A “sticky” situation at the Omni

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Tamara Lustig books a room at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, but when the property offers her the wrong accommodations, all bets are off. Can she get a refund?

Question: I wonder if you could please advise me on a sticky travel situation I’m in. I booked a room in Washington on Hotwire for my co-worker and me over Columbus Day weekend, and we got the Omni Shoreham Hotel.

I have used Hotwire before and have always been able to call the hotel directly after booking to make small changes, like request a room with a view or two queen beds instead of one king if I’m not traveling for romance.
This particular time, however, neither Omni nor Hotwire will budge, saying it’s my tough luck, that my room fits two people, regardless of our sleeping arrangements.

It’s highly inappropriate for me and my co-worker to sleep in the same bed. Omni has over 800 rooms, and I find it hard to believe they all are full.

I made my request four months in advance. I don’t understand why they are unwilling to do something so small, as they are already ruining our stay before we even arrive.

I tried disputing the charges on my credit card, but lost. I don’t know where else to turn. Is there anything at all you can think of? Any advice or assistance you could possibly offer would be most appreciated.

Tamara Lustig, Delray Beach, Fla.

Answer: I can think of a few things. But before I share them with you, let’s have a look at the actual terms of your Hotwire booking. Hotwire is referred to as an “opaque” travel site because you get discounts on your room, flight or rental car in exchange for giving up a few things. You can’t select the exact hotel, your reservation is completely nonrefundable, and you agree to several other restrictions. One of those is that you can’t always specify the number of beds.

You can find the fine print on Hotwire’s site.

In other words, you were taking your chances when you booked your accommodations through Hotwire, and while it would have been nice for Hotwire to refund your purchase or for Omni to put you and your co-worker in a more appropriate room, they didn’t have to. Your credit card company was correct to deny your dispute; the terms of your booking are clear.

But I was curious about the circumstances of your request. Was the hotel just giving you a “take-it-or-leave-it” attitude, or did it really have no rooms for you? If this was simply a matter of sliding your request in front of the right person, then I thought I might be of service. I heard back from Omni quickly, and it confirmed that the property was dealing with a full-occupancy situation.

“The lack of her requested bedding was due to the rooms of that type being committed to other guests,” Ryan Hawkins, Omni’s assistant director of revenue management, told me. “Otherwise, I would have given her the room without hesitation.”

I think this situation was completely avoidable. If you want to be able to choose the exact room type, avoid booking through an opaque site like Hotwire. The savings is just not worth the uncertainty. I’ve used Hotwire myself, and have saved serious money, but it only works when you’re flexible; not when you’re traveling with a colleague.

Even though you were not entitled to a refund, and even though I did not ask Omni for a refund on your behalf, the hotel contacted Hotwire and agreed, as a one-time exception, to refund the room with no penalty.

Should Hotwire have offered Tamara Lustig a room with two beds?

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