The Travel Troubleshooter: Right hotel rate, wrong city

Question: I was recently looking for a hotel for three nights in Rosemont, Ill. Hotwire soon started sending me emails about “lower hotel rates” in Rosemont. So I found one I liked and booked it.

When I received the hotel conformation it was in Elk Grove, Ill., not Rosemont. I immediately emailed Hotwire.

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“After reviewing your reservation, I confirmed that the hotel that is booked is not within the area map provided during your search,” a representative named Brandy G. replied. “For your convenience, I have sent this reservation up for review to our research department. They will contact you back within 7 to 10 business days in regards to changing this reservation.”

Great, right? That’s what I thought. I asked if they could just change my reservation to a hotel in Rosemont for the dates I reserved or credit my account for a future booking. This was all done several weeks before the booked dates.

However, when they contacted me back they said that all sales are final and refused my request. I was unable to use the hotel so I am now out $142. I contacted Discover Card, the credit card I used for the reservation, and they replied that Hotwire says all sales are final. Thanks for any ideas you can give me. — Loretta Krahn, Mountain Lake, Minn.

Answer: Hotwire should have sold you a hotel in Rosemont — not Elk Grove. It can take 20 minutes to drive between the cities (they’re on opposite sides of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport).

If you’d booked your hotel room by visiting Hotwire, you’d probably be out of luck. The site, which allows you to select a neighborhood but doesn’t reveal the hotel until you’ve paid for it, is reasonably clear when it comes to the areas where you might be assigned a hotel room.

But this booking didn’t originate on its site. It started with an email that promised a room in Rosemont. The response you received from “Brandy G.” looks canned. Her response — and Hotwire’s ensuing rejection — would have been appropriate if you’d booked through the site. But you didn’t.

It’s difficult to break the form-letter cycle. That’s because customer service representatives typically receive so many complaints, they only have seconds to review your gripe and draw a response, which is normally a cut-and-paste reply. An appeal to a manager — either by phone or in writing — might have helped Hotwire see the error of its ways.

In fairness to the company, it is possible that somewhere along the booking path, Hotwire disclosed that it was actually selling you a room within a certain geographical area. Still, it shouldn’t have offered a room in a specific city if it didn’t intend to sell you one.

Next time you buy a room through an “opaque” site like Hotwire or Priceline, check the terms of your purchase, even if you think you know what you’re getting. You can never be too careful.

I contacted Hotwire on your behalf. A representative told me there had been an error in the way the company communicated with you when you called to complain about the hotel location. It issued a full refund and promised to work on its maps, to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

(Photo: Roaming the plante/Flickr Creative Commons)

21 thoughts on “The Travel Troubleshooter: Right hotel rate, wrong city

    1. These sites are all find and dandy… until you have a problem. Then it’s a big helping of ‘good luck getting that fixed’. 🙁

  1. I always find it strange that these places will only review complaints and see there was an “error” only *AFTER* being contacted by someone who can expose them nationally like this.  And Discover’s response is also shameful.  If I made a purchase which said the location would be in one geographical area but they assigned me a different one, that seems pretty clear you were not given what you were charged for and should be refunded.

    1. I’m amazed at Discover’s response too.  The OP can document that she was offered X, paid for X, and received Y.  It doesn’t get much simpler than that!  I once had a comparable situation with Visa, and they reiumbursed me instantly and went after the vendor with a vengeance!

  2. I see no reason to be ‘fair’ to Hotwire if they sold him a hotel in a different area. If they made a mistake they should own up to it and either refund the money or provide a hotel in the desired area. It seems pretty clear according to Brandy G that Hotwire did make an error. Another lesson learned about ‘opaque’ sites.

  3. What a crock and more reason to avoid Hotwire and Priceline. When they work they can be terrific but when they don’t you are out of town without a paddle. Who needs the added travel stress of wondering if what you thought you bought is actually what you bought.  ALWAYS call the hotel you want and suggest you saw a Hotline/Priceline rate and is it available direct. 9 out of 10 times it is.

  4. This incident happened to me personally…..

    Last year I booked a hotel through hotwire assuming it was foing to be in this area they shaded on a map…when the hotel was revealed it was outside that map area shaded.

    I immediately called hotwire and complained that this is outside of the area.  After about 10 minutes of arguing they refunded me the money.

    This is even worse in the fact that he booked in Rosemont and they then told him they had a better deal in Rosemont….only to find out it wasnt.  By definition this was fraud and i would sue them in court.

  5. May be I am old fashioned but, usually I don’t pay for a room until I SEE the actual room even I am in the Hotel.

  6. I will never use Hotwire again. The last time I used them, they sold me a hotel room for $8 more than a one upgrade higher room at the same hotel (at the hotel’s own site – within 5 minutes of booking, both before and after), and insisted they were saving me 30%. Their email to me claiming that the lowest price for a comparable room was 30% higher was a flat out lie, and they refused to do anything about it except refund me $8.

    Then the hotel accidentally charged my credit card instead of Hotwire, so I found out exactly how much they had paid for the room, and it was close to $200 (30% or so) less than I had paid them. Never again.

    1. You brought up a point that is good to stress.  Just because it is online and a claim of a certain percentage off, doesn’t tell you what price they are reducing. 

      I don’t understand why anyone would book something unknown on any opague site, let alone not know if the price is really a good deal or not.  I just booked a hotel in my GDS that beat every online hotel booking company I checked as I did a price comparison BEFORE selling it.  All the sites claimed to have the lowest price, but they didn’t!  The rate I got also didn’t require any prepayment and can be canceled by 4pm on DOA hotel time. 

      1. One problem with opaque sites is you will not get any benefits like hotel loyalty/points programs.

        When to use opaque sites is if you researhed the area you are looking to stay and know the hotel rates say were $120 for the type of hotel you would stay in (like 3 stars or more).

        You think that is too much since you are really only passing through…so you then bid $80 on priceline, or see an offer on hotwire for $80,,,then you can bid.

        I am willing to use hotwire for rental car rates because they only book through national name brands and not small local rental companies.

    2. There is a place and time to use Hotwire (or Priceline). Using Hotwire blindly may result in bitter disappointment. Do some research. Check out hotel rates in the area. Compare that to the Hotwire price. Doing this before hand will let you make an INFORMED decision whether the Hotwire rate is a deal or not. 

      Keep in mind that Hotwire advertises the discount relative to “rack rates.” Only suckers or those booking during extreme peak season pay rack rates. 

      BTW, I’ve had the hotel charge my credit card not once but twice, and yes, its shocking to see exactly how discounted the Hotwire rate is!

      1. In this case I did do my homework. The rate I was getting from Hotwire was good for the star rating they claimed in the area they claimed (Chicago Loop). However, when the hotel was revealed, it was one I had just rejected myself as not being in the class I was looking for. (The LA Quinta, a lovely hotel, but not in the same league as what Hotwire was claiming) Having seen the prices for that hotel, and hotwire’s claims of huge savings, imagine my surprise when hotwire then proceeded to claim that hotel was in the same class as others charging hundreds of dollars a night more.

        Like I said, never again. Not only did they lose me as a customer, but they gained an active campaigner against them.

      2. I completely agree Chris.  I regularly use Hotline and occassionally Priceline, being disappointed only once with the star level on Hotline.  In their defense the amenities (indoor swimming pool) may have been the reasons for the rating.  I have also used their offerings to gauge the “market” where I will be staying and then booked with a direct hotel site.  In Houston, their discounts are outstanding.

        “There is a place and time to use Hotwire (or Priceline). Using Hotwire blindly may result in bitter disappointment. Do some research. Check out hotel rates in the area. Compare that to the Hotwire price. Doing this before hand will let you make an INFORMED decision whether the Hotwire rate is a deal or not.”

  7. To me this is one more example to choose priceline over
    hotwire. I had a situation with priceline when I booked a hotel and sometime
    later I received an e-mail if I wanted to add a car rental to my trip at a very
    attractive rate. Not thinking twice I clicked on the link and added the car.
    The problem appeared on the confirmation page when the car was to be picked up
    from a different airport. A phone call to priceline later the car reservation
    was cancelled and full refund was issued. It was really easy to fix a misunderstanding.
    And when I had a problem with past hotwire reservation resolution was dragging
    for a very long time. I even had a hotel manager calling hotwire and
    authorizing a refund when star rating was misleading and yet it took hotwire a
    very long time to admit an error and issue a refund.

  8. You know, I read your newsletter faithfully and I’m so struck by the number of problems raised by booking through Hotwire and Priceline that I have never used either site.  Granted, my husband travels so much for business  that he is an elite hotel and airline member so I have always booked directly with either of them.  I hope I don’t jinx myself but I have never had a problem by doing so but I don’t know how much more I have paid for that action.  My question is, is it really a problem when you have a problem with such sites?

  9. I used to live in that area and Elk Grove and Rosemont are both nearby suburbs of Chicago. This is not that big of a deal

    1. The point is that the customer was promised a hotel room in Rosemont and was given one in Elk Grove. It’s irrelevant whether the two suburbs are one minute or an hour apart – it’s the breach of contract that’s the issue here.

  10. I never use these sites anymore.  The last two times, I had problems.  One time I got a great deal at the hotel I wanted.  The hotel put me in a room in a construction area.  When I complained, they said that since I paid such a low rate, they can’t put me in a better room.  The other time, I booked a 3 star hotel, and it turned out do be a Days Inn, and was not a 3 star. When I complained, Hotwire said they rate it as a 3 star hotel.  Their ratings are different than the Mobil ratings.

    1. Hotwire star ratings are not based on quality but rather services provided.  Is there an in-room coffee maker?  1/4 star.  Pool?  1/2 star.  Breakfast?  1/4 star.  Is the coffee maker broken or in such a condition it is unusable?  Eh.  Not our concern.  Is the pool water green and nasty?  We don’t care.  Is breakfast a pop-tart?  Hey, they fed you.  What are you complaining about.

      I had an issue with a Days Inn (It was a problem Chris helped me with and how I found this site) where the location was really run down.  While it met the “star” rating Hotwire has, it was on the verge of being condemned (In fact the person I was going to visit told me a few months later it was shut down by the health department).  Hotwire would not budge on it until Chris stepped in.  Have never booked with Hotwire since and never will again.

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