Friday, October 21, 2011

In the dumps - Hotwire specials

Yours is 2I travel a lot for business, a lot for fun: a lot of driving and overnight stays.  Although it’s nice to upgrade for a special occasion or a unique place, most of the time I figure that I’m not spending much time in the hotel room, so look for someplace with a good location and a good price.

Despite the “We’ll match any price” claims of individual hotel chains, I generally go through an aggregator, Orbitz (if I can link up a room to a flight) or Booking.com.  The latter site has always given me a good room and a competitive price and, most importantly, has bailed me out with a new room if the hotel made a mistake with the booking.

In the US, I sometimes go for deep discounts through Expedia or Hotwire.  And there the trouble starts.

A recent visit to Sacramento: Hotwire offers a great rate at the DoubleTree Point West Way.  On arrival, the desk clerk hands us a room in the Folsom Wing (its real name!), reserved for recruits on their way to basic training at a nearby air base.  Beds are stained, carpets are dirty, furniture is stripped down, the door opens the wrong way.  Yours isOne bad night and two stiff conversations with the manager and we broke out of prison to the regular wing. Hilton refuses to give credit for the stay.

A recent rental from Hertz, another 1/3 discount through Hotwire for Sacramento airport pickup.  First, there’s the hassle of getting the car at the price I paid.  No, I don’t want gas, no I don’t want insurance, no, I don’t want a bigger car:  okay, that’s expected.  What wasn’t expected was the difficulty in getting a GPS for navigating the city – in my rate category, the only way to get a GPS was to upgrade the entire car at $30 extra per day (I bought a map for $4 at Target).  The car itself was stripped, tiny, rattling, nothing automatic, miles of road use to catalog so that I didn’t get charged for ‘new’ dents and dings.

I understand that a deep discount links to a ‘spare’ room or vehicle, not a suite, not a limo.  But that should be a standard room, or a compact car, not the ’Hotwire special’ reserved for fools.

If hotels and rental agencies don’t want to offer a room at a discount price, then don’t.

But if you do, remember that this will likely be the first and only time that this customer will  be doing business with you.

What sense is there in giving them a bad experience?

Especially I they can write about it on TripAdvisor?

Years ago I experienced the Expedia Room at the Renaissance in Amsterdam.  It’s an otherwise lovely hotel that literally checked me into a maids closet at the back, with exposed ceiling  pipes and dripping sink next to a flop-mattress.  I spent the night scrawling invective onto the complaint card, then wrote Expedia to say I just couldn’t book with them again when hotels do this.  They wrote back to say that they were aware of the practice but were  helpless to control it.

And, lest you think it’s just me, there’s a delightful PowerPoint on the same topic posted to the internet years ago: Yours is a Very Bad Hotel.  ‘Required reading, and a sadly familiar story (it even tags the DoubleTree).

Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with any of the companies mentioned, and pay my own way everywhere: nobody asked or incented me to write this account.

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