When is a deal not a deal? When the “savings” evaporate with a little research.

Catherine Evans booked a hotel through Hotwire and landed at the Ramada Inn – Bossier/Conference Center in Bossier, La., for $54 a night.

“Congratulations,” Hotwire wrote to her in its confirmation. “You saved 45%.”

Not really.

Of the seven main travel sites that I inquired on (immediately after booking), six were less than Hotwire and one was less than one dollar more.

It is not so much that I am unhappy with our hotel as it is that it is not the $99.95 hotel that they claimed it was. I expect a good deal when I go through Hotwire.

If I wanted a $50 hotel I could have booked one through the other websites and known what I was getting.

Bear in mind that on Hotwire, you don’t choose the hotel. As an “opaque” travel site, you pick the neighborhood and the star rating, and then when your purchase is made, you find out where you’re staying.

Evans contacted Hotwire, alleging, “Your company is being deceptive and making false claims” and quoting the Lanham Act, which prohibits false advertising.

She added,

Why would anyone want to book with Hotwire when they can get the same rate a competitive websites and know which hotel they are booking with? What gives your company the right to make false statements?

I put those questions to Hotwire. Here’s what it said:

At Hotwire, we always strive to provide the best prices possible on our opaque inventory. But we do understand that there can be rare, extenuating circumstances that might result in lower prices becoming available somewhere else.

A few of the potential influencers are things like the timing of the booking and inventory availability. That’s why we offer our double-the-difference guarantee. When those rare occasions do occur, our customers can still get the lowest prices by working with us.

Catherine, for example, was able to get the best price by taking advantage of our guarantee.

In regards to the level of the discount that was in Catherine’s confirmation email, that number was generated using benchmarks leading up to the actual time of the booking.

However, we acknowledge that this pricing has since changed, which is part of the reason why she had contacted customer service. So even though we already honored the pricing guarantee for her up front, we were still performing our due diligence in researching the matter from your email.

While this was happening, our most recent star-rating benchmark happened on May 10th. Although the 2.5 rating for this property is still accurate through external sources, we’ve decided to move it down to a 2-star level based on the ratings of Hotwire guests who have completed surveys for this property.

As a result of this process, we have offered a credit to Catherine, and have also given her the option to keep her current booking (while still keeping her HotDollars). She decided to keep her booking, and sounded very happy with the outcome overall.

I think these are great examples of how two of our customer-protection services work, and they also demonstrate our dedication to providing deals to our customers.

Hotwire’s response works for me.

Evans makes a good point, too. Always check the “deal” you get through an opaque site, just to make sure you saved money, as promised. If you didn’t, let them know you’re unhappy.

(Photo: Daniele Sartori/Flickr Creative Commons)