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