Sacré Coeur! This isn’t the hotel I booked

When it comes to Hotwire, you know the drill: You book an unnamed hotel in a vaguely-defined neighborhood in exchange for a steep discount.

But the reservation is nonrefundable.

Well, Paul Converse knew what he was getting himself into when he reserved a Hotwire hotel in the Montmartre-Sacré Coeur area of Paris for two nights recently. What he didn’t understand — and what many Hotwire customers don’t seem to get — is how the company defines “neighborhood.”

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“I immediately realized that the exact location of the hotel — in the Batignolles area on the rue de Rome — was nowhere near Montmartre-Sacré Coeur,” he says. “It is a good half-hour walk to the district where friends I will be visiting have a small apartment and even by metro it’s 22 minutes, including an 11-minute walk to the nearest Metro station.”

Converse was booked at a Best Western, which is a chain hotel, so he figured he had a few options. He started with an appeal to Hotwire.

“They refused, saying that all bookings are final and that the hotel was within the map area,” he says.

Converse pointed out that the Best Western was not even in the same arrondissement and that their description had explicitly stated the hotel would be in Montmartre-Sacré Coeur.

What happens next is a little fuzzy. Converse says a Hotwire representative sided with him, and at some point he disputed the credit card charges. It’s unclear whether the Hotwire rep told him to place the item in dispute or whether he interpreted an employee’s sympathy for permission to contest his charges. At any rate, the booking quickly reappeared, with his credit card siding with Hotwire.

Hotwire told him its contract with Best Western precluded any refund, so he contacted Best Western.

“Best Western said they would be willing to refund the reservation, but since I had made the reservation through Hotwire, I would have to get it canceled through them,” he says.

Converse forwarded the Best Western response to Hotwire, suggesting that as a compromise, he would be willing to accept a credit for a future stay at another Best Western. Hotwire said “no.”

At this point, I decided to get involved. Normally, when Hotwire turns someone down, it’s a final decision. All of this back and forth made me wonder if the map hadn’t steered Converse wrong, and whether a refund might be in order.

Here’s Hotwire’s response. I’ve edited it for brevity.

The Best Western Hotel Opera Batignolles does indeed fall well within our listed Paris neighborhood map, and we will not be able to issue a refund in this case.

To help customers refine their searches and bookings, we try to provide as much information as possible on our inventory before purchases are made. However, as one way of protecting the exact hotel’s identity, our display maps will oftentimes combine designated areas when creating the “neighborhoods” by which customers can select inventory. This allows us to source hotels at big discounts, which we then pass along to our customers.

It appears that Mr. Converse wanted a hotel that was geographically closer to a very specific area, but Hotwire provided no guarantee that this would happen because properties in the Montmartre – Moulin Rouge – Sacre Coeur Area neighborhood can fall anywhere within the noted boundaries.

As part of our agreement with our suppliers, bookings must also be non-refundable, which is also clearly communicated prior to booking. In this instance, our processes were all working correctly, and the information that we provided before booking was not taken into account.

Converse booked a different hotel and ate the charge for the Best Western.

“By chance, my friends and I went by bus to another part of Paris to visit a museum,” he says. “We passed the area of the hotel supposedly in Montmartre. It would have been a terrible choice had I stayed there.”

Should Hotwire have refunded Paul Converse's room?

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57 thoughts on “Sacré Coeur! This isn’t the hotel I booked

  1. I’ve been on the Hotwire site a long time ago, but never booked a room with them. I seem to remember that there were maps that show the layout of each neighborhood. He should have been able to see the area on the map that was covered with his selection. With my luck, I always assume the farthest point on the map from where I want to be is where I’ll end up being booked.

  2. I’m not quite sure what is going on here. Did the OP not look at the map on Hotwire’s site defining the neighborhood boundaries? Or did he look at it, but disagree with Hotwire’s definition of the neighborhood boundaries, assuming he could fight it?

    I use the opaque option on Priceline and Hotwire when I am willing to live with the restrictions they come with for a substantial savings. Unless you know what your doing (and understand it) you can be playing with fire.

  3. Hotwire (and Priceline) has always shown a map of what they consider the various regions of a city to be; ignore the map at your peril. Perhaps they label a hotel as “Montmartre-Sacré Coeur” when that happens to be the most prominent section of the multiple parts of Paris the section covers. (Similar to a US postal address being listed as “Anytown” even if you are outside the Anytown corporate limits, and often even if you are nearer Tinyburg.)

    I would not have issued a refund unless the hotel was outside the area where Hotwire said it would be.

  4. I guess this just reinforces that if you want to be in a certain hotel or even in a certain area, Hotwire / Priceline are not appropriate companies for you to use.

    And the answer to the poll question is “No” as long as the hotel is within the identified area on the map.

  5. Users have to realize the Hotwire boundaries are not the same as the local political/cultural boundaries. Once again, if you want to stay in a particular location make sure you book it. Hotwire was in the right. It is their business model.

  6. Hotwire and Priceline name their zones after a desirable portion of the area but often include in the zone portions that are undesirable either by distance or by the nature of the place. If they didn’t do this and separated the less desirable portions into a separate bidding zone, no one would book in the less desirable zone, and that would hurt their business. Naive bidders, such as the OP, will get burned by the practice unless they go for 5 star places which rarely are in the “wrong” place within the zone. Study up or learn by experience.

  7. This is the second case in recent weeks where someone wanted their money back because a location didn’t end up being THEIR desired specific location. (the cruise lady who didn’t get to Cozumel) When will people learn that if location is important, you have to pay for it. I’ve never used Hotwire for that reason.

  8. Doing a little research, the Batignolles area is clearly within the area that Hotwire defines in it’s “Montmartre – Moulin Rouge – Sacre Coeur” area. It took me two minutes to figure that out. So, seems like he picked an area, didn’t like the results, and then tried to get his money back. I would have to say “no” to this one. As others have said, if you want a precise location, this is not the way to go.

  9. this is another great example where a travel professional could have saved this man a ton of time and money. pity he didn’t consider this option.

  10. There is an almost comical aspect here. You go to a foreign city and it is beneath you to have to use the Metro, or have to ‘walk’ for ten minutes. They should have packed a Segway! Of course, they could have asked their friends to come to their ‘way out of the way’ hotel, as they sipped an Aperitif.

  11. The hotel is about 1/4 mile inside the Hotwire boundaries. The OP can disagree with Hotwire definition of neighborhood, but he wasn’t scammed.

    But, as usual, the OP or the article didn’t share all information with us. The Hotwire area is Montmartre-Moulim Rouge-Sacré Coeur, not only Montmartre-Sacré Coeur as stated in the text. The hotel is closer to Molim Rouge area than Sacre Coeur are. If OP was looking for cabaret nights, he could like the hotel.

    Usually you need to walk a little to go to a subway station. 5 minutes is a good estimate. 11 minutes walk from hotel to sub station is not that bad, and he forgot to mention how much was the walking time from the station to his friend’s house.

    I found in Hotwire hotels in this area starting at US$75/night. In Paris?!? And he was expecting to be on the Sacre Coeur hill? Come on!

  12. Seriously….having specific location needs/requirements/desires in a foreign location is NOT the time to suddenly play cheap and use Hotwire. The wrong hotel (especially in Europe, because there are some really BAD ones) can ruin an otherwise beautiful vacation. Save Hotwire for that long weekend in a more familiar location, not PARIS!! Yeesh.

  13. I live in Paris 3 months a year and walking in the city is WONDERFUL. See the sights — meet the people. ENJOY!!!

  14. Montmartre is a very old neighborhood. If you book a hotel there, you need to know exactly which hotel you are getting. Save the Hotwire roulette for that convention stay in Cleveland, where you can safely have it pick any one of the midlist chain motels near the Interstate.

  15. Indeed. Even, non-opaque businesses do the same. I can’t tell you the number
    of places that use the term Beverly Hills in their name, when they’re located miles outside of Beverly Hills.

  16. Having never used Hotwire, Priceline, etc., I’m assuming that their definitions of area are very large so that they can include many different levels of pricing. I usually book directly with a hotel and have never been disappointed with my location. I’ve probably spent a little more on the hotel but its bought satisfaction and saved me the hassle of dealing with an unsatisfactory location.

  17. The op is imprudent, but there is value is being right there by the metro. I didn’t appreciate that until I stayed in Arlington and the hotel had a metro stop inside the hotel. It was amazing.

  18. The only way that Hotwire should consider a refund is if it truly had a glitch that included a hotel outside of the area they showed. From experience, I know that the booking areas in Hotwire and Priceline can cover a large geographical area.

    Since Mr. Converse had the restriction of being able to quickly walk to a certain destination, he should have been willing to pay more and book a known location to be certain that this condition was met. Instead, he decided that the discount was more important and ended up paying a lot more in the end.

  19. “…but its bought satisfaction and saved me the hassle of dealing with an unsatisfactory location.” And that is worth so much. There are times to pinch pennies, and times to understand the value of spending a little extra.

  20. I have even gone so far as to call the front desk and say “hotel XYZ is offering a room for $x.xx/night, what is the best you can do because I prefer your hotel.” And many times over I have received steep discounts from the hotel itself.

    I did this last winter in a snow storm and stayed at a Fairfield inn in Branson MO for $39/night.

  21. How ironic, Carver, I just returned yesterday from Arlington. The Metro was just around the corner (Hyatt Hotel). We used it often. Even stopping at the Mall (Smithsonian) we had to walk a great deal from museum to museum.
    I have traveled around the world, and found walking thru the city was the very best way see details people miss and lose out on seeing the flavor of a different country.
    Thanks for your comment. Philip

  22. In the cruise lady case, she booked a Cozumel cruise, not Bahamas, so technically it’s not a desired location, it was what was sold to her. But I get that cruise lines have a ton of legalese protecting them in these cases

  23. Did this on a tour of SE US and never booked a hotel in advance, just played them against each other when i knew what town I would be overnighting in.

  24. I have no sympathy here at all. When you do a Hotwire search, it comes up with a map with the regions clearly indicated. Here is the problem some people have: they see Paris broken up into about 25 regions and assume these regions are small. So, they book a hotel. Then they see where it is and they do directions to see how far it is from somewhere they want to go and, lo and behold, those few inches on the map turn out to be miles.

    Paris is big. Even though they break it into 25 different regions in Hotwire, the Montmartre – Moulin Rouge – Sacré Coeur area is about 11 miles across.

  25. This is precisely why I don’t use opaque sites like Hotwire & Priceline to book hotel rooms. If you are particular about a hotel’s location or amenities, that is not the time to go the cheapest route. I will gladly pay a little more to know exactly which hotel I will be booking.

  26. Especially since Metro stop Europe appears to be less than three blocks from the hotel they were given and according to Google Maps is a 2 minute walk. The other stop Rome is a whopping 6 minute walk.

  27. Funny thing happened with my priceline bookyourownprice reservation a month ago. I had intended to stay at the Crowne Plaze but instead was put into the Holiday Inn about a mile away. As it turned out, my wife liked the Holiday Inn better.

    In general, name your own price means putting price ahead of location. If the area for a region is large, you have to ask yourself whether it’s worth it to get booked as far away from the ideal location as possible within that region. In some cases, it doesn’t matter.

    Listening to the above story, the half hour metro ride/walk shouldn’t have been a big deal. In general with Paris, though, some locations are really rough and you’ll get robbed or pickpocketed.

  28. “It is their business model.”

    I was scrolling to see if someone else already posted what i was going to say. Since you did, I will just vote up your comment.

    hotwire makes their living on being a bargain- but all customers seem to see is “bargain” not what it took to create the bargain (putting the customer’s bid price out there to any hotel that might take it- even if it’s one the very edge of the correct neighborhood.)

    It’s like if a daemon offered you a million dollars- tax free, no one would ever suspect a thing. Most people would question it. But some people would say “free money!” and only later realize that they now owe the daemon their soul/first born/etc.

  29. Then you’ll love the Hotel Philadelphia in NYC. It’s old and cracks are in the walls, but otherwise clean. Walk downstairs and you’re at Penn Station. Walk a block over, and you can go to Brighton Beach from that metro. All for $110 a night with breakfast included!

  30. There are sites on how to make the best bid and understand the system. When you make a bid, it displays the star levels of hotels available. You can then view these same hotels in its regular site. If there’s three 3 star hotels available in the region on the regular area of the site, then you can guess that they’ll probably be up for bid too and see if they appear acceptable.

  31. Agreed, sometimes price is more important. But if you’re someone who is concerned about being close to a particular area (as the OP was), then it’s often best to just look for a hotel on your own. Obviously, he didn’t have a problem finding a hotel to his satisfaction since he quickly booked one after finding out where Hotwire had placed him.
    Having been to Paris several times, I would not chance it by booking on an opaque site being that there are some seriously sketchy parts of the city.

  32. Do I think he got burned by Hotwire? Yes. Do I think Hotwire owes him a refund? No. As long as the areas are clearly marked, you should never assume you’ll be in the most desireable location.

    I never use Hotwire. I had a freind who booked thru Hotwire and ended up across the street from a prison. She stayed one night. But when the siren went off the 2nd night, that was it for her. We were both in Lincoln, NE for the same event, so she ended up staying with me the last three nights.

  33. When you turn control over to a 3rd party like Hotwire, be prepared to “reap the whirlwind” (see Hosea 8:7). It’s like playing roulette and betting on 23 red. If it lands on 8 or 10 black (next to 23 red, or “in the neighborhood”), you lose. And it’s non-refundable.

    That said, we have friends who successfully use opaque sites because they accept the risks. But because even a 4 start rating does not guarantee the condition of the property, we never use Hotwire or Priceline. However, if we could save $100 plus per night …

  34. According to Google Maps, the best available metro station to go to Sacre Coeur from this BW hotel is at 11 minutes walk.

  35. A half hour walk isn’t really that far away. I walk that far everyday and I’m definitely still in my own neighborhood.

  36. Oh, come on. If you’re using Hotwire, it’s your job to know that hotwire neighborhoods don’t necessarily line up with real life neighborhoods. They have maps and detailed info about the booking area — you have to look at it. Book at your own risk.

    I get that people don’t like this business model. It can be uncouth, for sure. But you know what you’re getting with them.

  37. Makes me think of the “Mystic Marriott,” which happens to be in Groton, CT, not Mystic. Technically, Mystic is a village in two towns, Groton and Stonington, but the hotel is definitely NOT in the village. I’m sure many unwary or unattentive travelers have been less than happy at the location.

  38. Sacré Bleu! Onze minutes!

    Actually, getting on at Rome which is very close you can very easily transfer to the correct line. Either way, the whole 11 minutes walking complaint is absolutely ridiculous considering the hotel is in the exact area of the map hotwire promised to find a hotel.

  39. I used Google maps to get directions to a restaurant in Atlanta. I knew the area, but needed to see where to turn. Google Maps had the restaurant 1 mile from its actual location. Spouse tried Google maps and it set him to a location 2 miles from where he needed to be. Back to old Map Quest. More accurate for me.

  40. Hotwire screwed up the location, but on the other hand it’s well-known that its pricing is nonrefundable and you have to “take it or leave it.” So, while I sympathize that he got a bad reservation, I’m not sure what you can or should do for him.

  41. How did Hotwire “screw up the location”? The hotel is within the map area it displays. It’s very unambiguous and only someone who didn’t bother to look at the map would miss.

  42. Sorry if I made the impression I disagree with you. My intention was to point that OP may had used Google for his estimate, due the precision, instead of really knowing the real,walking time. And the fact you pointed two other nearby stations (which Google didn’t offer as alternative), just reforces my opinion.

  43. what i don’t understand is why mr converse didn’t ask his friends to find him a “pension” or bed and breakfast in their neighborhood? there must be some, just takes a bit of research.
    there are even websites which provide bookings for those kinds of places. (me personally, i actually prefer those vs the large chain hotels – and have always had good luck with them.)

  44. If the OP was able to write Chris, then he must be a reader of his articles and should have known about the map issue. If you use an opaque site, then you have only yourself to blame if you don’t like the option that comes back. I have zero sympathy for the OP. Buck it up or don’t book on an opaque site.

  45. Once again, the comments are universally in favor of Hotwire keeping the money but the poll results show a slight margin in favor of the letter writer. Very strange.

  46. Hotwire is for people with very limited budgets. If you have the money to fly from the US to Paris, you should have the resources to book the hotel which suits you best.
    Hotwire has very simple and explicit terms by which the consumer must abide.
    Here’s the lesson..If you want to live on a beer budget, don’t expect champagne.

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