Before you dismiss this latest story about a hotel ratings dispute as irrelevant, consider this: Changing a hotel’s star rating by just a fraction can translate into millions of dollars of revenue to an online travel company. So every half-point counts. It certainly does to Sugi Harto, who found himself booked at the Fairfield Inn Placentia through Hotwire recently.
As an “opaque” seller of travel, Hotwire doesn’t reveal the name of the property until you’ve after you’ve bought it. It only lets you see a location and a star rating while you’re shopping. Hotwire generously awarded the Fairfield Inn three stars. Harto found that many other credible sources gave it only 2.5 stars.
Is this a textbook case of star inflation?
The difference between a 2.5 star and a 3-star is relatively minor, to be sure.
Here’s the description of a 2.5-star:
Midscale 2.5-star hotels
These midscale establishments offer solid service that’s more than just the basics. Features often include:
* Guestrooms with couches and dedicated desks
* On-site dining
* An attractive, inviting lobby
A business administrative or health and fitness center may also be available. These properties are usually located near shopping or dining, and can be found in both downtown or resort areas and smaller cities.
And here’s a 3-star:
Quality 3-star hotels
These quality establishments make comfort and personalized service their priority. These full-service properties usually feature:
* An inviting, relaxed lobby
* On-site dining
* Room service
* Family-style rooms
A business administrative or health and fitness center may also be available. You can find these hotels in downtown or resort areas, and also in smaller, suburban cities.
So here’s Harto’s grievance.
In short, my arguments are as follows:
1. 6 out of 8 travel sites rate this hotel as a 2.5 star: Expedia, hotels.com, Priceline. Getatroom.com, Intervalworld, etc. I attached the screenshots for Hotwire, but they refused to open it because of possible virus (???). However, they also refuse to go to the Web site to verify. I faxed printouts to them but they never acknowledge any receipt.
2. Marriott has another property in the same street: Residence Inn, which is a 3 star.
3. Tripadvisor rates this place as a 2.5 star.
4. AAA rates this place as a 2 diamonds hotel.
Hotwire’s reply has been its general company line: No acknowledgment of the facts above. It’s been frustrating. Please help. All I expect is when Hotwire promises a 3 star hotel, it should provide me with a 3 star not a 2.5 star.
Hotwire’s methodology for its ratings is kind of vague. Its response to Harto was kind of lacking, too.
I understand that you do not agree with the decision regarding the Fairfield Inn. I regret that you are disappointed.
At Hotwire, we are committed to providing our customers with a quality experience and strive to present an accurate, up-to-date star ratings guide.
We determine our star ratings by:
- Visiting thousands of properties each year
- Carefully benchmarking our star ratings against other travel sites and ratings authorities
- Soliciting customer feedback following every stay and adjusting our ratings accordingly
- Investigating and acting on customer rating concerns
In support of our Star Ratings Promise we continuously monitor the quality of all hotel properties. You can review our Star Ratings Promise and our hotel star ratings guide by clicking on the link below or copying and pasting it into your browser.
Customer feedback is an important component in ensuring quality products and services at Hotwire. Our goal is to exceed your expectations and we regret we did not do so on this occasion. We hope to have the opportunity to better serve your needs in the near future.
Now that’s a form letter. I decided to contact the company on Harto’s behalf. Here’s how it responded:
We’ve researched his concerns further, and feel confident in the star rating that was provided. While he is correct that several websites rate the Fairfield Inn Placentia as a 2.5 star property, there are others that rate it as a 3 star as well. For example, both Orbitz and Travelocity rate it as a 3, and the TripAdvisor customer reviews rate it as a 4 out of 5.
As you know, star ratings can vary depending on the source of the evaluation, especially when the difference is a ½ star. That’s why we have chosen to benchmark our site rating against some of the other large sites on a regular basis. We then evaluate our own customer post-stay feedback to see if we should downgrade a property further from the benchmark. In this case, the property rating is very well thought of by our customers, with 84% agreeing with the current 3 star level.
We do understand Sugi’s concern, however. We’ve contacted him and asked that he follow through with his check-in process in February. If he verifies that the quality of the hotel is not up to the level he would expect, we’ve asked that he call us immediately. We will work with the property to resolve any potential issues at that point, or we will re-accommodate him accordingly.
That seems more than fair. Except for just one thing: When I contacted Harto, he said he’d spoken with a Hotwire representative, who recommended that he dispute the star-rating with Hotwire because he had a good chance of prevailing, and advised him to book another hotel for that night — which he did. So now Harto has two nonrefundable reservations.
He’s disputing the first charge with his credit card.
I’m getting tired of covering the star-inflation scandal. Hotwire should peg its stars to a credible source, like AAA, instead of manipulating their star ratings for financial gain, as they appear to be doing.
Update (Jan. 28): Hotwire has reversed itself. From Harto:
Hotwire decided to cancel the reservation and refund the money. They still rate the property as a three-star. However, the quality control manager felt the supervisor who I talked to raised a wrong expectation and played a role in my booking of another property in the same area for the same period of time before resolving this issue. Thanks again for your help.
(Photo: J. Stephen Conn/Flickr Creative Commons)