“Their bait-and-switch tactics count on us having a short memory”

One question remains after trying — and failing — to mediate Gregory Bergman’s case with Hotwire: Why do we keep falling for it?

Why do we continue to book anonymous hotels that may or may not meet our expectations?

I don’t know. But I’d like to hear your theories.

First, Bergman’s story. It’s a familiar one to readers of this site. He used Hotwire to book a room for eight days in early June in Portsmouth, NH. He’s used the site many times before, but this time, he wanted more of a sure thing.

“As I am traveling with my wife and newborn girl from the Bay Area, I wanted the hotel to be above-standard,” he says.

Bergman knows the hotels in Portsmouth pretty well, and figured that by choosing a “3.5 star” property, he’d be in good shape. He believed only two hotels rated about three stars, and he was comfortable staying in both of those with his family.

He figured wrong.

I was dumbfounded to find at the moment of “revelation” we would be staying at the local Best Western.

I immediately called customer service and explained that as a loyal Hotwire customer, I understood the process and usually expect to be pleasantly surprised or mildly disappointed.

In this case, though, a 3.5 star rating for the Portsmouth Best Western — a 70s decor holdout — was an egregious error.

Bergman asked for a refund. Hotwire refused.

An argument ensued.

I noted their own rating on the “names revealed” side rated the Best Western “plus” sister hotel six miles away as a three-star. But he explained they used Orbitz, Travelocity and their own customers for ratings.

When I noted the Orbitz site had one customer complaining of bedbugs, he questioned the legitimacy of the reviewer. I asked to speak to a manager, who listened and then also denied me any refund.

As an experienced Hotwire user, Bergman should have known of the risks of booking through the site. I would have happily explained those to him or referred him to the numerous other articles I’ve written about star confusion.

But in the end I decided to contact Hotwire about his grievance because of his circumstances. Traveling with an infant can be extra stressful, and what’s the harm in asking?

I should have known better.

Here’s Hotwire’s response:

We researched the Best Western Plus Wynwood Portsmouth (and our system) further, and the 3.5-star rating that was given to this hotel is accurate. In fact, we last benchmarked this property on 5/26, so the star rating is indeed up to date.

I recognize that Mr. Bergman is familiar with the area and I’m sorry to hear that he feels this hotel is below a 3.5-star rating. However, it should be noted that this hotel is well rated by TripAdvisor customers at 4-stars, and is recommended by 82% of Hotwire customers who have completed a post-stay survey.

In terms of his input on the other local Best Western hotel having a 3-star rating, it’s worth noting that quality and, in turn, star ratings can vary across specific properties within a hotel chain. So unfortunately, Mr. Bergman might be using information that isn’t entirely reliable in this case.

In other words, he’s stuck with the hotel. Here’s how everything ended: Bergman and his family stayed at the hotel and they hated every minute of it.

“It was a dreadful room, a Motel 6 tunnel-like atmosphere, and we spent eight days running away from it,” he says.

He added,

My complaint, which I believe you share, is the star inflation at travel websites.

That the Wynnwood would rate the same five stars as Pacifica Bonito, or the Copley is foolish, but that travel sites like Hotwire have figured to harness such nonsense reviews is nearly fraud.

The more light shed on the star rating systems being used by the major travel websites, the better. Their bait-and-switch tactics count on us having a short memory — or on the gambler within us.

I’m certainly guilty of returning to Hotwire, despite having multiple lousy experiences renting overrated rooms.

That’s the real question. Why do we keep coming back to Hotwire when we know we won’t get a sure thing? Is it the gambler within all of us? The bargain-hunter? Did our brains go on vacation before the rest of us?

Why, for that matter, do we continue to trust user-generated reviews, which are often manipulated by hotels and restaurants?

I’ve been covering this business for a long time, and I still don’t know the answer.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • lorcha

    Hotwire is good for only one thing: car rentals. If you use it for any other purpose, you will get nailed by the star inflation, sooner or later. Just don’t do it.

    There are plenty of great ways to get deals on hotel rooms where you know which property you’ll be staying at. Stop getting screwed by Hotwire.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001823466572 Jen Armstrong

    I guess perhaps it’s because we’re always looking for ways to cut costs. Perhaps as the economy worsened and the costs of travel have increased in other areas, we have been inclined to use these sites more often to find a lower room rate. With more people using these sites, we find more questionable hotel ratings and unpleasant stays. 

  • http://flyicarusfly.com/ Fly, Icarus, Fly

    I’m not sure it’s about saving money. I think it’s the hope that one day, we’re going to get into the Westin at Best Western prices (see how I chose two hotels that sounded the same? You’re welcome.)

    Don’t mediate. He knew the system. He lost. Mediating will not change the system.

  • backprop

    I see a Four of “Wife and Newborn Baby” card being played here.

    Yes, traveling with an infant can be extra stressful….but let’s go ahead and cheap out and use an opaque site anyway.  And stay there for eight days.

  • $16635417

    I disagree. I have used opaque booking for years and never been less than pleasantly surprised. I have saved thousands of dollars compared to what I would have paid by booking elsewhere. That being said, I wouldn’t use it for certain trips…such as 8 days with my family.

    I do my research online. Looking at one of the two sites where people post their winning bids, I see the only 3.5 star property in the area is the Best Western Plus Wynwood Hotel & Suites. Is this the correct property?

    In looking at the reviews on Trip Advisor, most are very favorable. There is a recent one by “orizu” from Berkeley, CA, who also stayed 8 days. ;) They apparently got placed in the “old” building. (Which is not a surprise for an opaque site, cheaper rooms, regardless of booking method, tend to get the less desirable ones.) The manager responded that had they brought the problems to the attention of management, they would have attempted to remedy the problem onsite.

    So, for all the opaque site bashers…please don’t use them. If you do want to use them, understand how the game is played and do your homework. If you aren’t happy…talk to the local hotel management as well.

    Yes, star rating are a joke, but this hotel has been reported as 3.5 stars in the past, so you certainly have a clue what you are getting into.

  • http://www.blackchickontour.com/ Terri Lundberg

    “Why do we keep coming back to Hotwire when we know we won’t get a sure thing? Is it the gambler within all of us? The bargain-hunter? Did our brains go on vacation before the rest of us?”

    I would NEVER book a hotel room with Hotwire. I’m sorry, I believe you get what you pay for.  And, I certainly wouldn’t put payment down and not know which hotel I was staying at.  I think he was being cheap, and he got what he was paying for.

  • jim6555

    I’ve found the hotel star ratings on Hotwire to be inflated when compared to those  on Priceline. I’ve been a Priceline customer since before William Shatner became their spokesperson and have never been disappointed. 

  • kakeyte

    I hate to say it but you should never assume you will be pleasantly surprised when using an opaque site.

  • $16635417

    …only if you don’t know how and when to use it properly. 

  • john4868

    I don’t see this as bait and switch. When you use sites like this, you take the risk on being in a less than stellar property and, for a lower price, waive your ability to choose. You know that going in so I don’t see this as “bait and switch” more like “caveat emptor.”

    I put this in same buckets as the “they wouldn’t refund my non-refundable room ” complaints.

  • emanon256

    Why do people buy lottery tickets?  I see this as the same thing.  You might win, but most likely you will lose.  I got a 4-star Days Inn through an opaque site many years back.  It was one of the dirtiest nastiest hotels I have ever seen.  When I complained, I was told the 4 star rating was based on user reviews.  Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.  I don’t use opaque sites anymore.   I only trust AAA or Mobile ratings after that. I also look at TripAdvisor, but take it with a grain of salt.   However, people still want to win the lottery, and they want to pay next to nothing for the chance at a great hotel, so they keep on playing the hotel slot machine and buying lottery tickets. I prefer to manage my expectations and not gamble.

  • Raven_Altosk

    It’s not bait and switch, it’s a stupidity tax. 

    If this guy had half a brain he should’ve called some hotels in the area directly. An 8 night stay might’ve earned him a weekly or preferred rate, probably better than any of those shady opaque sites could do.

    Besides, if I’m traveling with my baby, I don’t want any surprises. We’ll stay in a chain that I trust and have status in.

  • emanon256

    Love it!  Stupidity Tax.

  • emanon256

    Priceline is the one that gave me a 4-Star Days Inn, also pre-Shatner.  The room was complete with a broken window, ripped sheets, and a refusal to move me or even replace the sheets.  I walked myself across the street to another hotel.

  • http://bidontravel.com/mobile/index.html Don Nadeau

    Please take no offense, but you also get what you overpay for. As an example of Hotwire savings, I stayed at the truly 4-star Fairmont in San Jose this year for $74. It should have been rated 4.5 stars. A nearby Motel 6 was running around $60. I do agree with another commenter though that Priceline’ s ratings usually track closer to AAA diamond ratings.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_GOKU4UTKGMRL2JZ6URRWHIXI2E Pat

    Don’t complain when you know you are taking a chance and can lose. I always use Hotels.com. Just me.

  • BillCCC

    It appears that the customer is upset because he received exactly what he asked for on a third party travel booking site.  I do not believe that a refund is in order. Once again, if you wish to stay in a particular hotel then you should book directly with that hotel. Penny wise and pound foolish.

    I read the user reviews but usually stick to the reviews that give lower ratings in order to see if there are any real complaints or just whiners. I pretty well know what the good reviews will say.

  • lost_in_travel

    Bergman did not mention that the restaurant downstairs is one of the best diners around – The Round-About.  It takes its name from the Portsmouth Circle where Route 95, Route 1, and several other major roads all intersect about 100 feet from the hotel. Great diner food any time of the day or night and a very central to transportation location (if you are into being close to the busiest intersection in the area).

    If he knows the area so well, why didn’t he call hotels directly?  Early June is before the season really gets going in Portsmouth and there may have been bargains at places he would like better.  I will remind him, though, that there is still contruction going on downtown so both the Hilton Garden Inn and the Sheraton would have had challenges for him too.

    Hotwire was not the way to go – what little money he may have saved he more than lost in being angry and upset the rest of his family too.

  • Charles

    I have used both Priceline and Hotwire before. I’ve gotten some good deals on Priceline. The only time I’ve actually purchased on Hotwire, I found I could have purchased directly from the hotel at the same rate. But, I pretty much got what I was looking for.

    If you want to use these sites, you need to look at sites like http://www.betterbidding.com, which will give you a good idea of what you are likely to get. Then, go to the hotel sites directly and see what they are offering. Only then should you consider using Priceline or Hotwire to get a better rate. But, you can get a good deal, especially in large cities. We stayed at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, DC for $99 a night via Priceline.

  • sirwired

     There are a couple of websites online that contain lists of Hotwire properties, along with their star rating and listed amenities.  This means you can usually suss out which property is which before booking.  I’ve gotten a couple of REALLY good deals this way.

  • TonyA_says

    I don’t understand all of this. To me, all that matters is what I get for my money. We don’t know what he paid for his room. For all we know he paid cheap and got it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000723069923 Richee Gordon

    You want a bargain?
     You got a bargain.
     If the hotel is that bad why didn’t he check out and go some where decant?

  • karenell

    I think a big problem here is the usage of the term ‘star rating’ –
    something only Mobil (now Forbes) could assign. What TripAdvisor
    provides is a user rating, actually denoted in circles, not stars.

  • lorcha

    If you have tools that you like to use, you should post them. Not gonna change my mind, but I’m sure you’ll help others avoid some heartache.

  • lorcha

    If you have tools that you like to use, you should post them. Not gonna change my mind, but I’m sure you’ll help others avoid some heartache.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Oh, his TripAdvisor review mentioned it all right:

    “The contiguous diner is a throwaway; enough bad food on the road, don’t need to indulge on a layover.”

  • lorcha

    And what happens when you need to cancel your reservation?

  • mencik

    If you want a particular hotel or particular quality hotel based on your standards, don’t use Hotwire like this. Use a travel agent to pick a specific hotel and pay for what you want. If you try to cheap out, you may get what you paid for.

  • http://upgrd.com/roadmoretraveled MeanMeosh

    It isn’t a bait-and-switch.  It’s a case of someone who tried to go el cheapo and was left holding the bag when the gamble didn’t work.  Just like all those people who book on Spirit because they think they’re saving money, and then complain about it later when the service is bad and they have to pay fees for everything.  You get what you pay for.  The funny thing is, if he was staying for 8 days, he probably could have called up whatever hotel he wanted and gotten either a good discount on the room rate, or some goodies thrown in like comped laundry or meals.

    My biggest beef with opaque sites is actually the deceptive nature of “resort” fees charged by many establishments, since these fees are not disclosed at the time of the bid, and you have no option to cancel once you find out you’re stuck with a hotel that charges one.  The first time I used Priceline, I got burned by that.  I won a bid for a very nice hotel in Orange County for $50, but found out upon check-in that there was a $9 “resort” fee that had to be paid on top of that.  It was still a decent deal, but sometimes it ends up being a bad one because you could have booked cheaper direct.

  • AAmerican1

    People continue to use these sites because they do not know how to negotiate for themselves. If a property is listed on an opaque site then that is an indicator the property has excess inventory. The best price is always, if you know how to negotiate, IMHO through the hotel you want to stay at. You know what you are getting and there are no surprises. Very seldom do properties give their best rooms to opaque sites to sell for them.

  • Adam_The_Man

    Another Scam! He paid for a 3.5 Star and got crap.  He was ripped off by lies.  He should get a full refund.

  • l2y2

    He wanted to save money and he took the risk. He must have read numerous times in this column how often that happens. He knew the rules. Hopefully, he learned he shouldn’t use an opaque site when it’s that important to him..

  • Joe_D_Messina

    If he wanted to guarantee “above standard” then book a specific hotel, don’t go to a grab bag and just hope it turns out okay.  He played the cheapskate and lost this one.  As an “experienced Hotwire user” the possibility of this NEVER crossed his mind?

  • Joe_D_Messina

    And these websites are?  They sound very useful. Don’t leave us hanging.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    Its not different than any other nonrefundable rate. You choose one if you are willing to accept the risk.  I generally only do non-refundable rates from my laptop in the hotel lobby.  I figure the risk associated with those 25 feet is negligible  ;)

     I think the larger point is that these sites, like every commercial product has its users. Depending on your travel needs and personality, they may work for you, for others, they may not work.

    The problem comes when there is  a mismatch between customer expectations and the product.  When using one of these products it is incumbent that you understand the rules and the limitations as accept the risk associated with such a high level of uncertainty.

    Personally, I haven’t booked an opaque site since 2000.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    And I booked a Sheraton Suites in Philadelphia with a broken window shade, a six foot rip in the carpet, filthy room. I booked it with SPG.com.  You can get a crappy room through any venue. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeff.kolker Jeff Kolker

    I don’t gamble.  I’m willing to pay to know where I’m going and what I’m getting.  When you play the Hotwire game, sometimes you’re going to get something you didn’t want.  Why risk it?   

    Wonder if you can ask for your money back at the roulette table when you lose the game?  Almost the same principle…. 

  • Joe_D_Messina

    For a rate like that, he’s willing to take the chance he won’t have to cancel.

  • Troy Gorda

    Note I’m not telling the majority of readers on this site anything new, just ranting.
    I think that these opaque sites capitalize on ignorance. The average traveler is completely unfamiliar with the travel market place.  Many people claim to understand supply and demand but few do.  Why do people keep taking chances with these sites? Because when they find a great deal they feel smarter and they KNEW they could get it cheaper and find a better way.  Few people sit down with any plan beyond get it cheap, by this I mean they don’t have a concept of what a good deal is.  An example of this is airfare.  Most travelers just want to find the cheapest ticket, hunting and hunting for the least amount of money out of their pocket.  Very few before they fly, determine distance traveled and amount spent per mile.  Are you flying for less than the cost of gas if you drove? Hmm that may be a good deal.  Connecting through two different airports to save $100.00 per ticket for that family of four? Might not be a good value if you calculate the value of your time, stress, and the fact that you’ll probably never see your luggage again.  Some sites are now advertising mixing airlines as a BENEFIT.  When you’re stranded with a canceled flight on one airline and connecting to another airline and both airlines are arguing over who is responsible for getting you home you won’t like that savings very much.  Nor will you be happy when you find out you can’t fly standby on an earlier flight because of your class of ticket with mixed airlines.
    Opaque sites highlight what I think is becoming a major problem in our economy, the desire by the consumer to demand more and more and pay less and less.  This traveler states that he knew the rules but because he thought he knew the areas and hotel ratings he was confident that he would be happy with what he got and wasn’t.  The problem in his mind isn’t that he presumed information that was inaccurate; the problem is with the companies ratings. While the ratings may be off so was his strategy.  Everyone likes to save money but we have reached a point in our society where so many of us don’t appreciate or value expertise at all. Get an estimate on your roof from a reliable contractor with excellent references who guarantees his work and it costs too much? Contact your alcoholic buddy with a pickup truck and have him do it for half the price then complain about the shoddy work he did and that he didn’t finish on time.  Go to your bank for a home loan and they won’t give it to you because you don’t have enough of a down payment? Those people don’t know what they are talking about, I’ll go get a loan from Shucksters Inc. and I’ll be able to get a house I can’t afford at rates I can’t handle.  Then its Shucksters fault when I can’t make payments.  Yes I saw the rules but it can’t apply to MY situation.  Now many industries have eliminated work force, getting rid of experts in their field, so that they can compete.  I don’t need an electronics expert; I’ll just go to Best Buy.  I don’t need Best Buy I’ll just order from Amazon.  I don’t need Amazon I’ll just get it on E-Bay.  I don’t need E-Bay I’ll get it on Craig’s List.  I’ll pay a cut rate for a hotel and expect free breakfast, wifi, a huge room, cable, work out facility, pool, and full points from both the hotel’s program and the maxed out credit card. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    Completely untrue.

    Since you don’t know which hotels have excess inventory you don’t know which one you can negotiate with and get that great deal.

    Your desired hotel, say a Marriott, may be completely full.  You can’t negotiate squat.  But perhaps the Hyatt next door is only at 75%. But you don’t know that.

    You may get lucky you may not.

  • Nica

    I do not think mediating will help in this case.  Also, the OP has said that he has returned despite several lousy stays.  If that is the case, then you should not be surprised at what you get. Is he a glutton for punishment?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    Saving money is a bad thing?

    How much he paid, the site he used, all are just a red herrings. The only issue is did he get what was promised.

    Does the hotel conform to the published star rating guidelines?

  • lorcha

    “I generally only do non-refundable rates from my laptop in the hotel lobby.  I figure the risk associated with those 25 feet is negligible”

    And what if there are no rooms available?

    “Personally, I haven’t booked an opaque site since 2000.”

    My last opaque purchase was in 2003, a round-trip ticket to Madrid on Hotwire for about $350. Given what was available at the time, this was a sweet deal. But it wound up having 2 stops, including an overnight in Brussels. Nothing wrong with that at the time, as it was just my wife and me, but there is absolutely no way that I would risk an itinerary like that with kids in tow!

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Reading between the lines of the letter, I can practically hear the conversation:

    Wife:   “Honey, I know you like saving a few bucks, but this is a long trip and with the little one I’m not going to be happy if the place isn’t really nice.”
    Husband: “Don’t worry!  I’ve checked the local hotels and it just HAS to be either the Ritz or the Four Seasons. We’ll probably be in the penthouse suite!”

    Then, when it all falls apart, it becomes his life’s mission to prove Hotwire screwed him over to avoid admitting to the wife he was an idiot.

  • AAmerican1

    Really? I go to hotwire enter the city & dates of my stay and it displays the available hotels & prices. If there’s a hotel I’m interested in I not only know the hotel has availabilty but also a price to negotiate.
    And that is untrue because?

  • SooZeeeQ

    From various articles in this column, I doubt I will ever use an on-line discount site.

    Those familiar with booking with them seem to run into trouble and the customer almost always does not appear to get the outcome they wanted.

  • emanon256

    Your room was probably an outlier, and I would think the hotel would do something about it. From the way the lobby in the Days Inn looked; I would think all of the rooms were of the same caliber.

  • bodega3

    If a hotel is showing sold out, it may not really be the case  Third party sites only gets ‘x’ amount of inventory to sell.  Also, how do you know these prices you find online are really the lowest?  I have been beating online pricing with my TA vendors and they have better cancellation polices.

  • JoJo449

    Wow! He booked an anonymous hotel & got one he didn’t want. Shocking!

    Stupid is as stupid does. If you want to be cheap & save a few bucks by booking a anonymous hotel then don’t whine when it turns out crappy.

    He says he’s used the site many times but wanted “more of a sure thing” this time. This leads me to believe he’s been disappointed before.

    I have rented cars through priceline etc. but I would never book a hotel without knowing what I was getting. Especially if I was traveling with my family. As an “experienced” traveler he should have known better. Mr Bergman went there expecting to hate it so he hated it.

    As Lorcha said there are other ways to get hotel deals.

  • Cybrsk8r

    I never, ever, book thru Hotwire or any of their clones.  I’d rather pay a little more and know I won’t be staying across the street from a prison.  That literally happened to someone I know.  She booked a room thru Hotwire in Lincoln, NE and then found out her 3-star hotel was directly across the street from the Nebraska State Penitentiary. She was so terrified by some of the other “guests”, she only lasted one night. I let her share my room for the rest of the stay, since it had two full beds. The day before we flew home there was a stabbing in the parking lot of her original hotel.

  • AAmerican1

    Never said the prices shown are the lowest available. The prices shown provide information to give you an idea where to begin negotiating. Example, I just negotiated a rate of $59 for a one night stay in San Antonio at a riverwalk hotel in August. Hotel site wanted $119, opaque site had listed for $89. I called hotel direct and spoke with front desk mgr. After a few pleasantries, etc. was able to walk away with rate.
    It’s negotiation. It takes work but in the end you usually get what you want with no surprises and you’re not crying on Chris’s shoulder.

  • jerryatric

    I will NOT use Hotwire or any other of those sites. First I plan where to go, then research the hotels in the area & then car rental rates. Recently in Myrtle Beach & stayed at a nice place, I booked direct & rented a car at a better price than I could have received from Priceline..
    A 4 star from 1 person is a 2 star by another. It depends on experience they had. Or even if some ratings are valid at all.

  • Bill___A

    Well the truth of the matter is that “we” means you and me…and I don’t trust those sites.  So “we” don’t.  “he” continues to use them.  I never do, likely never will.

    I certainly wouldn’t want to spend 8 days in a hotel I hated.

  • $16635417

    betterbidding and biddingfortravel have both been posted frequently.

  • $16635417

    betterbidding and biddingfortravel have both been posted frequently.

  • $16635417

    Don’t use an opaque site if you aren’t prepared to forfeit the amount paid. They are 100% non-refundable.

    I saved enough over the years to more than pay for the few times I have had to cancel a trip. I factor that into the decision to use an opaque site.

    If I am on business, I either charge a fee that covers my own travel or have them reimburse me for travel. I then factor that into my own cancel policy terms.

  • $16635417

    Yet we’re led to believe that the OP is more than just an average traveler.

  • Chris20127

    I find that of the opaque sites Priceline has the least star inflation (although they have some too) – and it works best in outskirts of large urban areas, convention center hotels, near airports, where there is often excess inventory –

    some one told me years ago the trick of ONLY selecting the highest rating in an area – for example in one town near Los Angeles there is only one 3 1/2 star hotel – a Hyatt Regency – and we have booked rooms there for prices between $45 and $55 – since there is only one hotel that qualifies, it is only nominally opaque…

    another time we booked 2 nights north of Tucson – a suites hotel, a tiny bit of a push at 3 1/2 stars, but perfectly acceptable – wanted to extend our stay – actual rates were $119, desk clerk offered us 10% off, then  $98 with a “double” triple A discount – I went back online and Priceline was still asking if we wanted to stay longer, so I extended the stay for $54 (plus another $5 booking fee)

    anyhow, if I  can’t get a 3 1/2 or 4 star hotel for less than $45-65 (depending on the area), then I go with searching directly …

  • y_p_w

    A few would include betterbidding.com, bidontravel.com, and BiddingForTravel.com.  The irony is that have ads for Priceline and/or Hotwire.


    Personally I prefer Priceline.  I recently booked a “3 star” room for $40 that would have been my first choice, but it was only one night.  It would have been $85 if I had booked on the hotel’s website or on Priceline knowing the hotel name in advance.  I researched which hotels in the area would fit the standard and several of those sites.  I knew my first choice (due to location and free breakfast) but was prepared for a different location.  In the morning I was having breakfast and heard several people either coming to the front desk to extend their stays or calling from their rooms.  The lowest price I heard quoted was $83 including a corporate discount.

    The other thing about Priceline is that they’ll often give you the option to extend your stay at the same rate (within limits) after you know the hotel name.  They may not have the option or will limit the option if the extension would otherwise hit a holiday or peak pricing day.  One might just try a sample day and eat the cost if the hotel isnt up to snuff.  Either that or just use up that day and chalk it up to bad luck.

  • y_p_w

    Depends on the particular Best Western.  It’s a franchised chain, and some Best Western locations can be really nice hotels, while others are essentially motor lodges.

  • y_p_w

    I’ve booked via opaque sites and brought along an infant.  I never had a problem requesting a crib even though the opaque booking standard is typically only for two adult guests.  For that matter, traveling with four adults hasn’t even been an issue.  For the most part the hotel employees don’t care as long as you don’t treat them like dirt.

    I suppose a hotel could ask for an additional payment for additional guests, but I’ve never seen that.

  • y_p_w

    Wow.  I once had to stay overnight and took my chances on Priceline.  All I got for $60 was the Airport Garden Hotel  – a former Holiday Inn.  It was old and a little too hot.  However, I did agree that it was three star by hotel class, but I frankly would have preferred a newer “two star” with a comfortable bed.

  • y_p_w

    There’s a difference between hotel class and user-generated ratings.  How Hotwire uses a composite of the two is likely to leave some customers disappointed.

    Now hotel class can also leave one disappointed.  I can actually put a finger on what would be a “three star” even though I’ve stayed in newer hotels or nicely renovated older hotels that met the criteria, as well as older hotels that I agree still did.  I didn’t get terribly upset since I still paid about half of what I otherwise would have paid even for the older property.

    I rather like the places that have modern furnishings, bathroom fixtures, and flat screen TVs, but sometimes the risk is that one still has the same amenities even if it’s a 70s era furniture. original (but working) bathroom fixutres, and a 19″ CRT TV..

  • Michelle C

    ugh…. this annoys me.  Of course they hated it…they hated it before they got there and they weren’t going to change their minds.   I don’t see the issue…I have found 70’s decor in 4* hotels, and modern decor in 2.5* hotels.  He didn’t mention location so I’m assuming the location is where he wanted.   Opaque sites are great… I use Priceline’s Name Your Own Price and rarely had an issue.   I ALWAYS get either a great deal (50-65% off) or good deal (30-49% percent off), I have never been “underwater” meaning that I have never paid more for a hotel than the listed prices on 3rd party sites or the actual hotel’s website.    The bed bug argument doesn’t work.    Bedbugs are disgusting and I would bail on any hotel room where I saw evidence of them (always check the mattress seams and linen at check in) but they can’t be used to argue star rating.    I have a friend who works at a 5 star hotel in Vegas and they have have had numerous issues with bed bugs.

  • $16635417

    Yes, the savings on a hotel’s website for a non-refundable vs. refundable is not usually enough to sway me. The savings from Priceline usually are.
    I’ve even done Priceline from a hotel lobby, and based on my research got the hotel and rate expected.

    I agree with you, I only use it under certain circumstances. Booking 8 nights for me and my family is not one of them.

  • Joe Farrell

    So he wants to be SURE he gets nice place for 8 nights – but he still uses an opaque site to save $10 a night . . . .

    Its a stupid tax – plain and simple.  

    I don’t get the whole opaque business model – why does it matter if you know who it is in advance? And wouldn’t a property WANT you to select them? The LAST thing a hotel manager wants is for someone to show up primed to complain at every little thing.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HMW3OTJSBDWWRKIEKEKWWM7BEA bc

    I agree, it’s a gamble. Sometimes you lose the bet, sometimes you win. It’s knowing how to play the game. I’ve never used the opaque bidding sites, I’m far too picky, but if I did I would absolutely use one of the websites listed above to make myself more informed and have a better chance of getting a better value. 

  • Michael__K

    he explained they used Orbitz, Travelocity and their own customers for ratings

    it should be noted that this hotel is… recommended by 82% of Hotwire customers who have completed a post-stay survey.


    Orbitz and Travelocity each rates this hotel exactly 3 stars.  

    Looking at Hotwire opaque results for Portsmouth, NH, I get back 8 hotels.  There are 5 hotels recommended by 90% to 100% of Hotwire reviewers, 2 other hotels recommended by 80+% of Hotwire reviewers, and 1 hotel recommended by 75% of Hotwire reviewers.

    So an 82% recommendation-rate actually appears to be slightly below normal for this locale; not something to especially brag about.

    Sounds to me like this hotel probably should have been presented as a 3-star, and not any higher than that.

    I’m a generally satisfied and relatively frequent past user of Hotwire and I’m a little disappointed with their response in this case.  When I encountered (several years ago) a hotel that was clearly mis-rated, I documented my case and they took my complaint seriously (they gave me a voucher and it appeared that the hotel in question was subsequently de-listed).  

    This may be a more marginal mis-rating than the one I experienced, but I would still expect the OP’s claim to be taken seriously.  It’s possible that the OP didn’t make as strong a case as he could have.  Referencing “70s decor” and a “Motel 6 tunnel-like atmosphere” is a bit subjective.  I would focus on tangible aspects of the furnishings, amenities, and services in contrast with other hotels in the 3.5 star category (Hotwire has descriptions and specific examples under “How our star ratings work”).

  • backprop

    OK, looking over the last few articles on which you commented….you are a caricature, right?

    I’m embarrassed it took so long for me to figure it out :|

  • Steve_in_WI

    On one hand, I think in cases of star inflation it’s not as simple as blaming the consumer. People have a right, even when booking through an opaque site, to get what they paid for. What’s not exactly clear in this case is whether or not the hotel is legitimately rated 3.5 stars.

    On the other hand, boy does this guy sound like a drama queen. “70s decor holdout”? “Motel 6 tunnel-like atmosphere” that they had to run away from? Unless we’re talking about a property that bills itself as a luxury hotel and charges the rates to back it up, I just roll my eyes when people complain about dated decor. Did this guy really travel from California to New Hampshire to sit in his hotel room and admire the decor?

    Maybe he had legitimate complaints about the quality and Chris just didn’t post them, but it sounds like he was mainly unhappy that the hotel wasn’t all shiny and new.

  • Lindabator

    If this vacation was so important, WHY on earth use an opaque site???  WHEN will they learn!

  • anna_chronistic

    It does seem disingenuous to create your own star rating system that combines vetted and user reviews. I shudder to think what rating the Springfield, IL Ho-Jo would get, considering hotels.com has a bunch of 5-star user reviews for that pit … including one that says essentially, “Yes, it’s a junk hotel, but for this price, what do you expect? I give it 5 stars!” All without a trace of sarcasm. He felt that, for a crap hotel, it was great. And that type of feedback is why I don’t use those opaque hotel sites. I’d rather read reviews from many people and use it to determine whether I would consider it a quality hotel.

  • bodega3

    There is one rating and review company that TA’s rely on and it isn’t the internet.  These OTA are too cheap to really rate the way they should and use the system that has been in place since 1960 for those who really are in the industry.

    If you rely on an OTA own rating system, you get what you paid for.

  • Lindabator

    True – I’ve gotten some unbeatable prices for my clients thru my vendors as well.  And NOT non-refundable!

  • Charles B

    I used to priceline my first-night hotels in Orlando for every Disney trip. It reached the point where my bids always got me the same hotel. Mediocre, not 3+star, and no concerns for me as a customer because they knew I paid through priceline.

    Then I tried hotels.com exactly once. That hotel decided they wanted to keep their own more than honor my room, so they sold it to someone else and sent me to their “sister resort.” The rack rate (as posted on the back of the door) was $10 less than the hotels.com discounted rate I paid up front. To their credit, hotels.com immediately refunded the difference plus a bit. Even so, never again.

    Now I go to the same hotel and book directly with them. The rate is as good or better than priceline/hotels.com, I know what I’m getting, and I like what I get. And, most importantly, they treat me like a paying customer instead of a cheap room filler.

  • SoBeSparky

    Stay six days at an anonymous hotel, even though he “knows” the area?  Absurd.  Why would anyone gamble on a six-night stay?  If he wanted guaranteed high quality, then four or five stars would be the choice, not 3 1/2.  He skinned it too close.  No refund.

  • bodega3

    I am booking hotels for my own trip and I am finding two vendors who are beating the socks off any OTA site, as I am comparing.  And yes, I have good cancellation policies, with no penalties if cancelled within a few days of arrival. 

    Internet shoppers are NOT getting the best deals in most cases.  They just think they are.  Such lemmings!

  • lost_in_travel

    Oh!  Well, I wonder if he even tried it?  There is frequently a line at the door and a parking lot filled with New Hampshire cars.  There are lots of very good restaurants in Portsmouth so no need to eat bad food and I doubt that the locals do,

    The owners also cater barbecues and did a party for me for out of town relatives from California, New York, Washington and London who all raved about the food.  I think he missed a treat!

  • lost_in_travel

    You nailed it!  He has to be a victim of a major injustice because he certainly cannot admit that for the sake of a couple of phone calls and maybe $10 a night his wife was right!

    Maybe she will make the reservations for a nicer place herself next time.

  • jennj99738

    Once again, the comments don’t reflect the vote.  Opaque sites can be a great value but you must do your research first.  If you don’t do your research, then the fault is all yours.  Using the sites listed above, and listed many times on this site and all over the internet, I estimate you’ll be able to tell what you’re getting the majority of the time.  In small towns or cities, a greater than 80% chance of knowing what you’re getting.  This is buyer’s remorse, not a bait-and-switch as it appears the hotel meets the published star rating.  In addition, unlike Priceline, Hotwire tells you whether other Hotwire customers liked the hotel.

  • TonyA_says

     Eight (8) long nights :)

  • TonyA_says

    Expecting luxury near I-95 ??? You must be lost.
    Those [of us] who live in or near the Northeast Corridor all know what I-95 is known for: trucks. (Disclosure: I live near one of the busiest sections of I-95. The Stamford CT train station is sitting on I95 and that is the train we take to NYC day in day out.)
    If you want something fancier, you need to go in our New England towns.
    Maine is beautiful and it’s an excellent place to find a nice B&B.
    For 8 nights in summer, I’ll think of renting a house near the water.
    Sorry buy this guy doesn’t seem to know what he is doing.
    That last thing he needs is an opaque hotel shopping site.

  • bodega3

    Ha!  You probably are right on this!!!

  • SallyLu

    I’ve never used an opaque site, but I used to use Expedia fairly often.  Then I started reading this site.  I now use Expedia and Hotels.com to check out available rooms in the area and get an idea of the price.  Then I go to the hotel’s website and almost 100% of the time, the price is exactly the same.  Most of the time the hotel site also has other room options not available on the OTA site.

  • jet2x2

    I believe the answer may lie in human psychology.  We are hard wired to take risks where we believe that the risk is low and the yield is high. This has been shown in studies on gambling.  These travel sites appear to be low risk and you might get a high reward (great hotel for less, etc.)  As OP says, he keeps returning to Hotwire even after bad experiences.  And he even uses the word “gambling” in his email.

  • Cassondra Monique

    Having gotten more of the “facts” in this case by reviewing hotwire, tripadvisor, and this article I believe that the OP is just whining because he didn’t like it. He also didn’t ask to be moved to the newer wings of the hotel, instead he just complained afterwards. The hotel itself IS highly rated by other travelers and if you are not going to let the hotel make your stay better by asking for help WHILE you are there instead of complaining later to anyone who might listen then YOU are the one to blame. I read the OP’s review on tripadvisor (which I also use to help me figure out which hotel I am likely booking on hotwire) and I also read the GM of the hotel’s message in response. He noted that the OP was right, he was in an older, outdated room but that everything worked and they were in the process of upgrading. The GM also mentioned that had the OP asked for a different room at the beginning of his stay, the rest of his stay would have probably been better as they would have moved him to a room in the newer part of the hotel. 

    I have been booking on hotwire for years and have figured out the best system for doing so. I, first off, take out the 1 – 2.5 star hotels. These hotels are usually inexpensive anyways so book them the provider. Next, I un-check all but the 90% or above on customer reviews. The final thing I do after I ensure the area and options I want are checked is check the reviews on hotwire for the hotels you can see and use tripadvisor ratings when available to figure out the most likely hotel it will put me at. For me it is worth the extra time and if I have a problem at the hotel I bring it to the staff or manager who are usually good at helping as long as you don’t act like a jerk.

  • Michelle C

     I also use Biddingfortravel.  I CANNOT stand the moderator but the people who post their winning bid are helpful to others.   I’ll give betterbidding a shot.

  • Michelle C

    Doubt it about saving more.   I am Priceline pro and routinely save >50% of the published rates. So unless the hotels are giving away BOGO then they won’t save more money.   But I have to say this guy doesn’t seem like he is the right type of person for opaque websites.  It takes homework and the ability to not care about a name brand.   It isn’t for everyone, and that is fine but unless they change I will always bid with Priceline. Plus 8 nights is too long when you are blindly bidding.. It doesn’t hurt to buy a few nights and then extend the stay or bid for something else.

  • Michelle C

    Then you must be better at negotiating than me because I have seen “winning bids” on opaque website discussion boards and called the hotel seeing if they would take the rate or a little bit more. They wouldn’t do it so I turn around and bid on Priceline and ended up with a lower price for the same hotel I called.   They could have ended up with an extra 10.00/night.

  • $16635417

    Lol about the moderator…negative posts against her or the site get your IP blocked! Anyone for sushi? ;)

  • $16635417

    I agree. A hotel I constantly booked would never give me a rate even close to the Priceline rate no matter how much I tried or who I spoke to at the hotel. 

  • $16635417

    Coincidentally, I’ll be in the area tomorrow. I just may pay the diner a visit. If I do, I’ll report back!

  • $16635417

    Yes! Glad someone gets it! Priceline is not for everyone and not every stay for those that use it. (Like me.)

    I checked the going rates and reserved a room that I can cancel for $89/nite at the Grand Hyatt in DC next month…with breakfast. (AAA summer special) 

    I may try PL, but there is no guarantee of the bedding type and I lose breakfast and have to prepay…so the savings probably wont warrant the effort.

  • $16635417

    Where do you get your info that only Mobil/Forbes can assign stars? I think that is part of the problem, that stars can be assigned by anyone. Check yelp.

  • $16635417

    I usually don’t agree with you on many things, but I tend to agree with you on this one. Yes he took a risk, and should have done more homework and accept it, BUT if he truly felt he had a case that it did not meet the criteria for a 3.5 star hotel by Hotwire standards, he should take that approach.

    Also, per the Trip Advisor review he wrote, if the manager’s statement is correct, he should have expressed his displeasure with the manager while he was staying there. It makes me wonder if he was primed to try and fight this as soon as he booked it? Perhaps the hotel could have tried to salvage his stay? I guess we won’t know.

    I prefer Priceline, one of the reasons is they clearly state what amenities each star class offers…although I can’t find it right now! 

  • $16635417

    Eight CRAZY nights… ;)

  • TonyA_says

    I went to google street view and lo and behold, I’ve stayed at that place a long time ago. We went there to go to L.L. Bean outlet store just across the bridge in Kittery, Maine. It was a simple joint where folks stop for a night.

  • AAmerican1

    Thanks, I suppose I may be. It’s a skill that is not learned overnight and one that I have parlayed into a career.

  • bodega3

    Not saying you aren’t a good bargainer, but that price was probably on their books, available through one of my wholesalers.  You spend how much time researching and calling to save $30 when one call to a TA is all you need to make?  Just saying that what you think is a good rate, may not be.

  • AAmerican1

    You may be right. Everyone to their own devices. :)

  • Texan78730

    I was in the travel industry for 37 years and still cannot understand why anyone wants to book their travel on-line!  Deal with a reputable travel agent for god’s sake. They have access to suppliers, hotels, airlines, car rentals, and cruises, at a level not generally available to the general public. And if something goes amiss (unlikely), you deal with them and not some annoying faceless individual who certainly does not have your interest at heart.

  • Michelle C

    no need to thank me.. I wasn’t being nice

  • 46Shasta19

    So many expect something for nothing. What did he save?  How many dollars would be worth this kind of experience?  

  • bodega3

    Some like the thrill of the hunt.

  • Michelle C

    haha. I got blocked because I would never put what link I used to go to Priceline.   She kept emailing me about it and I kept ignoring her.  She got nastier and nastier until I was blocked.   My IP addy changes often so it doesn’t matter.

  • sershev

    Exactly the same happened to me three years ago. Hotwire sold me a room at Best Western in New Mexico as a three star hotel. When I arrived to the hotel it was a highway side motel without any amenities of a three star hotel. A front desk clerk confirmed it was not a three star hotel. We called hotwire and asked for refund and the hotel clerk talked to a hotwire representative and said she authorized the refund. Hotwire representative refused to refund. Almost two hours later they agreed to a refund. Did not use hotwire ever since. Used priceline winning very low bids, and in my opinion star rating on priceline is more accurate. A few small issues had with priceline that were resolved satisfactory. In my opinion, priceline’s customer service is better compare to hotwire. Do not recommend to use priceline or hotwire if you have special needs, i.e. travel with children, pets, need specific room, etc. because your requests will not always be met even if you like the hotel. Always remember there is a risk that the hotel is not exactly what you expect when you use hotwire, priceline or similar. 

  • Daves

    Heh, that’s okay. It is conveniently easier to label something one doesn’t necessarily understand – much more appreciate – as a scam, after all.


  • Daves

    I was in the travel industry for 37 years and still cannot understand why anyone wants to book their travel on-line!

    In a word, control. Up to a point, though.


  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

     If there are no rooms available then it’s a moot point.

    But I suspect you missed my point.  I don’t book nonrefundable hotel rates as a rule because the chance of my travel plans changing is high enough that eating a nights room and taxes would wipe out any savngs.  However, if I am in the hotel lobby, or some other relatively close place, the chance of my travel plans changing is minimal.

    For example, if I am already at a hotel and decide to extend my stay, which just happened two weeks ago, a nonrefundable rate isn’t much of a gamble.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    Nope.  I refused to stay in that room.  I got a  passable room about an hour later.  I checked on TripAdvisor and the reviews of that hotel were abysmal.  Old nasty room seemed the norm. Great staff, great restaurant. great common areas, but the rooms hadn’t been renovated

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

     Priceline is not for everyone. 
    This is true.   I had to read the patent application for work and it details very specifically who priceline is good for and equally importantly, who its not good for.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    I think what she meant was that there are actually some trademarked ranking systems.  For example, AAA trademarked its Diamond system in 1976.  Only they can award Diamonds as a result.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II


  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II


    You are mixing apples and oranges.  We are all discussing the opaque side of Hotwire, i.e. where you don’t see the hotel name before you purcahse.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    Because if you knew the name of the hotel, it would cannibalize the main distribution channels.  Right now, check the posts.  There is a strong divide between those who claim that they get better deals via opaque sites and thoese who call it such users stupid

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    Really, truly, you don’t understand.  Let me help you.

    Much of my travel is commuter to Los Angeles. I stay primarily at the same four hotels depending my reason for being there.  I know each front desk manager and they know me by name.  I even know the valet and bellmen.

    No nameless faceless folks for me.

  • SoBeSparky

    Six nights, eight nights, whatever.  Same thing.  Too long.  A one-nighter is one thing, about a week another. Different circumstances, different criteria.

  • AAmerican1

    I figured as much but gave you the benefit of the doubt.

  • AAmerican1

    That’s the only thing that makes travel fun today.

  • Rosered7033

    People have been “gaming” the system, and feel they have it figured out, until something like this happens. Personally, if I had the concerns the OP had prior to booking, I would have booked directly with the hotel I wanted. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and pay more if you need that security.
    Apparently Hotwire feels it can cull any site it wishes to for positive results, as long as it gets them what they want – the almighty dollar. When they have disappointed customers, they give their stock answer and refer to their contract.

  • lorcha

    “If there are no rooms available then it’s a moot point.”

    It’s not a moot point. In fact, it was my point. What if there are no rooms available at your destination, and you didn’t book ahead? Will you sleep in your car?

    I understand very well that if you’ve already arrived at your destination and need a room in the next 5 minutes, that you probably aren’t going to change your plans.

  • JeannieRest

    Humans are entitled and stupid.  Look at all the “No” votes.

  • http://www.blackchickontour.com/ Terri Lundberg

    Why would I take offense?  I’d rather pay the extra money for the guarantee of knowing what I was getting.  

  • Lindabator

    Yeah, but few like the carcass they end up with!  :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Aaron-Gold/1015584383 Aaron Gold

    Here’s the real question, as I see it: Why do people cheap out and use sites like Hotwire when they have specific needs? Hotwire is a gamble. It should never be used when you need a sure thing. Don’t know what hotels in that area cost, but I’m sure for another $20 per night, Mr. Bergman could have found a place that fit his needs. We use Hotwire, etc. when we don’t care about where we stay. If I need a sure thing, I spend the extra bucks and shop like a normal traveler.

  • Robb Gordon

    There are places online that you can find out what people have gotten buy buying opaque hotel space on Priceline & Hotwire. I booked hotels and rental cars from both, but I have informed both (not that they care) that I will be booking no hotels until they disallow resort or other mandatory fees that are not disclosed nor included in the bid. Under their terms you could buy a room for $20 and have a $100 resort fee!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jennifer-Rusch/100000586520160 Jennifer Rusch

    While I don’t think the guy has much of a case, I do think that Hotwire star ratings are inflated.  Hotwire has an incentive to rate higher stars so they can offer lower rates comparatively and people feel like they are getting a deal. 
    Also, the hotel had a number of buildings in various states of being updated.  Star ratings, in my opinion, should be based on the hotel’s worst rooms, not the best rooms.  

  • IGoEverywhere

    Stars are no longer a single rating. Each company uses their own rating “professionals” I just traveled with the president of a major tour company to Jamaica, and to here how they set the ratings made me want to cringe. I don’t like the entrance-way, cut them by 2 points. I think that this hotel is nicer, he had his eye on the bellman” raise it a point. Ratings have to be judged by a true travel agent, not on-line. I hope that people will once again learn hot to “NOT GET SCREWED OVER”!

  • Adam_The_Man

     I did not know how to see notifications until today.

  • Susan Moriarity

    Star inflation is a problem and so is “location fudging.”  I booked a hotel room in Pismo Beach CA for the 4th of July weekend, only to find out that the hotel was NOT in Pismo Beach, but in nearby Grover Beach.  Any other weekend, it wouldn’t have been a big deal, but you can only reach Pismo by car from Grover and Pismo closes to cars (unless you can prove you’re a resident) over the holiday weekend!  We booked a different hotel –in Pismo and I fought for three weeks to get a refund.  Their argument was that it was “in the Pismo Beach area.”  I explained that this was complete B.S., given the circumstances.  I finally threatened to sue them and to send letters to every consumer reporter in CA. Amazingly, that worked.  I got a full refund and a sort-of apology.  I’ll never use one of those sites again.  Too sleazy for my taste.