Using Hotwire To Find A Hotel Room? Take Those Little Icons With A Grain Of Salt

Update: Hotwire has partially refunded the cost of the room and clarified that if it said it was a suite, it should have been a suite. They’ve removed the “S” icon from the listing.

Jeff thought he was getting a suite through Hotwire, but it turned out he was just getting a regular room, no different from any other one Hotwire sells. He writes, “I booked a hotel through Hotwire for a stay this past Friday night into Saturday in midtown Manhattan. I’m trying hard to see how I was wrong, but I just can’t get there. I thought I’d throw myself to the crowd for your take on it.”

If you aren’t familiar with the workings of Hotwire, it’s similar to Priceline in that you don’t know which hotel you’ll be assigned until after you purchase it. Unlike Priceline, however, you don’t bid — the search results show you the various prices for unnamed hotels, the star rating and amenities. Example:

The icons to the right of the price and below the location identity the amenities of the hotel. I’ve used Hotwire and Priceline since they debuted a decade ago, and I’m totally fine playing Russian roulette with my hotels and flights.

Among the results when I searched for a hotel for my stay was a 3-star property and a 3.5-star at approximately the same price. The 3-star, however, had an “S” icon next to it, which when you rolled your mouse pointer over it says this:

I’m not a star-snob, and I’m quite happy in 2-star Comfort Inns, Days Inns and LaQuintas. I’ve stayed in hotels in Manhattan before, and while they’ve always been quite nice, the rooms have been the size of my glove box. I figured I could sacrifice a half-star for some space, and I selected the hotel that listed ‘Suite.’

Hotwire sent me a confirmation email, which revealed the hotel, and offered more information on where I would be staying:

Sweet, a kitchenette! Now I have some place to cook my 3-star dinner!

Anyway, I arrived at the hotel at 6:59pm Friday. Why do I know the exact time? Because no one was at the front desk. At 7:05, the front desk agent came by and checked me in. (No hate for the six-minute wait. It’s all good.) “You’re in 1A,” he said. “Your suite is down the hall to the right.” I followed his directions and arrived at ol’ 1A.

A little spartan, sure. But what I thought was most unusual was the absence of a suite in my suite. Granted, the size of the room was quite generous and the bathroom (behind the camera) was the size of Texas (it was a handicapped-accessible room), but where’s my separate living area? And my kitchenette! The private bedroom? There was a mini-fridge tucked away in a closet, but I don’t think that counts as a kitchen.

I walked to the front desk and asked if I was in the right room. Checking his computer, the agent said that 1A is the room the hotel assigns to people who use Hotwire or Priceline and that the only other available rooms are two-bedroom suites. I called Hotwire, and the agent says that the “S”uite icon (and the “Kitchen” listed in the email) means only that the amenity is *offered* at the hotel, not that I was actually being sold one. Hotwire said I may be able to pay for an upgrade directly from the hotel if one’s available.

I would be totally fine with just a room (and the one I was assigned was very nice), but I feel like I was led to believe I’d be getting a suite, which is why I chose that hotel over the 3.5-star for about the same price.

I’m not trying to be unfair to Hotwire. I’ve tried hard to see it from Hotwire’s point of view, but I can’t get there. Am I wrong to have come to the conclusion that I booked a suite?

We dug through the help section on Hotwire’s site, and their position is that those icons are essentially meaningless—they indicate what may be offered at the hotel, but they are no guarantee that that’s what you’ll get.

The Suite icon gets a little more confusing, though. Most of the other icon definitions include a line about how additional fees may apply for that specific perk, but the Suite definition has no mention of an upgrade or additional fee. And since you can’t specifically search for suites through Hotwire—you can only search by the total number of warm bodies you need to find lodging for—there’s no sense of suites being in a separate class from the regular rooms. Result: it’s quite possible to see the Suite icon and think that this particular listing is for a suite. For an example of that type of confusion, see this post!

We don’t think Hotwire is deliberately attempting to mislead customers, but we think they should amend the icon definition for Suite so that, like the other icon definitions, it indicates this is an option, quite likely with a fee involved, and you should contact the hotel directly for details.


Edit Your Comment

  1. RogerTheAlien says:

    What about the fact that they’re listing a Best Western as a three star property. That seems a little misleading, too. Especially a room that bare.

    • onapartyock says:

      For NYC, I have been in rooms that barely fit a bed and a bathroom where I had to sit sideways with my legs in the shower to use the facilities for far more money than listed on that screen capture. Unless prices have recently went down, that looks like a 3 star to me.

    • bohemian says:

      @RogerTheAlien: The size of the room is one thing. The furniture looks like bad dorm furniture. 3 star?

      • cordeliapotter says:

        @bohemian: In Manhattan, if there aren’t bedbugs and mold, then it’s 3 star.

        • onapartyock says:

          1 star = Crack heads or hookers with Johns
          2 star = Bugs, Mold and Mice
          3 star = small, out of date but decently clean

          The hotels that were the most fun had one bathroom per floor and an Asian Massage Palor next door, it was cleaner to find a tree a Central Park.

  2. Roclawzi says:

    Maybe it’s just me, but I really don’t get how hotels survive without providing more amenities as standard fare. I mean, if all I wanted was a minifridge and a place to sleep, what they offer is only marginally better than my car and a bag of ice.

    • dialing_wand says:

      @Roclawzi: I still don’t understand how my $100/night hotel has free internet, but a $150/night Hilton will charge you for it. Problem is, I’m guessing, that people DO pay for it so they keep charging for it.

      • lotussix says:

        @dialing_wand: i work for a luxury hotel company and our middle brands offer free internet, but our full service hotels charge for internet, except to our two (out of three) top tiers.

        keep in mind that the hilton would classify as a full-service hotel that has a restaurant, concierge service, probably a vip lounge for their hhhonors members, etc. services provided at these types of locations are right in line with the other hotels who are considered “full service.” you get more butt kissing at the full service hotels (with better locations) than you do at our $99/night hotels, and butt kissing comes at a price.

        • Tankueray says:

          @lotussix: I’ve stayed in a few of the high end hotels you speak of, and my butt was never kissed in any way. In fact, I just stayed in a very expensive hotel in downtown Austin and had to pay for internet and bring my own travel fridge. My room was no better/larger/cleaner than an outside door motel.

          I stayed at the Hampton a few blocks away and they have free breakfast, happy hour, internet, and fridges.

          My favorite is the Holiday Inn and Suites in Pflugerville. It’s a suite with a kitchenette, two rooms, breakfast, internet, and HH on Wednesdays. The staff really goes out of their way, and I always get a call shortly after getting into my room to make sure it’s acceptable. And it’s about half the price.

          The only thing I ever get from a high end hotel is anaphalaxis from the chlorine atomized by the fountain in the lobby…and a twice as expensive Starbucks.

          • Russell Miller says:


            I had the same kind of experience in San Diego. I’ve stayed at two places in San Diego. One was the Pacific Terrace, which goes for $500/night (I got it for half that). It has a view overlooking the beach and a balcony. Charged $20/night for parking, no restaurant, $9 for an omelette for breakfast… basically paying for the view.

            I also stayed at a Town and Country a bit inland. $109 w/ my AAA card, came with a free all you can eat buffet for TWO and the rooms were in some ways even nicer (instead of a beach, it looked out on a rather lush garden with a gazebo).

            Maybe the view of the beach is worth that much, but I honestly think I enjoyed the Town and Country better.

          • KMan13 still wants a Pontiac G8 says:

            In Vegas, we stayed at an Embassy Suites (off the strip) with two rooms, two tvs, fridge, etc, for LESS than a 2 bed/one room on the strip at one of those famous hotels.
            Excellent service, excellent staff, even got upgraded to a room with a balcony after there was a problem with the shower in our original room.
            Mind you, this was 7 or so years ago…

  3. AppleAlex says:

    this is why you never use travel agencies/websites just call the hotel directly or use the site for reference but don’t actually book online. plus you can probably get a better deal if you call the hotel directly

    • lotussix says:

      @AppleAlex: we always say that you get the best rate at our site and we honor that by discounting 20% if you find a lower rate at a qualified website.

    • bohemian says:

      @AppleAlex: The trick is to use to ferret out what hotel it is before you purchase then read up on it at

      This is a rather effective way to find out what your really getting and usually some real pictures and info about the hotel.

    • Corporate_guy says:

      @AppleAlex: It appears they don’t let you know what hotel you are selecting until you make the purchase. Most likely to prevent you from doing that very thing. Of course there are probably other travel sites that show the hotel names.

    • dru_zod says:

      @AppleAlex: I would never use Hotwire or Priceline or any site that doesn’t reveal the hotel name before booking. I have used one time and it was a really good experience. I was able to book a really nice, huge beachfront suite that normally goes for around $200/night for just $78/night during the off-season. They let me see the name of the hotel before I booked a room and thus I could read reviews on it at

      I thought the price was too good to be true, so I called the hotel to confirm that the price was indeed for the room described and it was. When you know the hotel you’re booking, you can do that.

      • HogwartsAlum says:


        That’s exactly what I was thinking. Why on earth would you book a room if you didn’t even know what hotel it was? It could turn out to be the Omni or something.

        • benko29 says:

          well you pick the area of town you want it in, and the number of stars. there are some parameters, so you know what you’ll *at least* be getting.
          my experience using such websites, and those of friends and family, have been nothing but positive.

  4. TEW says:

    This is why I never use Hotwire. You don’t know what you are getting and when you do find out it is too

  5. wellfleet says:

    I can definitely see how the OP would feel the booking site was misleading. Hotwire could give him a partial refund as a good faith gesture. He seems to be reasonable and as good a customer as one could ask for.

    • lotussix says:

      @wellfleet: good luck with that. hotwire is pretty rigid. and when we get hotwire rooms, we don’t give them the lowest in class, but will give them a run-of-the-mill type room and i always tell guests to ask the front desk for upgrades, because sometimes they will honor if we’re not too busy.

  6. Dansc29625 says:

    Interesting reason to not use hotwire.

  7. thepassenger says:

    I’ve booked rooms for several NYC visits via Hotwire. I prefer to stay downtown, and I usually try to get the nicest-rated room for the lowest rate. If you see a listing for “3.5 stars–Downtown/Soho” it is in all likelihood the Club Quarters around the corner from Wall Street (having been booked into this hotel several different times, I think it’s the only one fitting that description). Rooms are small but very nicely appointed (warning: very tiny shower stalls).

    Most recently, I was able to book a four-star room in March for less than two previous stays at CQ. That one turned out to be the Millennium Hilton on Church St. across from ground zero. The rooms are more spacious, and the bathrooms are much, much bigger than CQ’s.

  8. missdona says:

    Give them a call. I had an instance last year where the price I purchased with them was a wee bit more than the own hotel’s website. Not a lot, but enough to warrant a call. They gave me double the difference back in “hot $$.” Not the best solution, but it’s better than nothing.

  9. Anonymous says:

    These icons do not necessarily mean nothing and I have recently had a great experience with Hotwire. I recently booked a 2-star hotel in Orlando that was supposed to have a Kitchenette for $18. Needed a place to stay before my vacation in Disney World. Hotwire emailed me before my trip and inform me that the Kitchenette was a mistake and offered me 50% discount or a $50 voucher. I took the $50 voucher of course. I have also booked hotwire at least five different time and has generally been happy with the hotel selection. The discount is there as well.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I work in the hotel industry and unless you just want a bed and a bath, DO NOT BOOK THROUGH THIRD PARTY WEBSITES! If you read the fine print you will see that things like smoking/non-smoking are just requests and NOT GUARANTEES. You will also see that two beds is also a request. DO NOT go down to the front desk and be an asshole because you tried to get some special bargain and you will not accept the assigned room!

    If you are that fussy then you should book only through hotels where you have a loyalty program where they will kiss your ass and allow you to be a douchebag.

    Go stay at a Kimpton as they reward that crap. Just stay at a Kimpton and reply back on the survey that you hated this and that and you’ll get a free stay. Period. Kimpton rewards bad behavior.

  11. picantel says:

    These are not my sites so I get nothing for listing them but they do help you figure out nearly all the time what hotel or motel you are getting through priceline and hotwire.

  12. Anonymous says:

    As someone who works in the hotel industry, allow me to tell you that Hotwire guests get the lowest priorities because the room type is not guaranteed. When you book on Expedia or, however, rooms types are guaranteed. In addition to that, the rates you typically get on Hotwire are significantly lower that at times we will place guests in “bad” rooms to encourage booking directly the next time.

  13. chiieddy says:

    The star ratings are useless too. The first (and last) time my husband used Hotwire, he picked two 5 stars. One in Toronto and one in Syracuse (for our overnight stopover on the way to Toronto). While the hotel in Toronto was a 5 star, the one in Syracuse was a Ramada and undergoing major renovations (construction everywhere) at the time. It was barely 2 star, much less 5.

    We found out the hotels SELF REPORT their star ratings.

    • Anonymous says:

      @chiieddy: Based on the website, the Ratings are based on an average of other site’s ratings and include feedback from customers, so it sounds like
      the ratings are based on criteria that don’t necessarily describe the size or decor of a room.

      BTW, here is the 3-star description from the site, sounds like it matches the hotel as he describes it:

      Quality 3-star hotels

      These quality establishments make comfort and personalized service their priority. These full-service properties usually feature:

      An inviting, relaxed lobby
      On-site dining
      Room service
      Family-style rooms
      A business administrative or health and fitness center may also be available. You can find these hotels in downtown or resort areas, and also in smaller, suburban cities.
      Like a Holiday Inn, Radisson or DoubleTree.

      Currently there aren’t any five star hotels in Syracuse according to Expedia, but there is a Traveler Opinion 4.7 star called the Best Western Liverpool Grace located in Liverpool, NY. You’re saying that was five-stars? How long ago?

  14. David in Brasil says:

    I’ve used Priceline several times to book hotel rooms in Hong Kong and other cities. As the above poster recommends, I’ve used to get an idea of what hotels are offered and how much I should bid. I’ve always been happy with my price and location (Sheraton Kowloon in Hong Kong for $70, for example). However, I have always thought that they give out their poorest rooms to Priceline customers. This post confirms that.

    • lehrdude says:

      @David in Brasil:

      I try to only use Priceline in “big tourist” cities (NY, Orlando, Las Vegas). If you look at the hotels Priceline sells on their main site, and what star-rating those hotels have, then you will know exactly which hotels you will be bidding on when you try to bid for your room. I only choose the highest level of hotel available in a given zone, and start my bidding prices at about 60-75% of the lowest price that was listed on the main site. The key is that when you cut the lowest price hotel for a given class in a given location in half, then you are most likely going to be staying at that hotel…If you plan on that, and are OK with that hotel, then anything else you may “win” is considered an upgrade…

      After using it about 25 or so times, I can honestly say that I have only been disappointed once in Naples, FL (hence my big city theory), and I believe I have NEVER been outright ripped off…In fact, many of my stays have been at beautiful resorts that we would have never stayed at on our own.

    • drrictus says:

      @David in Brasil: The past 3 times booked with Priceline, I used the bidding sites to snag standard rooms ~55% off the hotels’ listed prices, and each time ended up in a suite upon check-in.

      That makes no sense, so YMMV.

  15. drotor says:

    I recognize that Best Western. I regularly stayed there while working in NYC a couple of years back. Great little hotel. Two funny stories, Darryl Waltrip, the Nascar driver, once tried to “steal” my suite, as they had booked him into the small room on the main floor mentioned in this story. The clerk refused his request and then introduced me to him, Daryl thought it was pretty funny when he found out I was the guy in line behind him. Another week and we had the cast of Apprentice staying at the hotel. Apparently, and at least for part of the time, the cast didn’t always stay at Trump Towers.

    • lehrdude says:


      Trump probably charged Best Western for allowing them the honor of hosting the cast of Apprentice…which in his mind is ~The number one, all-time best and highest rated reality show ever created or conceived of~

  16. Bye says:

    Excellent and timely post. We’re planning a trip and were just thinking about using Hotwire for the first time but this cinches it. That ‘false icon’ thing is pretty sketchy.

  17. savdavid says:

    Well, I think they ARE misleading. They know most people don’t have the time or patience to read all the fine print. Thanks. I will not use Hotwire.

  18. MyPetFly says:

    Just as a side note, did anyone notice the snazzy disco era furnishings in the picture?

  19. bbb111 says:

    The self reporting of location can also be a problem. In San Francisco I looked at some discount hotel sites (ones that let you see the hotel name) and many say “five blocks from Union Square”; what they don’t mention is that five blocks south-west of Union Square is the Tenderloin (I once literally had to step over someone shooting up to get to a great hole-in-the-wall restaurant in the Tenderloin.)

    There are some former resident hotels at the edges of the Tenderloin near touristy areas that are marketing on the on-line-booking sites. If you look at a map of the location, it seems good….unless you know the area.

    Another problem with hotwire is that the areas are too large. I’d rather pay a little more to be within a few blocks of my destination and avoid renting a car, paying for parking or taking a taxi.

    If I don’t know the city, I’ll “walk” around the hotel neighborhood and the route to my destinations using Google Streetview.

    • Coelacanth says:

      @bbb111: My first time visiting the SF area, I fell for pretty much the same thing. In fact, it might have been the same hotel. Without knowing, it appeared great… until I arrived and had to walk several blocks to get anywhere “decent” and actually feeling unsafe alone after dusk.

      Good tip on Google Street View… I wish that feature had been available that many years ago.

  20. chris_d says:

    I’ve booked several times through Hotwire and had decent results. These have all been hotels in medium sized cities in the midwest, so maybe that’s part of it. I have always gone with at least a 3 star hotel. The first time I tried I got a Holiday Inn for $44. Really nice. Using the feature icons, I successfully booked it again months later for about the same price. Now I did get booked into a smoking room, but the hotel was perfectly happy to change it for me.

    If you have specific wants or needs, it’s NOT the way to go.

  21. billbobbins says:

    To me it’s obvious that these icons just mean that the hotel has suites, a spa, internet, and a restaurant – NOT that theyre all included in the bargain hunter’s rock bottom price. The customer was wrong to assume he would get a suite.

    HOWEVER, when his confirmation did say “suite” and “kitchenette”, he should have gotten them.
    He should have been given access to all of the amenities listed.