I accidentally booked two rental cars on Hotwire. Can I get my money back?

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By Christopher Elliott

When Robert Sharp accidentally makes two nonrefundable car rental reservations on Hotwire, he assumes the company will cancel one for him. But it doesn’t. Can he drive two cars at once?

Can I get a refund from Hotwire?

I booked a prepaid, nonrefundable rental car through Hotwire recently. Then, a few days later I booked another car for the same dates by mistake.

I tried to cancel one of the bookings and request a refund. Hotwire refuses. Obviously, I can’t drive two cars at the same time. Their system shouldn’t allow someone to double book. I have used Hotwire for many years. Before this, I was a satisfied customer. Can you help me get my  $178 back? — Robert Sharp, Swampscott, Mass.

Answer

You made two prepaid, nonrefundable car rental reservations through Hotwire. And they are, as you say, prepaid and nonrefundable. As a regular user of Hotwire, you should have known that.

But just how nonrefundable is nonrefundable? Well, I’ve talked to insiders at opaque sites like Hotwire, and here’s what they tell me: If you make an honest mistake when you book through the site and call right away, they can work with you to cancel the overlapping reservation. But the longer you wait, the harder it gets to fix something like this. And yes — by nonrefundable, they really mean nonrefundable. Well, mostly.

Still, I think Hotwire should have a system to at least warn you that you’re about to make a double booking. And it looks like Hotwire didn’t send you a confirmation for your first reservation. If it had sent you one, this would be a borderline case that I couldn’t have advocated. But it looks like a few things went wrong on Hotwire’s side, too.

Things seem to have gone awry on your booking as well. Look, plans change. It would be nice to see the travel industry adopt a 24-hour rule so that customers like you could fix problems like these. If everyone treated each other like travel companies treated you after a nonrefundable purchase, imagine what the buying experience would be like. No returns on anything, ever. Buyer’s remorse would become a national pastime. (Here’s what you need to know before renting your next vehicle.)

I reviewed the email correspondence between you and Hotwire. Everything looked promising for getting a refund. A representative told you not to worry, agreeing that your second booking was a “mistake.” He added that Hotwire just needed to “verify” the refund through your car rental company.

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Then you received bad news: “We can only process a refund for the other reservation if one of them was processed within an hour. But it shows here that the second reservation was booked after a few days.”

If Hotwire had told you up front about that, then you wouldn’t have gotten your hopes up. 

You probably already know this, but next time, you might want to avoid a nonrefundable reservation. You can find plenty of good deals directly through a car rental agency or on a site that sells refundable reservations, like Hotwire’s sister site, Expedia. Remember, “opaque” doesn’t necessarily mean cheap.

I think a brief, polite appeal to a Hotwire executive might have also worked for you. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of the Expedia contacts on my consumer advocacy site, Elliott.org.

As I mentioned, this is a borderline case. You should have paid closer attention to your reservation and its strict terms. As an experienced Hotwire customer, you already knew that. At the same time, Hotwire didn’t warn you about the double booking, it strongly suggested it could get you a refund and then let you down. I feel there’s a case for at least a goodwill refund here.

I contacted Hotwire on your behalf, asking it to review your case. A representative responded quickly. “I just wanted to close the loop and let you know that we’ve canceled the double booking and issued a HotDollar credit for the second booking Mr. Sharp made in the amount of $178,” a representative told me. That’s a generous resolution.

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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 Rio de Janeiro.

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