Hotwire’s half-star mistake

airport hiltonQuestion: I’ve used many times, and have been happy with it. I’m also a former airline employee and seasoned traveler, so I am not ignorant of the travel industry. But I’m having some trouble with Hotwire’s star ratings, and could use a little help from you.

I am driving to Chicago for a convention in a couple of weeks. After confirming the area I wanted to stay in, I checked the star ratings to make a choice in hotels.

The only hotel I did not want to stay in was the Hilton at the airport. Hotwire shows the Hilton rated 3-1/2 stars, so I chose a 4-star option in the area.

Needless to say, the hotel I got was the Hilton O’Hare. Hotwire informed me that it had just changed the rating for that particular hotel to four stars last week and would not change my reservation per their rules. I tried to explain that they still have Hiltons listed as 3-1/2 stars, but to no avail. The hotel Web site lists the AAA hotel rating at three diamonds. The customer service rep said he does make exceptions but would not in this case. What should I do? — Debbie Burk, Eagan, Minn.

Answer: If you asked for a 4-star hotel, then Hotwire shouldn’t have given you a room at the Hilton. The representative you spoke with should have changed your hotel immediately instead of arguing with you about an “exception.”

It helps to understand how Hotwire works. The site offers airfares, car rentals and hotel rooms at deep discounts, but you don’t find out the name of the airline, car rental company or hotel until after you’ve booked. A ticket or room bought through Hotwire is referred to as “opaque” because you only find out a few details about it before you commit to buying.

In your case, you could specify the neighborhood and amenities, but not the actual hotel. Like other travel sites, Hotwire rates its hotels by star rating, which denote the types of amenities you can expect. The difference between a 3-1/2 and 4-star rating is slight. A 3-1/2-star property is described as a “classic, polished” hotel featuring a “well-known, on-site restaurant and “large, quality-rooms,” while a 4-star resort is described as a “distinctive establishment” with “gourmet dining” and guestrooms with “upscale furnishings, bedding and bath products.”

The full description of Hotwire’s star ratings can be found online.

For what it’s worth, Hotwire cited Hilton properties as an example of a 3-1/2-star hotel when I checked.

This is the type of complaint that is more easily resolved with e-mails than phone calls. A brief, cordial note to Hotwire with screenshots attached should get the job done. But your written request to review Hilton’s star rating was met with a form response, insisting that the company stands by its current rating and refusing your request to move to another property.

When a company digs in its heels, you have a number of other options, including a credit card dispute, a trip to small claims court or a note to yours truly. I contacted Hotwire on your behalf, and it agreed to let you change your hotel.

(Photo: aka Kath/Flickr Creative Commons)

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 Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Sunnykm

    Just purchased a 4 star hotel for downtown LA. When the hotel name was revealed it was the Sheraton Los Angeles–a 3.5 star on Hotwires Packages page, and and Expedia are sister companies of Hotwire. I called Hotwire immediately after the purchase to complain and to have the purchase refunded to no avail. I was told that upon check-in if there is a problem with the cleanliness etc with the hotel that Hotwire would make a change. The Hotwire rep kept telling me I wasn’t giving the hotel a chance?? I wanted a 4 star and would not have purchased a 3.5 star.

    I gave Hotwire another call to see if I could escalate my complaint–their own Hotwire site plus and Expedia list this property as 3.5 stars. After explaining the situation to the first associate she apologized and said that this was a discrepancy and she would escalate my complaint to a supervisor. Cassie, the supervisor, was no help at all. She said that the ratings were set by Hotwire and to not compare those ratings to Hotels or Expedia even though they all owned by the same company. What about that 3.5 stars on Hotwires own site–she said ignore that rating as well because that page doesn’t belong to Hotwire. What??? It is on Hotwires page. She refused to cancel this hotel and book me into a four star as I had wanted.

    Can you help? And if you can’t please make a post about the deceptive hotel ratings of Hotwire out to the public?

  • Jessica

    I had the same experience yesterday booking a hotel in Portland, Maine. Same line used by the customer service rep when I have called yesterday. Booked a 3-star rating hotel but was given a 1 or 2-star hotel. When I referred to the star rating description on hotwire website, the rep was giving me ratings from expedia, trip advisor etc etc! Did not make sense at all, why would I refer to the ratings given by other sites if I am making my hotel reservation through hotwire.

    The star rating description on hotwire site is very deceptive and it’s clear that it’s no use to call the customer service once the purchase is done as they are not there to help or solve our issues. They are given a fixed script to handle dissatisfied customers like us. So, I would not call them anymore to get the hotel changed, it’s just a waste of my time but I would try avoiding using them in the future. The savings is not huge based on the hotel given … if I were to book directly from the hotel site, it’s only $10/night more and not as BIG savings as indicated on hotwire site. Deceptive!