Travel troubleshooter: Hotwire app gets her wires crossed

Q: I recently used Hotwire for the first time to book a hotel in Honolulu. I downloaded the Hotwire app because it said I could use a promo code for $25 off. I saw a 3.5-star Waikiki hotel,and booked it, and then things went awry.

The first problem I had was with the promo code. In order for me to use it, I was supposed to press the “promo code” button to apply it to my reservation before completing it. I called Hotwire and explained that it was my first time using Hotwire and its app, so I wasn’t too familiar with what I needed to do. The representative said that all sales were final, and she couldn’t apply the promo code.

Also, I thought I had purchased a three-night stay in a 3.5-star hotel. When the hotel was revealed, I saw that it was the Vive Hotel Waikiki. I started looking at the hotel on Travelocity, TripAdvisor and Orbitz, and I noticed that it was listed as a three-star hotel, except by Travelocity, which listed it as 3.5 stars.

I wrote to Hotwire, and it replied that it was “confident” in its rating. I’m not. I paid more for the hotel than I thought I would, and I got less. Can you help?

A: Hotwire’s booking works a little differently from a conventional reservation made through an online agency. In exchange for a discount, you give up your right to know the exact name of the property as well as your right to a refund. In other words, Hotwire isn’t for the indecisive, and I might add, you were extra brave to try your first reservation on the Hotwire app instead of through its site.

At the time you made your reservation, Hotwire was offering $25 off bookings via its mobile app. In order to redeem the promo code, it had to be entered before purchase.

For technical reasons, the representative you contacted could have helped you apply the code to a new booking, but she couldn’t apply it retroactively. Hotwire simply doesn’t allow that, for what it calls “quality control” reasons. The representative should have explained that.

She also should have checked the Vive Hotel’s rating more closely. Although there are no standardized star ratings in the American hotel industry, they serve an important purpose. They suggest that you can expect certain service levels and amenities. “It was an oversight on our part,” another Hotwire representative said. Hotwire issued a $45 voucher as an apology. It also lowered the Vive’s rating to three stars in its system.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at chris@elliott.org.

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