Thanks a lot, Hotwire! I’m stuck with the worst room in the house

Here’s a phrase you hear a lot in my line of work: You get what you pay for.

Helene Goldberg thought she’s found a bargain on a hotel room at a Country Inns & Suites property in Phoenix last month. But there was a catch.

I’ll let her explain:

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When I arrived, I was told that when you book through Hotwire, you can only get a smoking room and one bed.

First of all, my husband and I don’t smoke and would hate to stay in a smoking room. The girl at the desk then said that she had two rooms to show us. When we got to the room, it was under a stairwell, it was dark and deary with one double bed and extremely small.

We told her that it was unacceptable and would not stay there. She then gave us the key to the other room, which turned out to be next door and was exactly the same as the first room she showed us.

Mind you, it was 2:30 in the afternoon and people had not checked in yet. We told her that the second room was unacceptable. She told us that those were the only two rooms available.

Hotwire told her the room was nonrefundable. What now?

We have a couple of issues here. Let’s start with the hotel employee’s statement that Hotwire only books smoking rooms. Although Hotwire can only guarantee a non-smoking room if the property itself is smoke-free, it doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be stuck in a smoking room. So she was wrong about that.

The second matter is the room selection. We know that hotels sometimes reserve the worst rooms for guests who book their accommodations through discount Web sites, and that appears to be happening here. But we can’t be sure. Maybe the hotel was booked solid with a wedding party, and these were indeed the only two available rooms. I wouldn’t be so quick to assume Country Inns & Suites was punishing Goldberg for booking through Hotwire.

Hotwire shouldn’t have thrown the book in her face. Instead, it should have worked with her to make sure she had an acceptable room. Although there are no specific terms that would guarantee this, the site implies she would be taken care of in this kind of situation. (“Our hotel partners will do their best to make your stay as comfortable as possible.”)

I contacted Hotwire on Goldberg’s behalf. Here’s what it had to say:

As an opaque booking provider, we’re able to provide customers with substantial discounts by helping our partners fill unsold rooms. By the nature of that model, guests booking through Hotwire will be provided with a room that can comfortably accommodate the number of guests specified, and will also be “run-of-house”. That means the specific type of room will be determined based upon availability at check-in.

Whenever possible, we do request that a non-smoking room be provided for our customers. Our partners are also very good about accommodating special requests from guests when they can. However, there are rare cases where the only room available on a particular night could be a smoking room. For customers looking to avoid smoking rooms entirely, they should keep an eye on the amenities list for each property. We provide a notation for properties that don’t allow smoking. By selecting one of those, you’re guaranteed to get a non-smoking room.

In this case, we did understand Helene’s concern, which is why we offered her the total cost of her reservation in Hotdollar credits with our site. Those can be used on any future bookings with us. However, we can’t work on her behalf to get a full refund because the property did not violate the terms of use.

We’ve re-contacted Helene to explain our terms of use, and to walk her through how to find non-smoking hotels. Hopefully, she’ll use her Hotdollars to book a great trip with us in the future.

This wasn’t the outcome Goldberg was hoping for, but at least she’ll be able to book another Hotwire room in the future, at no extra charge. Hopefully, she’ll get a room she likes.

(Photo: Justin Shearer/Flickr Creative Commons)