Is something wrong with Hotwire’s smoking filter?

When Michelle Palenschat books a room through Hotwire, she ends up in a smoking room. Can the company do that? And is it possible to get a refund?

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Question: I have been a customer of Hotwire for over 13 years. I love the thrill of pressing the button and not knowing what you will get, but have never been disappointed until last week.

I booked a room at a Super 8 hotel for myself and three other mothers who were attending a conference in Washington, D.C. We knew that it was cheap and would be a simple room, but we were OK with that because we would be arriving late and leaving early.

Upon arriving at midnight, I was told that there was only one room left, and it was a smoking room. I insisted that I did not reserve a smoking room. The man at the front desk said that it was all that was available and he could do nothing. We went up to the floor where the room was, and two of the moms could not get out of the elevator due to the smoke burning their eyes.

The other mom and I checked out the room for about two seconds and realized there was no way we could stay there. I told the man at the front desk this, and we walked out. It was after midnight, and we had nowhere to go.

I have since contacted Hotwire a few times about this. I was told that I should have used a filter online to determine nonsmoking from smoking. A side note: I am from Minnesota, where the Clean Air Act protects those of us who choose not to smoke or be affected by secondhand smoke, so this has never been an issue.

Finally, a Hotwire rep said the company could do nothing about my claim because the man (the night-shift guy who was more interested in his phone) didn’t make a note of our not being able to use the room because of the smoke smell.

I am a longtime Hotwire customer with no previous complaints, and Hotwire is siding with the night-shift employee at a Super 8 who didn’t follow-up by noting my complaint?

While the amount I lost is not a lot, I am truly disappointed by Hotwire’s unwillingness to try to work something out. Is this something you can help with? — Michelle Palenschat, St. Paul, Minnesota

Answer: When reserving a room through Hotwire, you can specify a smoke-free room by selecting the city and clicking on “amenities” and then selecting “smoke-free rooms.” Unlike Minnesota, Washington allows smoking in hotel rooms, so you have to make sure you actually select “smoke-free room.”

Hotwire refers to this process of elimination as its “filter,” and if you’re making hotel reservations outside Minnesota in the future, it’s an important feature to know about.

Incidentally, no one should smoke in a hotel room, ever — even if it’s allowed. It’s inconsiderate to the staff and to the next guest.

If you didn’t reserve a smoking room, then the system let you down. The Super 8 hotel you stayed at should have figured out a way to accommodate you, either by giving you a different room or by walking you to a comparable hotel. The hotel seemed uninterested in helping you.

Hotwire’s response was also unfortunate. Since you are a longtime customer, Hotwire should have gone out of its way to fix this. An appeal to one of the executive contacts at Hotwire might have worked ( But I suspect your appeal would have been kicked right back to the same department that said “no” to you in the first place.

I contacted Hotwire on your behalf. It offered you a full refund and agreed to speak with the Super 8 property about the “extreme” smoke on the floor and in the elevator.

Should there be a national no-smoking regulation for hotel rooms?

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14 thoughts on “Is something wrong with Hotwire’s smoking filter?

  1. I think hotels and reservation systems need to make sure they can guarantee non smoking rooms to people who request them. The optimal thing would be to ban smoking in rooms, but since that is not likely to happen, we should at least be able to refuse to pay for the room if it is smoking. Good work, Chris.

    1. But in this case she actually just ASSUMED it was nonsmoking, and never stipulated her request – so really, was HER fault.

      1. This was her fault, but I am referring to the fact that many reservation systems, when you request a non smoking room, say it will be “requested” and not guaranteed. I don’t want a smoking room ever. No exceptions.

  2. If they didn’t request a non-smoking room, and the smoking room was the only room left in the hotel, I don’t see how either HotWire or the Hotel let her down.

    It’s unfortunate she was not aware that some states still allow smoking in hotel rooms, but I don’t see how that’s anybody’s fault but her own.

    But yes, the employee should have made a note about them being unable to use the room; that said, I don’t think it really would have made a difference. She got what she paid for, even if it wasn’t what she wanted.

  3. No, there should not be a national regulation. It’s not a Federal issue but a State/Local issue (at best) or simply a business decision by the establishment. Smoking is, after all, legal.

    I do believe that hotels need to ensure that reservations for non-smoking rooms are honored. After all, if you are not a smoker you certainly do not want to smell that stink. And you should not EVER be told that you have to pay for a smoking room if you reserved a non-smoking one.

    1. No, it shouldn’t be a business decision for the same reason restaurants are subject to laws prohibiting smoking in restaurants. That said, yeah, the laws are state/local, and some states and localities just aren’t sympathetic to non-smoker’s needs not to be subjected to smoke. Too bad. It would help if they were.

  4. Kudos to Hotwire for doing the right thing when poked, even though the world is bigger than Minnesota.

    But this: “Incidentally, no one should smoke in a hotel room, ever — even if it’s allowed. It’s inconsiderate to the staff and to the next guest.”

    If I am renting a smoking room, I’m unclear on why it would be inconsiderate for someone to have previously smoked in it. Were I a smoker, I would not expect to be the first one to smoke in a smoking room.

  5. I had an incident similar to this a decade ago, in Bangkok. Except, in my case, the paperwork showed it was clear that I had booked two non-smoking rooms. We (my father and I) arrived from Siem Reap after 1AM, and went to check in, and were told that there were no rooms — then one room. I pointed to the voucher, and (very politely — you get things done in southeast Asia with empathy and with making your problem someone else’s problem.) said I had paid for the two rooms, and required the two rooms that night.

    The hotel’s night manager eventually found the two rooms, but one was a smoking room. I’m allergic, whereas for my father it is just a matter of cleanliness, so he agreed to take the non-smoking room. It was filthy — you could see where the smoke had left residue in the air vents. and the fabric in the room stank. Because it was such an embarrassment to the hotel to fail to meet the reservation, the next morning, they changed out everything except the carpet — even removing the furniture and bringing in new furniture. It helped…

    As an aside, I have to wonder… I was initially diagnosed with “childhood asthma” when I was young and people smoked everywhere. As smoking decreased, my “asthma” cleared up, and it was later discovered I was allergic to some of the chemicals in tobacco. I have to wonder how many childhood asthma cases are really just allergies to the chemicals in cigarettes…

  6. The default should be non-smoking. If you want a smoking room, you should have to specifically tell it to pick a smoking room.

  7. There are no Super 8 motels within the DC city limits. She was staying in either suburban Maryland or Virginia, most likely Maryland.

  8. I agree with Mike. Hotels should not be allowed to assume that it’s okay with customers to put them in smoking rooms if they weren’t specifically reserved by the customers. And this hotel should have helped the LW when she said that the smoke made the room uninhabitable instead of shrugging its shoulders, because the next customer probably would refuse to use the room too.

  9. It’s her fault for not specifying from the get-go. I’m from Minnesota, too, and the whole “in Minnesota our legislators allow us to ‘choose not to smoke or be affected by secondhand smoke’ unlike those heathens in Washington” thing is presumptuous and false. Minnesota only prohibits smoking in non-smoking hotel rooms. Here’s a list of the best St Paul hotels with smoking rooms: . If the questioner is as contemptuous of cigarette smoke as her question indicates, she should have taken extreme care to not reserve a smoking room.

    I’m also disappointed that Mr Elliott would take the position that it is inconsiderate for a smoker to have the nerve to reserve a smoking room and actually smoke in it. If the hotel makes the choice to have smoking rooms, I don’t see what is so inconsiderate about taking them up on their offer.

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