website?

        So you mean you booked very early, say more than 6 months prior.
        You get a booking confirmation with a rate. Then several months later they tell you the rate has changed and it is higher. What did you lawyer say about the legality of this?

        1. Yes. I booked almost a year out on both. In both cases they called me about 6 months after booking.

          One took a one night deposit. Since money had been exchanged, they accepted the reservation as booked after I used the term “consideration” when referring to the deposit. “Your hotel made an offer, I accepted and provided ‘consideration’, your hotel accepted ‘consideration’.” I got a call back a few days later that they now WOULD honor the rate. (This was the guy who accused me of hacking into their system.) My lawyer brother believes when the word “consideration” was used instead of “deposit”, they got scared of the legalese. The practice of taking a deposit may have actually worked in my favor to solidify the contract.

          The second one turned out to be the day the hotel opened the bookings for the day I wanted. (I didn’t know that fact at the time.) There was an event going on in that city I wanted to attend. I got a room before they loaded the “event rates”. On that one, a local sales manager at the hotel asked me to cancel. I simply refused and showed up 6 months later…reservation intact. I kept monitoring it online and had a backup hotel (more expensive…not as nice) that I cancelled after checking in to the original one. No deposit was made on this one (or my backup).

          I should mention, the first room was also booked for an event period and by the time they called me the rooms were literally pricing 10x more than when I booked. They also claimed at that point the rate was loaded incorrectly when I booked, after they called me a hacker.

          And, yes, both rooms were booked on the respective hotels corporate websites. Both are large, respectable, well known chains.

    2. But haven’t you ever been to a website where things change as your browsing? Travel websites are notorious for this. Airlines are a great example. The cheapest airline tickets require advanced purchase and are capacity controlled. Since nothing is guaranteed until you actually book, if someone buys the last discounted fare, even after you clicked on the fare (but before you clicked Buy), it would make sense that the cheaper fare would no longer be available, causing an increase in price. This has happened to me at least a dozen times, both on airline And third party websites. In every case, the new amount was clearly shown before booking. Then again, I always read what I am agreeing to carefully. I’ve done bookings on Hotwire as well, and while this has not happened to me there, I’d venture a guess that a reputable site like Hotwire is not changing things on customers after they hit Buy. The rate definitely increased from the rate shown in initial search results, but I strongly doubt the OP’s claim that The updated rate was not shown prior to her hitting Buy. Hell, Hotwire offered up documentation of the fact.

      Then again, if it were published on here, half the comments would be calling it a forgery/conspiracy created by Hotwire deliberately to scam customers.

      1. I’ve had the rate go down on more than one occasion both while browsing and when I put something on hold. I was floored.

  16. The key here is that Hotwire is asserting that the final “details” screen before she clicked the final “book” button committing her did indeed have the updated price — and they sent Chris a screen shot (probably recreated from the session log of what sent via HTTP). Chris, can you post a censored version of that screenshot they sent you? Does Ms. Gandy recognize that screen and believe that it didn’t have that updated price, or does she not remember it coming up at all?

    This is the important question — it would be fraud to only show the updated price after the nonrefundable “contract” was entered, and if so that should be pursued vigorously. On the other hand, these 3rd party sites do indeed cache their data, and it’s common to have a good price go away when you try to book (a reason I just get an idea of the best prices from them, then go to the source to actually book).

  17. I use the Galileo booking system. I have 10 to 12 wild things a month that happen with pricing, but not 1 of them have ever affected the client. I am in control of each and every transaction. Online travelers only assume that they know what they are doing and if they got the best deal. Each site has a different method of booking. We use direct access that guarantees what I see is what I get. I know that Hotwire is not using a direct access booking engine if they can have a change like that. I would file with the DOT against Hotwire.

  18. Mm-hmm. I would use this story as a reason to avoid Hotwire. Their reasoning that “she still received a good value” because the final price was below retail does NOT meet the traveler’s expectation. She wanted the agreed-upon price…and didn’t get it. And Hotwire copped a plea. Fail.

  19. I think I’m going to start doing a full screen capture (.mov thru Quicktime) rather than just taking screen shots when I do online bookings. More proof on my side if something goes wrong and easy to show the world if necessary.

  20. Don’t assume the print screen copy you have will help, but get it away. I am awaiting a call from a supervisor on a payment I made, based on the steps for a mortgage payoff that I printed out on the day I made our final house payment (or so I thought). I could get a lawyer in on this, but it will be cheaper to let it go, make the payment, again, through another channel. Right now, my interpretation and that of their employees, who read the same rules that are online, who I have spoken to twice, seem to be different than those accepting the payments and I am the loser on this.

  21. I was about to book a car, so out of curiosity I looked at Hot Wire. The first page shows rates, but doesn’t say what company, and only in some cases says the car type. When I click a price it then tells me what company, and in some cases still doesn’t say the car type. My favorite one showed a question mark for the car, and said I would at least get a compact, but that its priced low, like a compact. Is that suppoed to make me think its better to pay more for the chance of getting a car nicer than the one I am paying for? That last/second page is the page where I finish the booking. Of course, I did not book.

    Next, I went to the actual car rental agency sites, and guess what? An intermediate car was $20 cheaper on average than a compact on Hot Wire. Why on earth would anyone ever use Hot Wire? Do they really think people will see there commercial, go directly to their site, and book without even looking at the actual vendors sites? I guess that’s whats happening, but it really shocks me that they cost more.

    1. Hotwire may or may not be cheaper. I’ve seen it go both ways. I’m not a fan, but it has a legitimate place in the travel world.

    2. Several rental companies have that kind of special pricing. If Hotwire or Priceline is offering it, it’s because that’s actually in line with the rental companies’ normal pricing schemes.

      Dollar calls it “Lock Low & Go”. Thrifty (same company actually) calls it “Wild Card”. They only promise a “compact or bigger”.

      I’ve actually found that Priceline often has the same rates where you know which rental company. They do also have some specials only available on their iPhone app. However, pricing changes often and when you find a better deal it’s easy just to cancel or even just ignore.

    3. This is one of many reasons that I like working for a major rental company. The ability to log in to the employee website and book deeply discounted no-obligation reservations for myself, friends and family is awesome. You get the super low rates that Hotwire offers minus a lot of the negatives (strict no cancellation, possibility of being stuck with shadyass company, etc.).

  22. It seems we have reached a point where you not only have to take pictures of your rental car before you drive off, you need to take pictures of your screen while you are booking the rental car! Geesh. 🙁

  23. I travel a lot, I’ve used both hotwire and priceline, over the years what I find works best for me is to watch the prices on priceline and hot wire, but to book my car through one of the known rental agencies, which I have a membership in, if the hotwire or priceline rate is significantly lower than the confirmed rental, I will book with HW or PL, sometimes even waiting to do this after my flight has landed while I collect my luggage, If the price suddenly changes I already have a car rented so it won’t matter to me. If I switch to HW or Pl, I just cancel my rez with whatever agency. The advantage that I see with doing that is that if you are a member of the agency whose car you get, they will still treat you well when you show your card, and there will be no hassle to upgrade you or sell you insurance or CHARGE you if you bring the car back early. Also some of the “special charges” that they add to regular rentals are not charged to prepaid rentals, so you really do have to do some research as some airports have taxes ( they call them something else) that can end up as expensive as the cost of the rental car, sometimes more. Mostly they will upgrade me for free because I always rent the cheapest car and most agencies run out of them.

  24. This is most certainly a scam. I have seen this many times on Hotwire. The price goes one way and that is up, not down. I would like for them to refute this with stats on what percent go up and what percent go down!

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