Socked with a $450 resort fee — is that fair?

You owe more for your room, baby! / Photo by imaqine – Flickr

Resort fees fall under the category of “nuisance” surcharges because they’re usually so insignificant that they’re not worth fighting. And travel companies know it, which is one reason they keep piling ’em on.

But what happens when these extras rise to the level of a major expenditure?
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A failed case from the Twilight Zone of travel

Next stop ... the Twilight Zone. / Photo by Roadside Pictures

If there’s a Twilight Zone of travel cases, then Rochelle Dean has surely discovered it. And although I’ve done my best to help her, it looks like her recent vacation is still stuck someone between “solved” and “unsolved.”
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This volunteer vacation to New Orleans ended on a bad note

Erik Szabo is “livid.”

Last spring, he was schedule to fly from Los Angeles to New Orleans for Jazz Fest and to volunteer at Habitat for Humanity. He’d booked a package tour, which included airline tickets, hotel and car rental, through Hotwire.

“When I showed up at the airport for my US Airways flight, I was told that my reservation was for a United Airlines flight,” he says.

Ah, another case of codeshare confusion? Yes, but that’s not all.
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Will a Hotwire star dispute ruin my visit to Milwaukee?

When Brian Cross scored a “four star” hotel in Milwaukee recently through Hotwire, he assumed he’d be staying in an upscale property. But as I’ve noted in the past, Hotwire’s stars don’t necessarily compare to other established ratings systems.

And Hotwire — which doesn’t reveal the name of the hotel until after you’ve paid for it online — assigned him to The Ambassador in downtown Milwaukee. (Here’s how it stacks up on TripAdvisor and Google.) Cross also made a second booking at what he thought was a three-star hotel, with similarly disappointing results. He got a room at the Best Western.

“The Ambassador hotel is on the outskirts of downtown approximately 20 blocks away from the Milwaukee River, in a less than desirable neighborhood,” he says. “I would submit that due to the conditions of the neighborhood and the age of the hotel, you would not find many who would consider this location to be a four star hotel.”
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The Travel Troubleshooter: Star confusion on my Hotwire hotel room

Question: I just booked a hotel room in New Orleans through Hotwire. It seemed like a great deal. The listing was for a 4.5 star hotel. I started looking around their website, trying to determine what the possibilities were and by looking at the “hotel plus car” section I was able to see that there seemed to be three nice choices of 4.5 star hotels in the area the listing was in.
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Can this trip be saved? Hotwire didn’t have the best hotel — or the best deal

Hotwire’s low-price guarantee says you can be “sure they’re the lowest prices you’ll find.” But that’s not what Carol McCoy discovered when she booked a hotel in Rehoboth Beach, Del., on a recent holiday weekend.

She paid $140 a night for a two-star hotel, which seemed a little high to her. (Hotwire doesn’t reveal the name of the property until you’ve paid for it.)

The hotel wasn’t what she had hoped for.
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Case dismissed: A suburban spat over a Hotwire hotel room

Here’s a relatively common problem with a so-called “opaque” booking site — with a relatively common resolution.

Unfortunately, it’s the wrong resolution, as far as Phillip McKeough is concerned. He recently booked a Hotwire room in Grand Rapids, Mich. Or thought he had.

Hotwire’s system is not like other online travel agencies. You get to select the room category and location, but don’t find out which hotel you’re staying at until after you’ve made the purchase. When McKeough selected his hotel, he was given a room at a property in Walker, Mich., a suburb about seven miles away from Grand Rapids.

“I believe there has been some sort of mistake,” he told me. “The brand of hotel and price are all fine, but I can’t use a room in Walker. I would like a refund or credit to use in the actually city I need to stay in.”
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The Travel Troubleshooter: Right hotel rate, wrong city

Question: I was recently looking for a hotel for three nights in Rosemont, Ill. Hotwire soon started sending me emails about “lower hotel rates” in Rosemont. So I found one I liked and booked it.

When I received the hotel conformation it was in Elk Grove, Ill., not Rosemont. I immediately emailed Hotwire.

“After reviewing your reservation, I confirmed that the hotel that is booked is not within the area map provided during your search,” a representative named Brandy G. replied. “For your convenience, I have sent this reservation up for review to our research department. They will contact you back within 7 to 10 business days in regards to changing this reservation.”

Great, right? That’s what I thought. I asked if they could just change my reservation to a hotel in Rosemont for the dates I reserved or credit my account for a future booking. This was all done several weeks before the booked dates.

However, when they contacted me back they said that all sales are final and refused my request. I was unable to use the hotel so I am now out $142. I contacted Discover Card, the credit card I used for the reservation, and they replied that Hotwire says all sales are final. Thanks for any ideas you can give me. — Loretta Krahn, Mountain Lake, Minn.

Answer: Hotwire should have sold you a hotel in Rosemont — not Elk Grove. It can take 20 minutes to drive between the cities (they’re on opposite sides of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport).

If you’d booked your hotel room by visiting Hotwire, you’d probably be out of luck. The site, which allows you to select a neighborhood but doesn’t reveal the hotel until you’ve paid for it, is reasonably clear when it comes to the areas where you might be assigned a hotel room.
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The Travel Troubleshooter: Four stars for that resort? Says who?

Question: I recently booked a four-star hotel in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico, through Hotwire. Hotwire claims its four-star hotels are prestigious, respected properties. Not only that, but the map of the area looks as if it runs along the coast, virtually ensuring a resort near the beach.

After I made my purchase, I found out I had a room at the Hacienda Vista Real Resort & Spa, which was located far away from the beach. According to TripAdvisor.com, they have at least 85 percent bad reviews. I am traveling with my husband and a baby, and want to avoid taking taxis to get to the beach.

Initially, I tried to tell Hotwire that the hotel was neither prestigious nor well known, and that it wasn’t close to the beach. But now that I’ve read the reviews, I’m even more concerned. Hotwire sent me a form response, saying, “We reviewed the hotel’s location and verified it is within the Playa del Carmen — Playacar, Quintana Roo city area.” What should I do? — Valerie Acosta, Fullerton, Calif.

Answer: Hotwire owed you more than a form letter in response to your request to review your hotel assignment. But before I get to Hotwire’s mistake, let’s talk about your booking choice.

Did you say you booked a resort in Mexico for you and your baby through Hotwire? Seriously?
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