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.

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.

surveys & polls

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

With nearly 20 years in the industry, over 128 airport covered in the U.S. and Canada, and over 1,000 Hotel and Parking Partners-we provide travelers the best options on how to get to the airport when flying. Whether you want to; drive yourself and park near an Airport (Airport Parking), stay the night before your flight at an airport hotel and leave your car (Hotel and Parking Package), or take a shared Shuttle/Private Car/Limo to the Airport- we got you covered. The best deals can be found online, and booking a reservation has never been easier. You can explore all of our options by visiting us at,,, and

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Cavalry Travel Insurance

Cavalry takes the worry of out travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

Since its inception over three decades ago, G1G has continued to revolutionize the travel insurance industry by being the only aggregator to operate a customer portal, placing all of the user's primary needs in one place. We have continued to innovate and disrupt the market by reimagining the way travel insurance can be delivered to the end user in ways no competition can. Simply put, no one knows the market as well as its founders and no one else shares G1G values and mission.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International,, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Send this to a friend