You can’t negotiate your Hotwire discount after you click confirm

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By Christopher Elliott

Just in case you’re wondering, you can’t negotiate your Hotwire discount after you click confirm.

Eden Benbow found that out the hard way when she recently booked a Hotwire “blind” deal. Once Hotwire revealed the name of her hotel and the rate, she discovered she hadn’t gotten such a good deal. And she asked Hotwire to do better.

“I did not receive the advertised value,” she says. “I attempted to cancel and asked for a refund. But Hotwire customer service told me they do not need to honor the advertised savings.”

Wow. Didn’t need to honor the advertised savings? Really?

As you can tell from the header, this case went absolutely nowhere. But I’m writing about it today so that it will lead you somewhere, hopefully. Read the fine print really carefully before you book through one of the opaque sites like Hotwire or Priceline. Otherwise you could become the poster child for a bad blind purchase. (Related: He found a great rate on Rentalcars.com. But then he signed the Europcar contract.)

That’s no way to negotiate your Hotwire discount

Here are a few details. Benbow asked for a night in Madison, Wis. Using Hotwire, she found a “blind” rate that advertised a crossed-out rate of $157 and a discounted rate of $86. She ended up paying $103 per night.

“When I contacted the hotel immediately after booking, they told me my room was in the lowest tier of $139 to $149 rooms, around 9 percent below the crossed-out rate quoted,” she says. (Related: A suburban spat over a Hotwire hotel room.)

That’s not what Hotwire promised her — or was it? (Here’s how to fix your own consumer problems.)

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Benbow called Hotwire and ran the numbers by a representative. In order for this discount to be legit, she says, Hotwire would have to honor a 45 percent discount. Would the company reimburse her the difference?

The answer: No.

You can't negotiate your Hotwire discount
The truth about a failure to negotiate your Hotwire discount

Truth is, a Hotwire discount isn’t always what it claims to be. This site is littered with cases of Hotwire deals gone wrong. Whenever things go sideways, Hotwire refers to the fine print in its offers.

And what, exactly does that fine print say? Unfortunately, savings aren’t based on the rate of individual properties.

Rather, “savings [are] based on median published rate we’ve found on leading retail travel sites in the last 24-48 hours for the same neighborhood, star rating, and stay dates.”

In other words, when you negotiate your Hotwire discount, that rate is a black box. Hotwire may be able to tell you what it is, but it won’t tell you how it arrived at that number. You can use a site like BidGoogles to find out if a bid is worth making, but in the end, you just have to take Hotwire’s word for it.

Can you negotiate your Hotwire Discount?
This Hotwire discount case is dismissed, but …

Our advocacy team turned down Benbow’s “negotiate your Hotwire discount” case. I sincerely wish we didn’t have to. In a normal world, it would be safe to assume that crossed-out rate is the actual hotel rate, and the savings are actual savings.

But we live in a crazy, upside-down world, where lawyers get to define our reality. Technically, Hotwire is right. But it is also wrong, at least morally. It shouldn’t make these claims and should honor requests like Benbow’s.

It is misleading customers, and that’s wrong.

Hotwire's discount offer is:

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Update (3/19): Benbow says she is still communicating with Hotwire because “the ‘45% off’ text does not have an asterisk linking to a disclaimer and does not say ‘Up to 45% off’ which is standard web practice. In addition, she says there is an email from Hotwire — which she declines to share with our advocacy team — that sheds new light on the case. Because of that, she says, our summary of her case is “incorrect.” So noted, and we stand ready to update the story at any time.

Benbow is also unhappy that we have published her full name, even though she gave us written permission to do so. We follow AP style and use full names for our sources, which is a standard in journalism.

Given her response, perhaps a better headline to this story would have been, “You can’t negotiate the terms of our advocacy after you click confirm.”

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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