Hotwire Facing Possible Class Action Lawsuit For Selling 2-Star Rooms As 3-Star

A reader forwarded us an email that indicates a class action motion is being prepared against Hotwire, the discount travel company, for promoting hotel rooms at artifically high ratings. On Hotwire, you can’t preview the hotel before booking, so the star rating is really all you have to go on—and there’s at least anecdotal evidence online that Hotwire has been known to be more lenient in its rating system. Though Ryan says he’s gotten some good deals through Hotwire, he adds, “I do recall booking a room around Christmas in the 2.5 to 3 star range and getting La Quinta (which as we all know is spanish for ‘near a Denny’s’), which is listed as a two star hotel.”

This website has a similar complaint from an anonymous customer:

# PL TN — 2008-04-25

I agree that HotWire is a scam! I booked a 3-night stay in Savannah at what their website showed was a 3-star hotel. When I got the confirmation, it was a 2-star, without very good customer reviews. I could have made the same reservation myself at that location and paid only $10 more! I’ve asked them to change,gave them screen shots of better hotels, etc. and now they tell me that their “Research Team” is looking into it. Unfortunately, that will take 7-10 days to get a reply, which the 10th days is the day before I leave for my trip. And the longer they wait, the fewer good rooms are left. Anyway, I’m not holding out much hope. But be assured I will never use HotWire again and I will make sure all my family, friends, acquaintenances and anyone else I find will know what a rip off this company is

One problem may be that Hotwire uses its own rating system for hotels, according to a USA Today article from 2005 (when the original lawsuit was first filed).

Like other leading travel sites, Hotwire has its own hotel star-rating system. That’s because there is no single accepted star-rating system in the USA.

The problem with all these different rating systems is that even when they’re accurate, they don’t necessarily jibe with travelers’ ideas about what star ratings mean. Your notion of what a constitutes a three-star property may not match Hotwire’s (or any other site’s) definition. And there’s little consistency among the systems.

The site creates star ratings for hotels by consulting ratings from other industry sources. Hotwire may also visit the property, though not all hotels are inspected in person. The company adjusts star ratings to conform to its own scale.

The Days Inn that Hotwire gave 2.5 stars merited just two stars from Orbitz, Travelocity, Priceline and AAA. Mobil doesn’t rate it.

Here’s an excerpt from the email Ryan received. Based on the third paragraph, it seems that the lawsuit isn’t about Hotwire using a more lenient rating system, but actually selling lower-rated rooms as higher-rated ones.

THE FOLLOWING EMAIL REGARDS THE “HOTWIRE LITIGATION.”

A proposed class action lawsuit is pending against Hotwire, Inc. Our client filed this case on behalf of certain California consumers who, since 2004, used Hotwire.com to reserve and pay for hotel rooms. We received your email agreeing to disclose your name to our office and we appreciate your help in investigating these claims.

This lawsuit alleges that certain Hotwire customers (including yourself) used Hotwire.com to book and pay for a hotel room with a certain “star rating” (as given by Hotwire’s “Hotel Ratings Guide”, one version of which is attached to this email for your review) but when the specific hotel name was revealed (after your non-refundable purchase), you actually received a hotel equated with a lower star rating than what you requested and purchased.

Hotwire has advised that at some point since 2004, like our client, YOU booked and paid for a hotel room of a certain star rating, but actually received a hotel equated by Hotwire with a lower star rating than what you requested/purchased. We are seeking to represent you and all others in your situation to get you financially compensated for the difference in what you paid for and what you actually received.

LAW OFFICES OF KEVIN T. BARNES
5670 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 1460
Los Angeles, CA 90036-5627
Ph: (323) 549-9100 / Fax: (323) 549-0101

Comments

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  1. consumersaur says:

    People are suing for paying service that doesn’t disclose what they just paid for?

  2. It’s easy to boost ratings by adding token amenities to appeal to specific needs. Hotels in Europe have been doing that for decades. (“Say, Gerard, let’s convert thees storage closet into a centre de fitness. Voila, three stars!”)

    I appreciate what Hotwire does, but you also have to realize what Hotwire does. ie, how much sympathy should we have for someone who books sight-unseen based on a proprietary star ranking system?

  3. consumersaur says:

    Rather: people are suing for using a service that doesn’t disclose the product until you pay?

  4. lasereric41 says:

    I can’t say I’m surprised here. I booked a hotel through Hotwire last year, and it said it was a “3.5 star” hotel. Now, it was one of the Hilton hotels in the area, but it wasn’t even close to what I would consider 3.5 stars, or even 3 stars. Maybe that one was just riding on the name.

    On the other hand, I booked a 2 star hotel stay through Hotwire a couple years ago, and the hotel actually was much nicer than I expected. Maybe it’s a ratings tradeoff, or maybe their staff just doesn’t know much about hotels…

  5. drrictus says:

    That Denny’s sponsors the professional bowling league is so appropriate.

  6. ARP says:

    I’m going to have to go with Hotwire here. I think the consumer has some responsibility to research the hotel they’re considering and not simply relying on a proprietary ratings system.

    But I think it depends on how egregious this is. If you booked a three star and the “norm” is 2.5, tough luck. That’s within the margin of error

    Now if you booked a four star and everyone else gives them one, you might have something because their ranking system may be misleading.

  7. Dobernala says:

    @ARP: RTFA:

    On Hotwire, you can’t preview the hotel before booking

  8. DwightIsMyCopilot says:

    @ARP: The thing is that you CAN’T research the hotel before you book it with them. The only thing you have to go off of is the ratings.

    At the same time, my only experience with Hotwire is booking for a 4-star hotel in downtown Chicago and getting the historic Palmer House, which was AWESOME. So I’ve only had a really good experience. Sometimes you get what you pay for and sometimes you get a really good deal. I don’t really see much of a problem with them.

  9. Jubilance22 says:

    This is why I never use Hotwire, only Priceline. Priceline’s star ratings are a lot more accurate, and you get what you pay for. I’ve heard too many horror stories about getting duped on a Hotwire purchase.

  10. pinkbunnyslippers says:

    So people who are penny pinchers to begin with, and would never pay for a 4 star hotel in the first place are upset that they’re getting put into hotels that they think are 3 stars, but are really just “2 and a half star” hotels. That half-star really makes a difference I’m sure!

    This all sounds like a software malfunction to be honest. Hotwire says you’re paying for a 3 star. After you pay, you get 2 stars. The article says it best – there’s no consistent “star rating guide”, so what’s stopping Hotwire from just changing all the 2-star hotels in their database to 3? You see what I mean?

  11. The Porkchop Express says:

    @DwightIsMyCopilot: @Dobernala: ARP might, just maybe, have meant to research it by other means like a different website or something of that nature.

  12. missdona says:

    I use Hotwire all the time when I visit my aunt/uncle in a small town in PA. Usually, I can get the Hampton Inn for $35/night vs. $119++ rack rate.

  13. Franklin Comes Alive! says:

    @Lo-Pan:

    How can you research the hotel you’re going to stay in when Hotwire doesn’t tell you what hotel you’re staying in until after you’ve purchased?

  14. drrictus says:

    Speaking of rates, has anyone actually read the disclosure form in every hotel room (usually on the back of the door) that states what the “normal” rate for that room is? How are they consistently ~2x higher than you ever see advertised or sold for?

  15. friendslikeJimRome says:

    They should have been tipped off when the local MacDonald’s was rated four stars; “Clean bathrooms ****”

  16. MoCo says:

    On Priceline, I’ve occasionally gotten a hotel that was a dud. In every case, I was able to get out of it by going to the hotel and telling them nicely (1) that it was not what I expected and (2) I’d be very unhappy there. They have always told me that I could call Priceline and it would be okay with the hotel to cancel the deal. It takes a bit of doing, but Priceline has always then cancelled the deal after I explained that the hotel was willing to cancel.

  17. @missdona: If thats the one in Whitehall I paid $45 the last time I booked it. Maybe all these companies should work with the whatever the Hotel trade group it called to come up with a true universal rating system.

    As for the lawsuit, sounds like Kevin is trying to find himself a big score class action to get out of daddy’s shadow. (Daddy is a scuzzy personal injury attorney in LA)

  18. woodenturkey says:

    all right, all right, say what you want about hotwire, but leave Dennys out of it. at 3 am it there or the Waffle House, and sometimes you just dont feel like hearing the Waffle House song on the juke box.

    mmmm grease and bacon…

  19. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    I used Hotwire twice. First time I got a pretty good deal on a hotel suite (perhaps because they were new?), second (and last) time I got a lousy deal on a hotel they indicated would be “beach-front” but was really “beach-is-sixteen-blocks-away-walking-through-a-busy-city-good-luck-carrying-that-there-cooler-charlie”.

  20. Azmodan says:

    Either I misread this or everyone else did.

    The way I read it was that the issue is not people paying for a 3 star hotel and being unhappy with it, but instead paying for a 3 star hotel and then getting booked in what HOTWIRE rates as a 2 star hotel.

    Please let me know if I misread it.

  21. ViperBorg says:

    @Ash78: But did they know at time of purchase that the star rating system was proprietary?

  22. gbbound says:

    @Franklin Comes Alive and DwightIsMyCoPilot

    One can actually do a little research on both Hotwire and Priceline by going to sites such as betterbidding.com or biddingfortravel.com.

    At betterbidding.com, for example, they list the likely hotels at each star level by breaking it down by amenities that are included, as well as whether it says something like, “Customer Favorite.” In some instances, given the description, the end result will be one or two choices that the hotel is likely to be.

  23. radiochief says:

    I love Hotwire, I use it everytime I travel. I look area hotels that I’ll be visiting and price them on Orbitz and Priceline. Hotwire seems to give me good deals.

  24. my_imaginary_friends_bore_me says:

    If you are going to use Hotwire or Priceline I suggest checking out this site [www.betterbidding.com]

  25. loganmo says:

    To everyone siding with Hotwire, the problem is that Hotwire is telling you before you buy that the hotel room they are selling you as, e.g., in a 3 star hotel. But after you make the purchase, they actually place you in a hotel that, by their own rating system, is of a lower rating. It’s a classic bait and switch.

  26. missdona says:

    @Tracy Ham and Eggs: Nope, Carlisle. There’s a ton of crappy motels you can get for that price (super 8, motel 6), but I’d much rather go to the Hampton Inn.

  27. Juggernaut says:

    How bad can you really feel for someone caught up in some old shitty scam like that? If you choose to make a purchase based on someone’s arbitrary/proprietary rating system, you deserve what you get…

    I’ve got some prime beach-front property in Florida for sale…

    This car was only driven to church on Sunday’s by my great-grandmother and only has 8,000 miles on it…

  28. Azmodan says:

    @loganmo: Thank you. I was getting very frustrated that everyone was ignoring the real issue.

  29. ruffedges says:

    @drrictus: @drrictus: Did you just claim to know who sponsors professional bowling? What a scholar!

  30. dragonfire81 says:

    I just keep to one simple rule: I can’t preview, I don’t stay there.

  31. anarcurt says:

    Get what you pay for?

  32. danseuse322 says:

    In major cities you CAN see the hotels first. You can price a package for the same dates. It doesn’t guarantee you will see the hotel you get but it shoes the hotels with stars–if you write down amenities and then price the hotel alone you can almost always guess. This doesn’t work where there are no package options but it helps. Usually Hotwire is no less expensive than the hotel/flight/car. PL is the way to go–but never under 2.5 stars. Ouch.

  33. DanC922 says:

    Haha! The La Quinta/Denny’s comment made me laugh. I spent my New Year’s 2 years ago out of town staying in a La Quinta. I went into the new year with a couple friends in the Denny’s across the street. :P

  34. Major-General says:

    Rule number one: there is NO “star” rating standard in the US. You can get AAA Diamond ratings, or Mobil Star Ratings. And unless the property is advertising one of those do not presume that the rating has any meaning whatsoever.

  35. Titan0 says:

    I used Priceline once and probably only once. I got an unbelievable deal; a $500 room for $150 on the Boston waterfront. But it was a quite a bit further from where I wanted to be. So the whole blind reservation thing is definitely not my cup of tea.

  36. Craysh says:

    I used to work for Hotwire. We throw everything out front:
    1) Hotwire’s star system is proprietary
    2) Hotwire tell you exactly what the star system entails ([www.hotwire.com])
    3) Hotwire tell you that you don’t see the hotel
    4) Hotwire is for DISCOUNT ROOMS. You save money. If you want specificity, goto Orbitz.
    5) Hotwire uses a 5 star system. Places like AAA use a 4 star system. Don’t be surprised when something that’s a 3 star hotel on Hotwire is a 2.5 star hotel on another site. They’re still half-way to perfect.

  37. I am frequently amazed by the inability to read carefully shown by consumerist readers. Do I think it’s dumb to buy a hotel blindly? Yes. Would I do it? No. But that isn’t the problem here. Bait and switch is the problem here. We are giving you a 3 star hotel at X price, so you buy in, and then receive a 2 star hotel ACCORDING TO OUR OWN RATING SYSTEM. That is crap. That is crappier than crap. These people did not actually “get what they paid for”, they got something that HOTWIRE ITSELF ranks lower than “what they paid for”. I do not think they should be awarded excessive damages or anything, but if this happened to people, they should receive, at minimum, refunds. Companies cannot be allowed to take advantage of customers this way.

  38. Jon Parker says:

    I used to use Hotwire frequently until I discovered that they were advertising with Michael Savage and other nutjob right wing radio shows. Now I just book through Orbitz.

  39. civicmon says:

    I won a 3* in New Orleans which was the “O’Keefe Hotel” which was a former Days inn that happened to spend a good amount of time on the news during/after Katrina since it was where some cops were hiding with all their stolen goods and police issued pistols threatening to shoot everyone.

    Anyways, this place was refurbished but still a dump, obviously 2* if that. The hotel website advertised $50/night and I won it for $58 – got the double-price difference refunded.

    Hotwire is notoriously bad for this but hotel ratings are imperfect. I stayed at another 3.5* in New Orleans which then became the Intercontinental Hotel which had re-opened a few weeks prior to my arrivial. That was a steal.

  40. camman68 says:

    I used to book ALL of my companies reservations through Hotwire. As long as you understand how it works, it is usually a pretty good deal.

    If it is a “business trip”, I will usually pick a 3*. If I am booking a personal trip, I only choose 4* or better. I have had great luck in Chicago, Denver, Dallas, KC, Wichita, Des Moines, Omaha, Minneapolis, etc.

  41. BaronVonHawkeye says:

    Next to a Denny’s isn’t always a bad thing. Especially if the hotel is next to a bar.

  42. liquiddamage says:

    I’ve booked a couple times with hotwire. Although hotels are decent, always get a smoking room. Yuck. I don’t book with them anymore because I don’t like smoking rooms.

  43. Alysia Maher says:

    I believe it is now time for Americans to start taking back America by making sure companies such as Hotwire are put out of business. Attorney Generals – take note – we the American Public are tired of being deceived. Look into the practices of this company.

  44. Grady says:

    My wife contacted Hotwire last night 8/3/10 to book our small vacation to the San Antonio riverwalk. We were under the impression we were getting a 3 star hotel right on the riverwalk and this was our full intention. My wife is disabled but not wheelchair bound. When she confirmed and paid we find out that they have us in a LaQuinta several blocks away. So we have two issues, 2 star facility instead of instead of3, and a distance that will not be feasible given my wife’s disabilities. When we have called them back they have been very nasty. They actually made my wife cry, and she doesn’t cry easily. This is why I am involved. We are just requiring a location swap but they are stone cold when they hear my wifes very ligitimate circumstance. I would like to find a way to be a part of the class action suit.