Why did Hotwire let this guy book multiple rental cars?

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

When Robert Sharp accidentally reserves two nonrefundable rental cars on Hotwire, he assumes the company will cancel one for him. But it doesn’t. So who should pay for this mistake?

Question

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. So now I had two (nonrefundable) rental cars reserved for the exact same time.

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 reserved two rental cars through Hotwire for the same time. 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. 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. Obviously, no one needs two rental cars. 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 seems like a few things went wrong on Hotwire’s side, too.

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.

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 rental car booking was a “mistake.” He added that Hotwire just needed to “verify” the refund through the 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.”

No one needs two rental cars at the same time. Here’s Hotwire’s response to your mistake

If Hotwire had told you upfront 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.

I think a brief, polite appeal to a Hotwire executive might have also worked for you. We list the names, numbers and email addresses of the Expedia contacts in our database.

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 multiple rental cars you were booking. And 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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