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Christopher Elliott: Hotwire hotel not four stars

  • Published Sunday, March 6, 2011, at 12:04 a.m.
  • Updated Sunday, March 6, 2011, at 12:32 a.m.

After I made my purchase, I found out I had a room at the Hacienda Vista Real Resort & Spa, which was located far away from the beach. According to TripAdvisor.com, they have at least 85 percent bad reviews. I am traveling with my husband and a baby, and want to avoid taking taxis to get to the beach.

Initially, I tried to tell Hotwire that the hotel was neither prestigious nor well known, and that it wasn't close to the beach. But now that I've read the reviews, I'm even more concerned. Hotwire sent me a form response, saying, "We reviewed the hotel's location and verified it is within the Playa del Carmen — Playacar, Quintana Roo city area." What should I do?— Valerie Acosta, Fullerton, Calif.

A: Hotwire owed you more than a form letter in response to your request to review your hotel assignment. But before I get to Hotwire's mistake, let's talk about your booking choice. Did you say you booked a resort in Mexico for you and your baby through Hotwire? Seriously?

I'm not saying Hotwire doesn't have great rates on hotels — in fact, it often does. I've used Hotwire a time or two and saved a bundle. But it's not a sure thing. When you buy through the site, you don't find out the name of the property until you've paid for it, and rooms are totally nonrefundable. You could end up with a hotel you don't want in a location you didn't expect, which is exactly what appears to have happened with you.

Another problem that's common to Hotwire is something called star inflation. That's when the site gives a property more stars than it deserves, in an effort to make more money. According to Hotwire, a "four-star" establishment is "distinctive" and offers premium service and amenities sure to make your stay more comfortable and convenient. Those can include gourmet dining, a cocktail lounge, a health and fitness center and concierge services.

TripAdvisor, which happens to share a parent company with Hotwire, gave your hotel a 40 percent negative rating when I checked. (Reviews ranged from "perfect" to "do not stay here.") Still, was it a four-star — or not?

I contacted Hotwire and asked it if it was sure about the rating. A representative called you and told you they'd reviewed the Hacienda's rating, and decided it no longer warranted four stars. Hotwire offered you $25 in gift certificates per night or a full refund. You decided to stay at the Hacienda and take the certificate.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org, or e-mail him at celliott@ngs.org.

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