After three years of travelling solo and about ten or so of travelling with various businesses, I’ve become pretty used to booking accommodation online. Hotwire Hotels, Hotels.com, Priceline, HostelWorld – I’ve done them all. While each of those services listed above has advantages and disadvantages, one service I always go back to faithfully is Hotwire Hotels.
If you’ve never used Hotwire, their business model will probably come as a surprise to you. Essentially they offer you extremely discounted hotel rooms in most major cities in the world, which is a great way to save some money if you are comfortable booking online. But there’s a catch – you don’t know exactly what hotel you are staying at until after you have already paid for it. That’s a scary proposition for most people, but is ultimately how they are able to keep their prices so low.
You can mitigate this risk by choosing the general location where you want to stay (i.e., downtown Vancouver vs a hotel near airport) as well as the approximate star rating of the hotel (i.e. a 3.5 or a 4.0 star). Once you enter this data, Hotwire will give you various hotels in the general area you chose, as well as generic user reviews and ratings for those various hotels (to help you make your decision).
Once you pay for your hotel, you’ll instantly be directed to a new webpage showing you the actual name and location of the hotel you are staying at. So at that point you can do some actual research to see the exact amenities the hotel has, as well as check-in and check-out times. Hotwire Hotels will follow up and send you an email as well so you have a record of your purchase as well as the name of the hotel.
One thing that people should take note of is that Hotwire Hotels’s official policy is that they do not offer refunds for their bookings. If they did allow refunds, then it would basically let someone book an unknown hotel and then immediately ask for a refund if they didn’t like the hotel they ended up in. So you should be pretty sure you are willing to accept whatever hotel you are given in the area and approximately star rating prior to hitting that final purchase button, because often they is no recourse if you don’t like your hotel.
That said, I did manage once to get a refund on a booking, but in my case it was because I screwed up the date of the booking. Even so, it was a major hassle trying to convince anyone at Hotwire to refund my money, since their official policy is no refunds.
I’ve been using Hotwire Hotels for six or seven years now, and in all that time I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad room or a bad experience. In all cases, the hotel I ended up with matched my rough expectations for the type of hotel I would end up in, so their were no big surprises there.
One thing people should note though is that for Hotwire, and most of the other discount hotel booking services such as Hotels.com or Priceline, the rooms you end up with are generally the less-than-ideal ones on the floor. For example, it’s not very often I’ve had a really amazing view with a Hotwire hotel, and more often than not the hotel room is fairly close to the elevator. It makes sense from a business perspective though – hotels save their best rooms (the quietest and the ones with the best views) for their customers that are willing to pay full price. So at $80 a night in New York City, don’t expect to stay in the Ritz with a view of Central Park.
One Bed Vs Two
When you book a hotel with Hotwire, the system asks you how many people are staying in the room. But for the most part if you choose 1 or 2 people, the system makes no distinction between rooms with one bed or two. When I have called Hotwire Hotels to ask about this previously, they said the proper course of action is to email or call the hotel after your booking is confirmed to request one bed or two. The catch is that the hotel isn’t obligated to honour the request if it is different than the room you are in.
So if you’re staying with a friend and are adamant that you don’t want to risk the possibility of staying in the same bed, then perhaps booking via Hotels.com is the better course of action.
The rooms on Hotwire Hotels are heavily discounted, so I suspect the actual hotels aren’t making a ton of money from the bookings. As a result, I’ve been pleasantly surprised in a few hotels when I’ve asked the front desk if it is possible to upgrade to a better room during the check-in process. It’s not very often they’ll do it for free, but a few times I’ve paid $15 to $30 more and been upgraded to a vastly superior room. Together the Hotwire fee and the upgrade fee are still far cheaper than the cost of booking that same room would have been via the hotel’s own website.
I’ve probably booked 30 or so rooms through Hotwire Hotels over the years, and I have yet to have a bad experience. As I mentioned above, there are a few things to be aware of before you book such as the lack of a refund policy and not knowing the hotel you are staying in until after you pay. The room locations as well aren’t always ideal (such as near the elevators or lacking a view), but that’s the trade-off for getting a hotel room for over 50% off in most cases.
All in all though I think Hotwire Hotels is a great way to get a very comfortable room at an affordable price, especially if you don’t really care what hotel you end up in, just that you have a comfortable bed in a brand-name hotel in the location of your choice.