9:30 AM EDT, September 30, 2013
Jerome Garcia's Hotwire hotel room is in the wrong place and overpriced. But did the online travel agency do anything wrong -- and does he deserve a refund?
Q: I hope you can help me with a Hotwire Hotel reservation. I booked a three-star "Las Vegas Strip -- South Area Hotel" on Hotwire recently. I got a room at Hooters Casino Hotel for $47 per night, plus taxes and fees.
There are two problems with the result. First, it's not on the Las Vegas Strip; it's more than half a mile away. And second, it's listed as a "Super Savings" rate, which Hotwire classifies as "more than 30 percent off retail price." But most websites have the normal price at about $45 to $50 per night. Where's the "super" savings?
I understand Hotwire reservations are final, and have used them successfully in the past. However, I feel this reservation is not fair. Hotwire won't refund the reservation. Please help me. -- Jerome Garcia, Albuquerque, NM
A: You're right, Hotwire's terms are restrictive. But there's a tradeoff: In exchange for not knowing the exact name and location of the hotel, and giving up your right to a refund, you're supposed to get a deep discount at a brand-name hotel.
Hotwire fell short of that. Its rates weren't the lowest, even though it promises they will be. But its guarantee, which you can find on its site, only says if you find a lower rate for an identical booking, it will "pay you the difference between the rates." But a full refund? There's no mention of that.
The other issue is the location of your hotel. Hotwire is pretty clear about what it considers in the "Las Vegas Strip" area, and your resort was there. But it wasn't on the Strip, and unless you read the fine print carefully and click on the map, you could easily assume you'll be staying on the Strip until the very end of the booking process, when the name of your property is finally revealed.
Most customers don't bother to check their Hotwire rate against other published prices, and they shrug when their hotel isn't exactly where it's supposed to be -- after all, they got a deal, right?
But your grievance highlights one of the persistent problems with so-called "opaque" sites, which is that like their amorphous products, their promises are long on rhetoric and short on specifics. Often, you can find a good deal through one of these sites, but not always.
(Christopher Elliott is the author of "Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals" (Wiley). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Christopher Elliott receives a great deal of reader mail, and though he answers them as quickly as possible, your story may not be published for several months because of a backlog of cases.)
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