Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Life, Life, Love

Travel Troubleshooter: Thwarted by a balky promo code

Question: I recently used Hotwire for the first time to book a hotel in Honolulu. I downloaded the Hotwire app, because it said I could use a promo code for $25 off. I saw a 3.5-star Waikiki hotel, and I thought it was a pretty good deal.

I got excited, booked it - and then things went awry.

The first problem I had was with the promo code. I was supposed to press the "promo code" button to apply it to my reservation before completing it. I called Hotwire and explained to the customer-service representative that I wasn't too familiar with what I needed to do.

The representative said all sales were final, and therefore she couldn't apply the promo code. I said I was not asking for a refund - I just wanted to apply the promo code. She said there was nothing she could do.

The second problem was with the hotel rating. I thought I had purchased a three-night stay in a 3.5-star hotel. When the hotel was revealed, I saw that it was the Vive Hotel Waikiki. I started looking at the hotel on TripAdvisor, Travelocity, and Orbitz, and I noticed that it was listed as a 3-star hotel, except by Travelocity, which listed it as 3.5 stars.

I wrote to Hotwire, and it replied that it was "confident" in its rating. I'm not. I paid more for the hotel than I thought I would, and I got less. Can you help?

- Elsa Chung, Vancouver, Canada
Answer: Hotwire's booking works a little differently from how a conventional reservation made through an online agency works. In exchange for a discount, you give up your right to know the exact name of the property as well as your right to a refund. In other words, Hotwire isn't for the indecisive, and, I might add, you were extra brave to try your first reservation on the Hotwire app instead of through its site.

For technical reasons, the representative you contacted could have helped you apply the code to a new booking, but she couldn't apply it retroactively. Hotwire simply doesn't allow that, for what it calls "quality control" reasons. The representative should have explained that.

She also should have checked the Vive Hotel's rating more closely. You ordered a 3.5-star hotel, but received a hotel that many online agencies rated as being only 3 stars. Although there are no standardized star ratings in the American hotel industry, and although Hotwire's star ratings, like its service, tend to be opaque, its ratings serve an important purpose. They suggest that you can expect certain service levels and amenities. For more on its star ratings, see a full description online at www.hotwire.com/travel-information/hotels/hotel-ratings.jsp.

Had the representative done a more thorough check, she would have seen that there was indeed a half-star discrepancy.

"It was an oversight on our part," another Hotwire representative confirmed.

It's difficult to prevent this kind of problem from recurring, since you don't find out which hotel you booked until after you've pushed the "book" button. But if it ever happens to you again, you can contact someone at a higher level at Hotwire to appeal your case. I list the executive contacts on my website at http://elliott.org/contacts/hotwire/.

Hotwire issued a $45 voucher as an apology, which can be used for a future purchase. It also lowered the Vive's rating to 3 stars in its system.


chris@elliott.org. Christopher Elliott is the author of "How to Be the World's Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money and Hassle)" (National Geographic). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and cofounder of the Consumer Travel Alliance.

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