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.