Hotwire Discount Travel Website Faux Pas?

Would I recommend this Discount Travel Website to a Friend?

On June 16, 2013, I used Hotwire to book a hotel for July 21 in Maplewood, MN.  Mind you, this was my first time using Hotwire thinking I could save money and add convenience planning my trip to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Things on the Hotwire site were going well until I realized what I had just done. Within seconds of hitting ‘submit’ to book a hotel, I realized that particular hotel room was non-refundable. That immediately made me nervous, realizing I must have missed the legal language on the website as well as this booking didn’t initially indicate the hotel name and location until I was finished. Needless to say, uneasy booking experience.

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Explaining my first time Hotwire experience to my first customer rep, Jennifer, who appeared to listen intently with some empathy (although she may have been showing her teeth on the phone), but more focused on policy, she kept saying there are no cancellations allowed on the deep discounts section. To me, this was a head scratcher, being a newbie, I wasn’t able to differentiate between the deep discount area and other areas of Hotwire.

After going around and around, I realized this was not going anywhere, so she escalated me her manager, Rachel. The second rep listened intently and like Jennifer, was not going to cancel my booking of this hotel regardless of the situation and facts. In fact, they sounded so much alike, they appeared to be cut from the same cloth? Perhaps the same training instructor? Both listened with empathy and at the same time, were so focused on that script and not allowing clients to cancel except extreme scenarios (death in the family or serious health issues with medical proof). While working with these two, I kept saying to myself, are they being customer centric?

Specifically, both Jennifer and Rachel robotically repeated that once a customer books thru the deep discounts section, there’s no way to cancel. Their explanation, it’s important for these hotels to be guaranteed that space will be occupied for specific dates so cancellations are verboten. Even if you Sprechen Sie Deutsch, no cancellations. I say “bullshit!” There’s a way to cancel, as she later stated, think a death in the family, loss of job, or major medical condition. What Jennifer should have said is, “there’s a way to cancel, but we’re going to take your money ASAP and make it terribly difficult to cancel under the guise of using the deep discounts section and saving a little money.”

Did some marketing consultant devise this nefarious plan, where customers lose the option of canceling the hotel reservation through Hotwire (once you hit submit) because these particular hotel rooms were further discounted? Brilliant! Guess who benefits most? The third-party providers and hotel owners. Even if you save a few dollars, you’re sacrificing flexibility of changing or canceling the reservation.

What has this experience taught me? That their customer service reps are good at reading and following scripts? That these same reps show just enough empathy to get by and confirm the fact that they are customer centric to business analysts and customers? Should I be leery of Hotwire moving forward? Or, besides Hotwire, quite leery of all discount travel websites moving forward?

In the future, will I merely bypass these providers and go directly to the hotel websites where I may have more flexibility in canceling 24 hours prior to the arrival date? We have all heard the adage, “fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” To meet my needs moving forward, I suspect I will be much more hesitant dealing with these providers and perhaps decide to pay a little more for that flexibility and the ability to cancel within a reasonable time-frame. 

Kevin Schwarm

I have over 25 years of professional experience in business, information technology (IT), and customer service. Industry experience in retail, medical insurance, higher education, non-profit, financial services, and property and casualty insurance. Customer focused professional interested in providing value (save time, money and aggravation) by evaluating and analyzing information, services and products with a unique perspective.

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