Hotwire Loses a Customer

Mike finally wises up.

My husband, Mike, is always looking for a travel deal. While there’s nothing wrong with that, what he usually winds up with is a prepaid travel deal with restrictions and other strings attached that make the trip a little less pleasant.

Hotels Deals?

His use of Hotwire, for example, has screwed us up more than once. He often uses it to book hotels. He claims he gets a better deal. What he usually gets, however, is a substandard room in the least desirable part of the hotel that doesn’t match his requests. I’m talking about the third-floor room in a high-rise that overlooks the air conditioning units on the roof of the hotel’s conference center. Or the one across the hall from the ice machine or elevator bank or housekeeping storage closet.

The request thing really bugs me. Hotwire — and most of those special deal booking services — include a field in the reservation form where you can enter requests, such as “quiet room” or “upper floor.” It usually also includes form fields for bed size (i.e., King, 2 Queens, etc.). The trouble is, the hotels either don’t see or don’t get these requests. While we’ve never been stuck in a smoking room after requesting nonsmoking, we seldom get our requested bed size (a single King or Queen). And the other requests regarding room type are usually ignored.

So what is your special deal getting you? Certainly not what you wanted.

And what kind of a deal is that?

While it really doesn’t matter on a one-night stay, getting a less-than-satisfactory room on a multi-night stay can really ruin the trip, especially if it’s supposed to be for pleasure.

The hotels, in the meantime, don’t give a shit about you. In their eyes, you’re paying $99 for a $199 room — or whatever your special deal is — and you’re at the very bottom of their list for service. They don’t care about you. They don’t want your kind in their hotel. The very fact that they have to take in Hotwire guests cheapens their establishment, in their eyes. So when you realize that your vacation is about to be ruined by your room’s view of the garbage dumpsters rather than the mountains or ocean on the other side of the building, and ask to get a different room, they respond that the hotel is full. They’re not even willing to do a deal with you for an upgrade. I think it’s because you pay Hotwire for the room — not the hotel itself — and making a change is likely to start an accounting nightmare for whoever’s at the desk.

This happened to us twice on trips Mike booked for the two of us. After the second time, I made him promise he’d never book a hotel through Hotwire for a trip I was going on with him. But Mike continues to use Hotwire for his solo trips, and for the trips he takes with his family members. Whatever.

Rental Car Reservations?

Well, Mike got bit bad by Hotwire this week. He’s flying to Seattle to visit me out in central Washington. I told him to fly into Wenatchee, which is 30 miles from where I was staying, but he was too cheap to pay the extra $220 airfare from Seattle to Wenatchee. He expected me to drive the 300 round trip miles twice to pick him up in Seattle and then take him back. When I explained that wasn’t happening in my 10 miles per gallon truck, he decided to rent a car. I had no problem with that because I figured that whatever he rented would be more comfortable and fuel-efficient than my 1994 Ford F150 redneck truck.

Now, I’ve rented cars too many times to count over the past 20 or so years. I don’t like doing it. There are too many different prices and options and add-on fees. I’ve found that the very best way to get a good deal is to check the Web sites or call the toll-free numbers for the top 3-5 car rental places that serve the market you’re going to and get quotes. Have your AAA or AOPA or whatever discount code ready. Unless you’re traveling with a lot of people, always ask for the smallest, cheapest car. Nine times out of 10, you’ll get upgraded for free. (I’ve been upgraded to convertibles, minivans, SUVs, and even sports cars.) The trick is to compare apples to apples to make sure each quote is for the complete and total amount. When you find the best price, book it through the car rental agency. They usually just ask for a name and phone number; they seldom ask for a credit card. You write down the confirmation number and present it at the rental counter when you arrive.

But Mike reserved through Hotwire. And not only did they charge him over $350 up front for the entire rental, but the “reservation” was non-refundable. So when I picked up a contract in the Chelan, WA area and needed my truck (and its miserable fuel transfer system) up there with me, he was unable to cancel the car reservation and make the plane reservation (as I’d originally requested — and yes, that’s an “I told you so”). As a result, he’s paying $350 to rent a car to drive himself from Seattle to Quincy and back again. For the rest of his stay, the car will be parked in front of my camper at the Quincy Golf Course.

After battling with a “supervisor” at Hotwire and the rental car agency and getting nowhere, he admitted that he’d learned his lesson: He will never book anything with Hotwire again.

The Moral of this Story

I guess the thing that bugs me most about this affair is the fact that you can really get screwed just trying to save a few bucks. And while it’s nice to save money when you can, there comes a point when saving $20 or $50 on a 10-day car rental isn’t worth the restrictions and headaches that go along with the savings. In this case, by booking his car rental through Hotwire a few days in advance of the trip, he forfeited all of his travel flexibility.

Moments ago, with 10 minutes of work, without any discount codes, I found a suitable car rental through Enterprise for $373.56 — less than $25 more. Is it worth $25 — less than 7% of the purchase price — to pay for something in advance without any chance of refund?

To add insult to injury, our financial situation does not make it vital to save the $25. It’s not like we’re broke. But that’s part of the big picture. And sometimes, for some people, it’s tough to see the forest for the trees.

One thought on “Hotwire Loses a Customer

  1. I second the recommendation not to use Hotwire. You will also want to avoid the affiliated sites owned by the same evil Ferengi-like company- Expedia, Hotels.com, Tripadvisor. The only way they will change these unethical practices (charging for a non used item on the pretense that you got it at a ‘discount) is a)they get sued and lose, b) people refuse to use their ‘services’ and c) the government steps up and starts regulating their business.

What do you think?