Budget Travel: Hotel deals at Hotwire

How well do you handle the unknown? If you don’t have the stomach for it, avoid Hotwire. Now, if you don’t mind taking a bit of risk, you can save a fortune by using this website to book your next hotel in the United States (or a limited list of international destinations). I’ve used Hotwire several times, and the vast majority of my experiences have been great. The one that wasn’t (only one) had nothing to do with Hotwire; I was just disappointed with the hotel.

Hotwire is one of the many bargain travel websites that is fighting to carve out some turf on the web. Unlike the others, it delivers some amazing prices. You just don’t know where you’re going to stay until you pay for the rooms. Using Hotwire, you enter the city where you want to stay, proximity to neighborhoods or local attractions and the caliber of hotel you prefer. Star ratings are assigned to each property to help you judge quality, and they are based on Hotwire user feedback. As a reference point, the website does tell you the types of property that are commensurate with a particular rating. So, the process isn’t completely blind, but you still don’t know where you’ll hang your hat.

I used Hotwire three times last year to book hotels in Washington, D.C. I stayed at Capital Hilton, Hilton Washington and the Hotel Helix. My experiences were generally positive with all three.

At the Washington Hilton, I had to walk a lot farther than I expected from the subway station, which is apparently a common problem. The staff at the front desk saw my tired, sweaty face and said, “Yeah, most of the websites make the hotel seem a lot closer.” Immediately after that, he ran to get me some moist paper towels to help me cool off. The hotel itself was excellent, particularly at a discount of more than 70 percent. I also booked the Capital Hilton through Hotwire and had no surprises at all. Again, I saved more than 70 percent and was thrilled.

The Hotel Helix was a bit disappointing. In my opinion, it should have been rated a full star lower than it was, and I left feedback on Hotwire to caution future users. Hotwire itself wasn’t the problem. The rate was fantastic, and I was able to save some money on a trip with little lead time. But, I just didn’t like the hotel. Why do I say this? It happens, and you need to know that flexibility is necessary. Sometimes, you won’t be thrilled with your room. That’s just the risk involved with Hotwire.

Now that you know the good and the bad, let’s talk about money. It’s routine to save more than 50 percent of a hotel’s regular rate using this website (at least in my experience). Hotwire is able to do this by finding the unsold inventory at hotels around the country and bargaining for deep discounts. In the hotel industry, a room-night is a perishable commodity. If you don’t fill Room 437 on March 16, you can’t save it for later. Sometimes, it’s better to get something than nothing. Also, the hotels don’t can avoid implicitly devaluing their rooms through the blind process. This is the service that Hotwire provides to hotels … and to you.

The deals vary. If you are looking for a great room during peak season, you’ll probably be disappointed. But, if you have reasonable expectations, they’ll probably be exceeded. On a recent search, I found hotel rooms for under $150 in downtown Boston for mid-March (at a property given 4 ½ stars). I also found sub-$100 rates in Paris (four stars) and London (four stars, as well) for the same period.

After you book one of these great deals, don’t forget that you have an obligation when you get home. Just as you read the reviews before taking your step into the unknown, many will follow you. Help them out as others helped you. Hotwire will send you an e-mail asking for your feedback on your stay. All you have to do is click the link and complete a brief survey.

Do it.

You can go as long or short as you like, but people will read – and rely on – your review. If you have booked a room using Hotwire, you probably will again, and you’ll read the reviews. So, participate in the process. It’s what you want everyone else to do.