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Site books room in wrong city

  • Published Sunday, June 19, 2011, at 12:07 a.m.
  • Updated Sunday, June 19, 2011, at 9:41 a.m.

When I received the hotel conformation, it was in Elk Grove, Ill., not Rosemont. I immediately e-mailed Hotwire.

"After reviewing your reservation, I confirmed that the hotel that is booked is not within the area map provided during your search," a representative named Brandy G. replied. "For your convenience, I have sent this reservation up for review to our research department. They will contact you back within 7 to 10 business days in regards to changing this reservation."

I asked if they could just change my reservation to a hotel in Rosemont for the dates I reserved or credit my account for a future booking. This was all done several weeks before the booked dates.

However, they said that all sales are final and refused my request. I was unable to use the hotel, so I am now out $142. I contacted Discover Card, the credit card I used for the reservation, and they replied that Hotwire says all sales are final.— Loretta Krahn, Mountain Lake, Minn.

A: Hotwire should have sold you a hotel in Rosemont — not Elk Grove. It can take 20 minutes to drive between the cities (they're on opposite sides of Chicago's O'Hare International Airport).

If you'd booked your hotel room by visiting Hotwire, you'd probably be out of luck. The site, which allows you to select a neighborhood but doesn't reveal the hotel until you've paid for it, is reasonably clear when it comes to the areas where you might be assigned a hotel room.

But this booking didn't originate on its site. It started with an e-mail that promised a room in Rosemont. The response you received from "Brandy G." looks canned.

It's difficult to break the form-letter cycle. That's because customer service representatives typically receive so many complaints, they only have seconds to review your gripe and draw a response. An appeal to a manager — by phone or in writing — might have helped Hotwire see the error of its ways.

Next time you buy a room through an "opaque" site like Hotwire or Priceline, check the terms of your purchase, even if you think you know what you're getting.

I contacted Hotwire on your behalf. A representative told me there had been an error in the way the company communicated with you when you called to complain about the hotel location. It issued a full refund.

Christopher Elliott is the author of the upcoming book "Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals" (Wiley). He's also 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 tips on his blog, elliott.org, or e-mail him at chris@elliott.org.

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