Hotwire’s hotels can be an incredible deal, but how far will the company go to sell even more rooms? Would it lie?
Before you answer, listen to Alexis Rudd, who contacted me several weeks ago. And then let’s hand the mike to Hotwire before you decide.
“I just had an extremely frustrating experience with Hotwire,” she says. “I realize that Hotwire hotels are always a bit of a gamble, but they also now include a TripAdvisor rating when booking hotels.”
Here’s what happened. Rudd was looking for a hotel in Ocean City, Md. The property she selected had a Hotwire rating of 1.5, but its TripAdvisor rating was 4.5 (averaged over 101-300 ratings).
“I actually took a screenshot to email my husband,” she says. “I trust TripAdvisor reviews, and so I decided to take a chance on booking this hotel. After booking through Hotwire, I looked up the hotel, the Suntan Inn, on TripAdvisor, and it had never been rated, so there is no way that it can have a TripAdvisor rating of 4.5.”
Rudd called Hotwire, and even after spending an hour and a half on the phone, the company would not let her cancel the reservation.
“The best they would do was to let me rebook, and have to take the same chance again, but for a higher price,” she says. “One of the three customer service persons I talked to at Hotwire implied that I should have known that the hotel would be the Suntan Inn based on the hotel the last customer had gotten, but Hotwire’s official stance is that ‘these hotels are examples, not a guarantee.'”
Either they are the hotel’s TripAdvisor rating, or they’re not. (And please don’t get me started on the credibility of TripAdvisor. Just don’t.)
“If Hotwire is using incorrect high TripAdvisor reviews to get customers to book hotels, this is false advertising,” adds Rudd. “Do you think there is any way to make Hotwire understand this, and that if they are going to post incorrect ratings, they should include a disclaimer? Perhaps ‘These ratings are examples, not a guarantee.'”
I set out to find the truth by clicking on Hotwire and doing a few searches in my hometown. There were no disclosures, but I found that the alleged TripAdvisor ratings were uniformly high — either a 4 or a 4.5. Impressive!
Next, I asked Hotwire for a comment.
“We get TripAdvisor data directly from TripAdvisor, so let us take a look and see what may have happened,” a representative told me. She also asked for the screenshots and details on Rudd’s search history. I sent those to her promptly.
The next day, I heard back from Hotwire, promising that it would investigate the problem equally promptly.
Three days later, on May 27, my contact said, “Please know we’re still investigating this; however, many people on the team took off early for the long weekend. I likely will know more by early next week.”
I waited. And waited. And waited.
I’m still waiting.
So here’s what I’ve concluded. TripAdvisor’s reviews on Hotwire are not legit. Then again, neither are TripAdvisor’s reviews.
Do two wrongs make a right? Maybe in the travel industry, but not in real life. Hotwire appears to be using bogus ratings to boost its sales. And it seems to think it can get away with it by keeping people like Rudd on hold and then offering a scripted non response.
Apparently, Hotwire thought I would go away if it ignored me for long enough. They’re right about that. I will go away — just as soon as I publish this post.
Update (7 p.m.): Hotwire has responded to this story. “We receive our data directly from TripAdvisor,” a spokeswoman wrote in an email. “In this instance, there was an error in how this listing was mapped, which happens occasionally. We apologize for the problem this caused Ms. Rudd.”
Hotwire also apologized for the 11-1/2 week delay in responding to me.