I love Hotwire.com. For those of you not in the know, Hotwire does a lot of travel-related things but I use it solely for hotel bookings. (Particularly after quitting my job, finding a new one, trying to be better about money, etc.) The gist is that you pay in advance for an unnamed, secret hotel. Paying in advance — non-refundable, mind you — and committing to an unnamed hotel can yield big savings. Really big. (But pay attention to the risks I mention later.) I’ve used Hotwire a number of times now to save a bundle on hotel stays in London, New York, Chicago and Madrid and I have ALWAYS been pleased with the results. That being said, I probably spend a lot more time than other people in making my purchase decision and I stay away from the 2 and 3 star properties, which can be a bit more variable in quality. I thoroughly research all my options and do a little extra research to see if I can determine what hotel I’m actually booking. (There are always clues.)
So if you think you are ready to take the risk, here’s how I use Hotwire, with some screenshots of the app, my preferred way of using Hotwire. (The app includes user reviews. The site only includes the ratings. If you do end up just using the site, pay very close attention to the detailed rating breakdowns.)
So a three night stay at this mystery hotel costs $824.68.
By doing a little detective work — the reviews mention an entrance on Water Street and the free snacks — I determine this is the Andaz Wall Street. To make sure I am getting a good deal, I check the Andaz Wall Street website…and they want $922.77 USD for the same stay. If I book through Hotwire, that’s a $100 savings. I’ll take it. Of course, I’m leaving a whole lot of steps out of this research — it’s entirely possible I can find a hotel of similar quality for less money without paying in advance and doing the whole “no name” hotel thing. Generally I do a couple of screens first on Expedia to see what 4- and 5-star hotels are going for in my preferred areas. Then once I’ve established a benchmark, I try to beat the system. My ultimate goal is to get the best quality hotel at the best possible price, which is why Hotwire features in my equation. Especially when I know my plans are set!
Top Tips for Using Hotwire
- I always filter on hotels with approval ratings greater than 90% (although I will accept 85% if need be) and with greater than 4 stars. This is partially me being picky, but partially mitigating my risk of being stuck in a crappy hotel.
- Read the reviews!! The reviews will often contain little tips that you can string together to determine what hotel it is. For example, in Chicago, the Hotwire reviews for one hotel mentioned its all-white room decor. After a little Google’ing, I determined the hotel was either The James or Public. Based on the location, I was able to narrow it down to The James. In my screenshots above, I highlighted a couple of things in the reviews that helped me determine what hotel this was. Note that for some reason, I can only bring up the reviews on the mobile app. I am not able to bring up the reviews on the website.
- Be picky based on location. This is the easiest way to narrow down what hotel it might be. Although generally, for cities I’m comfortable with — like New York and Chicago — I am not so picky about location because I know I can take public transport anywhere I want to go.
- Watch out for Internet fees. If the reviews mention that you have to pay for Internet, I look elsewhere. These fees can ruin a good value.
- Use Better Bidding! Better Bidding is AWESOME. It will help you determine which hotel is which by matching up amenities. Also, people who have recently booked via Hotwire will post their “wins.” If you’re booking at around the same time as some of the recent wins, definitely check out this info as it may be more up to date than the overall hotel list.
Risks in Using Hotwire
- Your plans could change and you really can’t get your money back once you’ve booked an unnamed hotel via Hotwire. Really, you can’t, even if you try really really hard. There are many sob stories on the Internet about this.
- You could get to the hotel and totally hate it. Same deal. It’s too late to get your money back.
- The hotel may end up overbooked and they send you somewhere else, defeating the purpose of this entire Hotwire exercise. But if you do get moved to a different hotel, chances are it will be a sister property so there’s that.
- Rumor has it that Hotwire guests get the crappiest rooms. This has not been my experience, but I mention it because you’ll find reviews that mention this.
So…that’s my quick tutorial on how to use Hotwire to save you some money! Have you booked through Hotwire? Let me know what your experience has been like.