The Travel Troubleshooter: Star confusion on my Hotwire hotel room

Question: I just booked a hotel room in New Orleans through Hotwire. It seemed like a great deal. The listing was for a 4.5 star hotel. I started looking around their website, trying to determine what the possibilities were and by looking at the “hotel plus car” section I was able to see that there seemed to be three nice choices of 4.5 star hotels in the area the listing was in.

I was specifically trying to avoid the Le Pavillon Hotel and was glad to see it was not a possibility because it was listed as a four-star hotel.

We booked the room and we got the Le Pavillon. As soon as I received the confirmation email I called Hotwire. I was sure this was just a mistake. The first woman I spoke to listened and put me on hold to “try and help me.”

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She came back and started quoting star ratings from other websites and claimed that they used an average to arrive at the 4.5 star rating. I told her that sounded reasonable, but that the Hotwire website identifies the property as having 4 stars and that I booked a 4.5-star hotel. She agreed, but could do nothing.

I asked to speak to a manager. That conversation was a complete waste of time. He explained that Expedia rates the hotels in the vacation area of the Hotwire website and that they do not have to abide by them.

I explained that I felt that was ridiculous because it says “Hotwire” at the top of the page and that I didn’t feel I was being unreasonable in feeling confident that I wouldn’t be stuck with Le Pavillon when booking a 4.5 star hotel. I did not ask for a refund. I just asked to be switched to an actual 4.5 star hotel. He said that they would do nothing to help us until we checked in.

Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, but we are traveling without our children for the very first time since having them four years ago, and we really wanted this to be a great vacation. This hotel is so, so far from a 4.5 star … gorgeous lobby, but the rooms haven’t been redone in a long time. Can you give me any guidance as to how to try and resolve this? — Anna Johnson, Pensacola, Fla.

Answer: Hotwire should follow its own star rating system. It’s bad enough that there’s no nationally recognized rating system for hotel room. But if a company classifies a room as a four-star property, the least you can do is expect it to be consistent about the review.

It helps to understand something about the way Hotwire handles hotel bookings. As a so-called “opaque” site, you can pick the city and certain characteristics of the property, like the level of amenities you want. But the name of the hotel isn’t revealed until you’ve paid for the room, and all purchases are nonrefundable. In other words, you can’t pick the hotel.

Still, it was reasonable of you to expect Hotwire to be consistent with its star ratings between products (in your case, between packages and stand-alone hotel purchases).

Calling Hotwire was a complete act of futility. I’m given the impression that Hotwire’s customer service agents are instructed to never issue refunds or changes unless authorized by a supervisor. And the supervisor to whom you spoke apparently didn’t listen to anything you had to say.

I recommended that you put your grievance in writing, but you were met with even more form responses from Hotwire. How frustrating. The only way out would have been a lengthy credit card dispute, the outcome of which is far from guaranteed.

I contacted Hotwire on your behalf. It refunded your purchase.

55 thoughts on “The Travel Troubleshooter: Star confusion on my Hotwire hotel room

  1. Looking at the picture, I hadn’t realized Le Pavillon had deteriorated so badly!

    Seriously…as Chris mentioned, lacking a standard industry rating system you are left to weed through various organizations and companies varying standards to determine what to expect from your hotel. Even Days Inn has a rating system that goes to 5 “sunbursts”!

    I usually believe the “no refunds” rule for Hotwire and Priceline should be honored to preserve the business model for the rest of us who know how to use it. In this case however, if Hotwire rates a hotel as a 4 1/2 on one area and then tries to call it a 4 in another…the refund is justified IMO.

  2. I think it would certainly be frustrating but….

    An opaque site is just that.  I hear a lot of stories of “I knew I wanted X hotel” or “I want to avoid Y hotel” (even if it’s in the same category).  Well then go to the hotel you want and book it!  Going into a site like Hotwire with expectations of exactly what you want is just asking for trouble.

    1. I agree with you.  If you want a certain hotel or avoid a certain hotel then book direct.  But the problem is that some people don’t want to pay the money for that option; therefore, we continue to read about opaque sites in this blog.

      1. Arizona

        Normally I would agree with you but the op acted 100 percent correctly. She requested a 4.5 str hotel. Avoiding anything less is perfectly reasonable.

        1. Agree with Carver. The OP didn’t state that they wanted a specific hotel – only that they DIDN’T want a specific hotel, which they felt confident they wouldn’t get given that the star rating was lower than what they were bidding for. Hotwire scammed them, plain and simple. If their site says it’s 4-star, they should count it as a 4-star…period.

  3. I had to vote no since I am not sure what you mean by ‘WE’. Will this be another government department responsible for hotel ratings or an industry group where ratings are determined by who can afford to advertise in the appropriate magazines?

    I always know which hotel I am booking, that way I don’t blame others afterwards. If you do want to stay at a particular property book somewhere else. There have been enough stories written here about third-party sites that everyone should realize that you do not always get what you want.

    1. I agree that rankings could be purchased.

      In 2005, we took a tour to China and the hotel that we stayed in for five nights in Beijing was rated five-stars rated by the Chinese Tourist Industry.  Based upon my experiences with hotels around the globe especially in China, I would have rated the hotel a one or two stars based upon the conditions of the room, the service, etc.
      Before the tour started, we spent four days doing our own sightseeing, etc.  We stayed at the Marriott Renaissance Beijing Hotel (an outstanding hotel in our opinion) where the service was impeccable and the physical property was outstanding.  As a side note, this was the only hotel in China that I have seen a vacuum cleaner being used to sweep the carpet in the hallways and rooms.  This hotel was rated 4-stars so we were excited to see what a 5-stars hotel was like when the tour.  We were disappointed.
      This five-star hotel had exposed plumbing pipes in the walls of the rooms, the carpet was full of stains (I am not taking about one or two spots…there were more stains than unstained carpets), the rooms were dirty (we went to five rooms before we choose one that was the least dirty); some rooms had clouds of cigarette smoke (the Marriott Renaissance Beijing Hotel had non-smoking rooms) floating in the room; etc.
      It is my guess that this five-star super international hotel paid off the people at the Chinese Tourist Industry for their ranking and the people at the Marriott Renaissance didn’t.

  4. I don’t think we need a national standard, then people will complain they are confused when they go overseas.  But a site that says a hotel is 4 stars should not sell it has 4.5 stars when it’s convenient.

  5. I don’t think that the benefits of a standardized rating hotels will out weigh the costs especially if it is adminstrated by the federal government.  It seems to me that most of the problems are related to opaque sites who are trying to bump up properties to meet their financial models.  Personally, I never have a problem with AAA rankings for a hotel property. 

    However, I don’t look at the rankings since I usually stay with a few hotel chains.  When I have to book a room outside of my normal hotel chains, I look at the various reviews before booking.

    IMHO, reviews are better than rankings.  The level of service, the size of the room, the location of the hotel, etc. are usually not taken into consideration for countries that do have a “standardized” rating system…it is more about the physical properties and what amentiesservicesetc. that are available.

  6. There has to be something moronic if one wants a 4.5 stars (whatever that means) rated hotel and does not exactly know what that hotel really is before they buy. I suppose a very highly rated hotel would be branding itself to take maximum advantage of that rating. So why be opaque if you really have nothing to hide?

    1. But…she indicated Hotwire classified three properties as 4.5 stars. She also indicated she would be happy with any of them. If you can live with the non-refundability and want to save about 50% (my experience), why not use it?

      Her problem came from what Hotwire billed as a 4 star on their non-opaque section being sold as a 4.5 star on the opaque side.

      1. She is right – by making the buying process opaque the seller gets to inflate the rating. And you have no way to check beforehand.

          1. He’s only stating a fact – if she KNEW she did not want a particular hotel, and knew she liked 3 others, she should have just checked on those directly.

    2. why be opaque if you really have nothing to hide?


      As someone who has used opaque sites fairly extensively and in most cases been very satisfied: There are some outstanding hotels that have highly volatile demand day-to-day or week-to-week, often because they depend heavily on conferences and business travellers.

      During periods of low demand, they still want to fill the rooms.  If they openly publish extravagantly low rates for those periods, they would relinquish some revenue from the (mostly) business travellers who would be willing to pay the normal rate regardless.  And they may also fear that openly publishing such extravagantly low rates could tarnish their brand.

      1. So these hotels are supposedly rated 4.0 to 4.5 stars in quality and -1 star in honesty? They are willing to screw regular paying, loyal customers and sell their remaining inventory cheaper through opaque bidding sites?

        During periods of low demand, don’t hotels publish specials? Also I really doubt that real business travelers get screwed, because so many hotel chains offer corporate accounts fantastic discounts.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if the *average* bidder in opaque sites is getting screwed by the middleman and not necessarily by the hotel. I have stayed at some hotels where when I got to talking travel business with the Manager, they often told me how they hate dealing with these OTAs since they end up with irate customers who are sold a bunch of lies.

        IMO if one is bidding on the “starness” of a hotel or buying it’s rating instead of the hotel itself, then the rating has to be regulated in some way. Unfortunately I don’t think a true honest rating is possible and customers still need to do their own due diligence. Remember, those mortgage bonds were AAA rated by the ratings agencies. Problem is one cannot do due diligence on opaque sites.

        Maybe it’s just best to stay away from opaque sites unless you can stand the heat or you are the gambling type.

        1. Just to clarify: These hotels often do openly publish specials and do offer “fantastic” corporate account discounts.  However, the low demand period opaque deals severely undercut even those specials and the corporate discounts.

          I completely agree that if you’re bidding on a star rating, then that rating ought to be audited by an independent body.  When I bid, I generally set my expectations to assume that what I’m getting will be half-a-star worse (just because more often that not you will draw from the bottom of the heap of X-star hotels; i.e. the ones that barely meet that threshold).

          The one time I had a serious beef with an opaque hotel’s star rating — it was on Hotwire — they immediately gave me a $25 voucher and they subsequently pulled the hotel from it’s system.

      1. Carver, but why opaque? If the hotel was truly 4.5 stars, wouldn’t you want to know it’s name before you buy it. At least you can validate it is truly 4.5 stars before the purchase.

  7. Yes, of course HotWire should not have called a property 4 star hotel when it came to non-opaque bookings and a 4.5 star for opaque ones.

    But a universal national ratings system for everybody?  You’ve got to be joking!  As long as the ratings are consistent within a single website and the criteria are documented, that’s about all you can ask for.  If wants to call the run-down Motel 6 in Nowheresville a “4-star” property because it sells rooms for $15 a night and hasn’t had any murders in the past six months, then why not?

  8. I think that we and these sites should just stick to integer numbers of stars. 4 or 5 stars is fine – but 4 1/2 is stupid. This would be a lot simpler and avoid so-called rounding or averaging errors.
    It doesn’t necessarily need to be standardized as long as the rating definitions are disclosed (although standardization might help).

  9. To Ms Johnson, in the future, if you are looking for a hotel for a special occasion, don’t use Hotwire! Sometimes you win, sometimes not so much!

    Having said that, if Hotwire has the hotel listed as 4 star on the non-opague site, and 4 1/2 stars on the opaque site, then that is just plain wrong. So, does this mean that Hotwire uses 2 different rating systems?

    What bothers me the most is that once an ombudsman got involved, Hotwire chooses to pay “hush” money by refunding the rate, rather than addressing or dealing with the ACTUAL issue. That’s why customer service has declined so much. Companies find it easier to pay off unhappy customers rather than fix problems.

  10. Paying an unknown product in an unknown place is completely out my reality. Call me an outdated old grumpy tourist but I am not stupid. I need to see my room first, even in the famous hotel.

  11. I would suggest using a site like I just looked on thier site and they list the 4.5 star downtown on hotwire as Le Pavillion so i few mintutes on tat site would have told her 

  12. If indeed we went to a true rating system, they were there before the vultures on the internet started up 10 years ago, they would all be called exagorators – oh they are! Even the best of ASTA travel agents have a bit of a hard time with this. So we depend upon abilities that the average traveler does not have. “I scored a great rate” seems to be the ultimate solution. It is not! I stayed at the Royal Senesta, or the Orleans, or Hilton; it’s what is best for you and that takes a good old fashioned travel agent. The average New Orleans bound couple is going to spend $2500.00-$3500.00 with all that there is to do and eat. What’s another $40-100. to get it jusssstt riiigggghhhht.

  13. Some countries have “nationally recognized rating systems,” but their star ratings don’t necessarily reflect quality. In the interests of objectivity, they’re based on things like room size, the presence of elevators, whether 24/7 room service is available, and so on.

    If you want to know about the quality of a hotel, you need to spend a few minutes looking at user reviews by paying guests. Major booking services like and invite guests to rate the hotels where they’ve stayed. 

    Venere (which I use quite a lot when staying at European hotels) lets guests answer a survey, write reviews, or both. Numbers from surveys are used to create an average score for each hotel: e.g., an 8.2 for the Hotel Whatsis. Prospective guests can use the scores to identify hotels that are popular with users and then read the reviews (which, again, are by paying guests, not by hired “sock puppets”) to get more information on the hotels that have decent guest ratings.

    1. I also use Booking and Venere often, but their rating systems, while great in many aspects, have a shortcoming: individual costumers don’t evaluate hotels in all spectrum a hotel can be.

      For a budget conscious traveler that finds a very decent and well kept room for US$ 70, the presence of a little amenity like ESPN on an LCD TV will make him/her very satisfied and willing to give high marks (8/10 for instance) because their expectation was surpassed.

      Meanwhile, a good, but not fabulous 5-star hotel with a good fare might get only 7/10 or 6.5/10 reviews because the slightest dated furniture or the pool doesn’t have “special features”

    1. Interesting that on that website Le Pavillon is rated 8 out of 10 which would make it 4 stars.  On that basis Hotwire over-rated it on their website.

  14. We are frequent users of opaque sites but generally prefer Priceline to Hotwire.  I have done battle with both and have come out on top both times.  With Hotwire our San Jose, Costa Rica Hotel was completely in the boondocks, deserted and totally unacceptable.  We moved and they settled with us by giving us credit which we used towards car rentals.  Everyone was happy.  With Priceline our Paris hotel was cheaper on the hotel website than we were paying Priceline.  They honored their pledge and gave us the lower price and removed all extra PL fees.  Readers who are touting that they always pay the hotel price  so they know what they are getting, are. in fact, the naive travelers. Most of the time the opaque sites are substantially cheaper as well as providing very comfortable stays.  We just returned from the Shanghai Hilton at Priceline’s $80. a night.  It was a wonderful hotel and we even were upgraded to an Executive room.  Service was superb.  At $80!!!  It’s just very important to read and study the provided maps to avoid making a mistake.  In this report, however, the traveler was taken advantage of by Hotwire and thanks to Chris all ended well.  Good going Chris!

    1. Ro, can you please clarify. Are you using the bidding part of Priceline to get the deals or just the ordinary hotel booking part?

      For example the $80 Shanghai Hilton – how did you get that great rate?

      1. I find the ordinary booking rate of Priceline to have no advantages over all the other online travel resources.  I always bid and generally give myself enough time to rebid (24 hours later).  However, once in Hollywood, Fl, we found ourselves in a “Bates Motel” (from the movie Psycho for you youngsters) which we had booked ourselves after reading excellent reviews on Tripadvisor (which is usually, but not always, reliable).  Not willing to stay at that dismal place we did a truly last minute try at Priceline (i.e. we were in the car heading towards the beach).  We got an amazing last minute deal at a truly luxurious beachfront resort.  So, last minute bidding probably pays if you’ve got the stomach for it.  Like…..can you land in Paris and start the bidding at CDG?  I can’t but I’m betting the deals are great………if you don’t mind the chance that you’ll be sleeping in a park.

  15. I have used Priceline extensively for hotel rooms and have never been disappointed by the star rating. There was even the time that I bid on a three star hotel and was upgraded to a room in a four star property because the three star property had sold out for my dates while I was submitting my bid. 

    I used Hotwire once and found that they exaggerated the star rating of the hotel that I purchased. Their 3.5 star hotel was really a bad 3 star hotel elsewhere. I haven’t used them since.I agree that we do need a national standard. The problems are determining who will write the standards and who will enforce them.

  16. I voted no on the following basis: As there are no absolutes I like to check serveral sites and tavel books, also if the gov’t ran it then that would be another nightmare at taxpayer expense. 

  17. Ratings are subjective – you’ll never get anywhere with that idea.  And Hotwire themselves say they don’t have to even abide by their own numbers.  So what’s the point?

  18. Chris should have a new feature: idiot of the week.  The definition is someone who does something moronic or unrealistic.  Like booking through an opaque site when you clearly have property preferences / avoid lists.

    1. I would agree with you if Hotwire’s own website didn’t clearly list the undesirable property as a 4 star hotel when the customer was booking a 4.5 star hotel. It’s a simple case of bait and switch, and Hotwire should be ashamed.

  19. Who figures out the star ratings for sites like Orbitz and Expedia?  It seems to be based on reviews of people who have stayed there.  Everyone reports how wonderful it is. 

    As an older hotel, things aren’t going to quite be up to the standards of Marriott or the Ritz Carlton.  I think, too often, people believe older hotels should be along those lines and are disappointed when they’re not.  

    Older means there will be some paint peeling (the walls are old and made of materials from a 100 years or more ago)

    Older means some wallpaper peeling in places (see above)

    Older means creaky stairs and elevators that groan a bit.  To me, this adds to the character of a place.

    Older means less outlets than one would like.  Rewiring a building of this size would be expensive.  Again, adds to the character.  Carry a multi-plug outlet with you.

    I went to Trip Adviser and looked through the photos provided by travelers (recently, too), not the hotel, and this is a nice place!  I don’t know this wasn’t a case of unreasonable expectations…  From the sounds of things, the OP really denied themselves a real slice of New Orleans history!

    Additionally, on both Expedia and Trip Adviser, this hotel is 4.3 stars. It fell into the category of 4.5 stars…

    1. Aren’t those all about reviews?

      As far as I recall, the star rating for Hotwire and Priceline are about amenities and the level of expectations for service and perhaps size.  On TripAdvisor you can end up with a motel getting an average 4 of 5 rating because it’s a good place for the type of lodging.  However, a motel is going to be maybe 1 star on Priceline or Hotwire.

    2. Anyone who travels very much is going to accumulate a list of properties they don’t want to go back to. I actively read Trip Adviser and other review sites. But, they will never be a substitute for having been there yourself and having a good or bad experience. I often read the reviews before I go back to somewhere, but mainly to figure out if something has changed. I already know what the property is like.

      The OP clearly had been to the Le Pavillon before. They felt it was not up to their standards. Clearly, their standards are too high for that particular hotel. So, they looked and saw that the hotel they did not like was a 4.0. They figured out that if their standard was 4.0, that’s the type of hotel they would get, because it’s a 4.0. They then figured rightly, that “we are clearly 4.5 people” and they are willing to pay more money for a 4.5. I looked at an example date on and a 4.5 in New Orleans was about 50% more expensive than a 4.0. If they then get a 4.0 hotel, anyway, they are getting ripped off!

      Yes, I know about the better bidder type sites. But, I would always assume that the star rating given on the site is the current, valid rating, no matter what those sites may say. After all, ratings change all of the time. The OP’s Le Pavillon opinion may not be unique.

      1. The main problem when you use these opaque star ratings is that at the lower levels (1 to 3.5) you’re probably talking about basic amenities such as room service, pools, or on-site dining.  It doesn’t cover desirability, in which case some 2.5 star properties have larger rooms, better location, etc than so-called 3 star hotels in the same general area. I’ve noticed that the difference between a 2.5 and 3 is typically that the 2.5 might serve breakfast (maybe for free) but that the 3 star hotel has an on-site restaurant and/or room service.

        Once you get any higher than 3.5 star, you are dealing with desirability/quality, which is considerably more subjective than whether or not a place has a bar or restaurant.

  20. I don’t think that standardized ratings have anything to do with this particular story.  The customer saw the hotel she didn’t like as 4 star, so chose 4.5 star to get away from it, then got the hotel anyway.  Since she was dealing with hotwire’s site only, standard ratings have nothing to do with it.  Hotwire is making it difficult.  They should have recognized the problem rather than brushing her off, it doesn’t speak well for them at all.  Good thing Chris got it fixed, but they should have done so when told about the problem.

  21. The other issue is that the article talks about a hotel that is a member of the “leading hotels of the world”…why is there a picture of an obviously run down closed hotel at the top of the article?   Misleading to say the least.

    1. Yeah.  I frequent another website where the subject of an indoor discharge of bear pepper spray came up.  The photo attached to the article was of a certain brand of said spray.  The author went as far as blurring out the brand name as to not unfairly associate the particular manufacturer with this incident.  I pointed out that the manufacturer name was still visible, and they redid the blur to block out anything that indicated brand name or manufacturer.

      I realize that Chris often uses a lot of stock photos to illustrate a point.  I too saw pictures of Le Pavilion, and it’s far from being run down like the photo of what looks like a building in New Orleans.

  22. This sounded like a tough one to crack.

    I understand their model.  Rebooking a hotel that the customer thinks is “4.5 star” probably isn’t going to work.  It’s probably the case that Le Pavilion provided the lowest rate to Hotwire, and they already got paid.  If somehow Le Pavilion wasn’t part of their inventory, the price offered for “4.5 star” might have been considerably higher.

    I’m wondering what Hotwire did.  I’m guessing they just ate their costs.  However, I doubt they would have rebooked one of the other “4.5 star” hotels because it would set a bad precedent for their business model.

  23. I feel the time to take creating a uniform rating system might require 2-3 yrs to achieve agreement and then some fudging might go on. Moreover, ratings can change. In this case Le Pavilion had deteriorated yet Hotwire didn’t indicate this     When I book,  a range is not given. I book a specific hotel/hotels.  At the least this  buyer should have told Hotwire NOT to include Le Pavilion as a recommendation.

  24. No standardized system can take into account all the possibilities of a property.  For example, in France, the star system indicates facilities only, not quality.  So you might have an en suite bath and dining room, but it may not have been refurbished to 10 years.  So goes standardization.

    On topic, people “on the cheap” always have the complaints, whether it be about Enterprise, Hotwire or Spirit Airlines.  When these customers absolutely have to pay the least with the biggest discounts, why are they the loudest complainers?

    I suggest if they want a better chance of satisfaction, they trade up.  Try Hertz, Hampton Inn, and Southwest. 

  25. I guess I’m lost here – if there is a property you WANT to stay at – and others you don’t – then – why not see what it costs to stay where you want to stay?   Honestly, call them up and and say “I would like to stay in your hotel, but $175 a night is too much for my budget – do you have any rooms at $125 a night for 3 nights?”

    For crying out loud – ask.  Most times you will really be surprised by the answer you get –

    1. Some hotel chains have non-refundable, advanced payment pricing with substantial discounts.  They’re not discounted as much as Priceline or Hotwire, but you know exactly what you’re getting. I think Chris has handled a few cases where there was a sob story about an emergency where one or all nights couldn’t be used. Also – some people are worried that certain hotel employees who know you booked on an opaque site might not treat guests as well, although I’ve had minimal experiences that bear that out.

      However – they typically require some sort of advanced reservation.  They typically aren’t available the day of or the day before.  At least with the opaque sites, you might be able to get a heavily discounted room that can be booked the day you need it.

    2. Joe, you are so right. When I had my high school reunion in Manhattan (NYC) last year, in the late spring, no less, my visiting classmate bargained our hotel down to $159/night from $199. True, it was uptown near Broadway at 77th, but our reunion was only a short walk away. The hotel was old, but the rooms were fine and the service was great.

  26. It DOES state that the star rating on the list of hotels you can see might be different then the ones you can not see, because they use their own rating system for those. I would not think they would change this as it clearly states that when you enter the section.

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