Road Test: Mixed Luck With Hotel Booking Engine Room 77

searchUPDATED 05-01-2012

Not long ago, in Better Search, Blazing Fast, Tested, I tested hotel-finder Room 77 that claimed “blazing fast” search results. I was impressed. Going through the process of actually booking, that blazing fast speed slowed to a crawl and resulted in a less-than-ideal outcome.

Right after reviewing Room 77, I needed to book a hotel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida for just one night later this week. The hotel I wanted was sold out as were many others during Fleet Week, a United States Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard tradition when active military ships recently deployed in overseas operations dock in a variety of major cities for one week.

Putting Room 77 to test, the site again performed quickly, delivering a number of good results. One of those results was the Hilton hotel I wanted which was sold out. That got my attention along with a price that was 35% lower than normal rates at that hotel.

Locking in that price, however, required leaving the Room 77 site and dealing with one of their affiliated companies, the UK’s OnHotels. A first thought was “Hmm, maybe this is a consolidator site that looks for canceled space at hotels and picks it up at a bargain rate.” Then there were second and third thoughts of “…or maybe its a scam” and the standard “WARNING: NON-US SITE, PROCEED WITH CAUTION.”

I booked anyway and received immediate confirmation from OnHotels. On that confirmation were two reservation numbers that looked to be OnHotels internal numbers, neither one a number Hilton hotel would probably use. Not a problem here either, I made a note to check with the hotel directly if I did not get a Hilton confirmation number shortly.

Later that day I called the Hilton who said no reservation had been made. That was not a total surprise because of the time zone difference between here in Florida and the UK so we sent an email to OnHotels asking for the hotel booking number.

“I see you have charged my card for this reservation but the hotel has no record of my booking. Please provide the hotel booking number,” I wrote.

OnHotels replied back pretty quickly, considering the 6 hour time zone difference.

“It is perfectly normal that the hotel still does not hold your booking as the booking information is often sent later even if the space has been reserved, and the booking has been done just today. Therefore we are not surprised to read that your booking is still not with the hotel.

Your booking is fully confirmed and all the details will be passed on to the hotel very shortly.

We are checking with the hotel for their reference number, please keep in mind that this might take a bit longer.”

The next day, a phone call to the Hilton revealed that still no reservation had been made so back to email we went.

“Are there details available for this hotel yet? I need a Hilton Hotel confirmation number please.”

Onhotels again responded rather quickly:

“I have sent the request to the hotel yesterday, however also due to the time difference i do not have any reply as yet.”

OK, but now we’re starting to worry about OnHotels and what they might be doing. Another day passes and the hotel has no record of our reservation. Clearly, something is wrong here. In response to a third inquiry, OnHotels sends:

“I already have chased the hotel even today. As soon as they have inserted your reference number in their system they will provide it to us.

“Your booking has been confirmed, you do not need to worry.

I will contact you as soon as I have the reference number.”

And that is where we pulled the plug, canceling the booking and requesting a refund to stay within the cancellation guidelines of OnHotels which were much tighter than the average hotel. With OnHotels, the booking had to be canceled no later than five days prior to the stay. Odd, but clearly detailed on their original invoice.

Considering the slow response time of the whole transaction, I canceled the booking 7 days in advance, just to be safe.

That refund came back in a reasonable amount of time, less a 10% cancellation fee, a charge clearly defined in the original confirmation when bookings are made.

Since no booking had actually been made at the Hilton hotel, thoughts turned to “Oh, maybe this is how they make their money. Never actually make bookings, just offer a super low price that bargain-hunters can’t resist, dancing with them for a while then refunding all but the cancellation fee.”

A quick call to the credit card company launched a fraud investigation that will temporarily put those funds charged in cancellation back on the card used while they sort it all out.

Thinking “That’s too bad, it really was a fast hotel search” I sent off an email to Hotel 77, detailing the transaction.

I’m a big believer that great customer service is not the day in and day out operations of an organization but what they do when something goes wrong.

Hotel 77′s Mel Bolton responded in a couple hours:

“I am glad you got to test out the site, and I am truly sorry for the lackluster experience with booking and confirming your room. Room 77 is, at it’s core, a search engine – we’ve scoured the web for the best rates and deals. The majority of the time, the best deal is found and booked through Room 77 and we 100% back up our booking – we are committed to offering the highest degree of customer service and we take all issues, like yours, very seriously.

Like other search engines, in some cases, deep discounts can be found through lesser known channels, like OnHotels in your case. We want to provide the most choice and offer the widest range of rates possible so the consumer can make the decision of what rate and what provider best suits there needs.

Based on your input, we are reviewing OnHotels and will remove them from search results if they don’t meet our stringent partner criteria. We have already removed nonperforming providers and we carefully monitor all the providers that are in our marketplace to make sure they have the same commitment to customer service that we do.

If you have some time, I’d love to connect you with our VP of Marketing, Roger Wong – he can discuss how Room 77 works with partners and providers to provide the most rates and deals. And let me know if you’d like to rebook your stay – I’d be happy to get you in touch with Bryan Waters, who leads our Room Concierge team, and who can make sure you have a much better experience than the one you have had.”

Impressive. That was exactly what I had in mind for a response so I immediately replied “Absolutely. Your site is wonderfully fast and easy to use. This experience with OnHotels though was/is bad.”

That was last Thursday.

Today is the following Thursday and I have received no further response or contact from Room 77.

Once again we see that if an offer looks too good to be true, it probably is; at least in the case of OnHotels. On Room 77 the jury is still out.

UPDATE 05-01-2012

Room 77 did get back with us later, were quite apologetic and sent along this statement:

“We take quality and customer satisfaction very seriously, and based on your experiences, we no longer feature OnHotels within our search. Our goal is to provide the best customer experience while also providing the most rates and the best deals, and we’ve removed any sites that provide a questionable customer experience. We’ll continue to monitor to make sure all partners of Room 77 adhere to the same strict customer service guidelines that we hold ourselves accountable to.”

Flickr photo by Anonymous9000