“This place is a dump”

quintaIs a nonrefundable hotel rate really nonrefundable? Not really.

Even when you’re talking about the strictest of nonrefundability rules, like those imposed by so-called “opaque” sites such as Hotwire and Priceline, room rates can be refunded. Under the right circumstances.

Rebecca Elliott — no relation to me — had one of those occasions yesterday.

She explains her dilemma:

This morning, I booked a room in Marshall, Texas, for my 63-year-old parents through Hotwire.

The Hotwire Hot Rate quoted the La Quinta Marshall hotel as having a 2.5 star rating, but this place is a dump. It smells like dog feces, smoke and is mostly filthy. The parking lot does not have adequate security, lighting or locked exterior doors.

To make matters worse, this hotel does not even have an elevator. My father has horrible arthritis in his knees and ankles, so the fact that this “2.5 star hotel” doesn’t even have an elevator is just unacceptable. I tried to cancel my reservation due to inadequate facilities, but have so far not had any luck. The Hotwire customer service reps say I cannot refund my room. Please help!

I’m not sure if an elevator is an amenity every hotel guest should expect, but clean rooms are a must. If the hotel doesn’t meet its 2.5-star standards, Hotwire shouldn’t be selling it.

And what exactly are those standards?

These midscale establishments offer solid service that’s more than just the basics. Features often include:

* Guestrooms with couches and dedicated desks
* On-site dining
* An attractive, inviting lobby

A business administrative or health and fitness center may also be available. These properties are usually located near shopping or dining, and can be found in both downtown or resort areas and smaller cities.

There didn’t appear to be anything attractive or inviting about the hotel Elliott’s parents were booked in.

I asked Hotwire about her case. A few hours later, I heard back from Elliott:

You must be a Hotwire.com refund ninja! After receiving your last email, a Hotwire representative contacted me within an hour. She apologized for the inconvenience and offered to refund and rebook my trip at a more suitable hotel. After working with me to find a place in the requested area and star rating, we were unable to find anything. She refunded my entire reservation in full and sent me a refund confirmation within minutes. Thank you so much for your help.

I’m not sure about the ninja thing, but I’m reasonably sure that Hotwire would have done the right thing — eventually.

Bottom line: You have the right to a clean room when you book through an online travel agency like Hotwire. Or you have a right to a full refund.

Update (7 p.m.): Hotwire explains what happened.

As a general rule, we ask that customers follow-through with their check-in process in order to validate pre-stay quality concerns about a particular property. Oftentimes the customer reviews that are being cited can be outdated or otherwise not representative of the current state of the property. Or they may be specific issues that the property can easily work around. For example, by no longer booking guests into a particularly problematic room. If the guest isn’t able to get satisfactory resolution with the property at that time, that confirmation empowers us to then re-accommodate the guest as needed.

In many cases, the potential problems no longer exist and customers are very happy with their stay. However, sometimes the problems are confirmed and we have taken appropriate action. In this case, the customer lived nearby the hotel and was able to visit the property, which confirmed some of the quality issues. We were then able to work with the customer appropriately.

We’re researching this specific property more based on the feedback. Our current rating is in line with several other major online travel agencies, and ours is even lower in some cases. But we will certainly execute due diligence in looking into the quality concerns.

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