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8 Tips for Booking Hotels with Hotwire

Disclosure: The following post contains affiliate links for Hotwire and Airbnb. That means if you use the links to book on either one, I receive a small payment.

In my post about Arolithos “Traditional Cretan Village” early this summer, I described how I reserved my hotel room through Hotwire, and how Hotwire is a bit of a gamble.

A "street" in Arolithos Traditional Cretan Village

A “street” in Arolithos Traditional Cretan Village

Hotels don’t want too many empty rooms. They’re willing to book rooms at cheaper than their standard rates in order to fill them and at least make something on them.

As I explained in that post, Hotwire’s gimmick is that you can book a room at a deeply discounted rate, but you don’t find out which one you’ve booked until after you pay – and the payment is non-refundable and can only be altered in very limited ways. The reasoning is that hotels don’t want people to know that their rooms are available on Hotwire; if they did, no one would ever pay full price.

Why would you book a room in a hotel, when you don’t even know which hotel it is or where it is?

How Hotwire works

When you search for a room on Hotwire, you enter the city you want to visit and the dates. Let’s say I plan to visit New York City a month from now for a week (Oh, I wish!). I enter September 15th to September 22nd as the dates I want. For the purpose of this example, let’s assume my husband is going too, and that we’re leaving the kids at home.

With just the date and city filled in, this is what I see on Hotwire.

With just the date and city filled in, this is what I see.

On the screenshot above, you can see that New York City is divided into green areas. I can choose which one or more I want to consider staying in just by clicking on the map. When I do, the chosen area turns red. In this case, I’ll click on all the midtown areas to see what I get.

I can also add a star filter (I’ll try three and four stars.) and “sort by” will allow me to order the results by price from low to high.

This is how the Hotwire page looks if I zoom in a bit to see Manhattan and then click on all the midtown areas.

I’ve clicked on all the midtown areas, and selected 3 and 4 stars, then sorted by price.

The  screenshot above shows my result. The cheapest is €204 a night, which seems a lot to me, but is a good price for midtown. If I widen my search to include downtown, then the cheapest is a €189 room in a 4-star boutique hotel in SoHo-Tribeca. If I include other boroughs and New Jersey, I can find even cheaper places.

So let’s say I choose the mid-town hotel for €204. It’s a 4-star in Times Square South and has free internet, a fitness center, and restaurant(s), but that’s about all I know. Hotwire does give me a hint, though: it lists hotels that are in its “secret 4-star collection,” as you can see on the screenshot below.

the hotel's page on Hotwire

the hotel’s page

I probably wouldn’t book this hotel, though, because it only lists 45% recommended, based on 109 reviews. There’s something wrong here.

Instead, the next hotel in the list, a three-star at €211, is in the Theater District and has a 90% recommendation based on 356 reviews. That’s much more reliably a good hotel. It also includes free internet and the free breakfast will save me a bit of money.

My experiences

I would have to go ahead and book the room to find out what hotel it is, so I won’t take you further with this example. I can, however, tell you about my past experiences with Hotwire.

Seoul, South Korea

I was using Airbnb (This is an affiliate link that, if you use it, will give you a discount and me a small payment as well.) for the most part on my solo travels last year, but started having physical symptoms that brought me back to Seoul to see doctors. I’m normally a big fan of Airbnb, but I didn’t want to make small talk with Airbnb hosts when I didn’t feel healthy. I decided to book a room via Hotwire.

I ended up staying at three different 4-star hotels over about two weeks in Seoul because I kept getting new doctor’s appointments I had to wait for. Since Hotwire reservations are non-refundable and non-changeable, each time I learned I had to stay longer, I went back to Hotwire to book a new room.

One of the hotels I booked through Hotwire in Seoul overlooked an area of traditional hanok houses.

One of the hotels I booked through Hotwire in Seoul overlooked an area of traditional hanok houses.

I chose the section of Seoul that was closest to the hospital I had to visit. I could still end up far from the hospital, but Seoul has an excellent metro system, so it didn’t really matter where I stayed. Each hotel cost me about €40 a night, an excellent price for a four-star hotel.

I also got a glimpse of some areas that tourists would normally not see. For example, one of the hotels was in a neighborhood filled with lighting and hardware stores. That also meant, though, that the local restaurants were more authentic because they catered to Korean businessmen rather than tourists. And the hotel pictured above loomed over a fascinating traditional hanok neighborhood.

Heraklion, Crete

I led a workshop on Crete in June, and my flight home was the day after the conference ended. Since the conference venue was quite a distance from the airport in Heraklion, I decided to book a night’s stay in Heraklion to be closer to the airport. Again, I chose a four-star.

The problem in this case was that Heraklion isn’t a very big place. The airport is on the east side of the city, but on Hotwire the whole city is just one box; I couldn’t choose a part of the city as I could in Seoul. This made it more of a gamble, and in this case, I lost. The hotel (pictured at the top of this post) was far out on the west side of the city. The hotel was four-star and only cost me €25 for the night, but the taxi to the airport the next day (no metro in Heraklion) cost me €30.

Stockholm, Sweden

In July I attended a TBEX conference in Stockholm, a city that is notorious for its high-cost hotels. On Hotwire, I chose the area of the city that contained the conference venue, hoping I’d be walking distance from it. I knew, though, that Stockholm also has a comprehensive and efficient metro system, so it was okay if the hotel was further away.

Elite Hotel Stockholm Plaza, booked through Hotwire

Elite Hotel Stockholm Plaza, booked through Hotwire

I was very pleased to find a four-star single room for €55 a night, including an excellent breakfast. Every other site showed prices well above €100 a night, unless I booked a hostel. I don’t do hostels anymore! And this hotel, the Elite Hotel Stockholm Plaza, was particularly impressive. Except that the room was quite small, I would have rated it as a five-star: it was clean and quiet and thoughtfully appointed. The materials and decor in the room and public spaces were top quality. At about a kilometer from the venue, I only needed to take the metro when I had my luggage with me.

Luxembourg

Just the other night, on the way home from our family trip to Spain, we decided we would stop for a night in Luxembourg City. Looking on Hotwire just the day before meant that we had few choices. My search only listed three hotels: a three-star, a four-star and a five-star. Surprisingly, the five-star, at €76 a night per room, was cheaper than the other two, so that’s where we stayed. It was a Sofitel, and the rooms were very comfortable and spacious.

Tips for using Hotwire

  1. Use Hotwire if the exact hotel or location isn’t that important to you.
  2. Only use Hotwire if you’re not gambling-averse.
  3. If the city is divided in areas on Hotwire, do some research to figure out where you want to be. Is the local transportation good? Is it considered a safe area? If you know someone in the city you’re planning to visit, ask them.
  4. Double check that you’ve entered your information correctly: the dates you want to stay, the number of rooms and the number of people. Remember that Hotwire bookings are non-refundable!
  5. Generally more stars means higher prices, but not always. Check a level higher than you would usually book. I only just learned from this recent experience in Luxembourg that I should check five-star places as well.
  6. When you use Hotwire, you’ll get an e-mail after your trip asking you to review the hotel. These reviews give a percentage recommended which is listed for each hotel. Be wary of a hotel that has a low recommendation rating. In parentheses after the percentage is a number, which is the number of reviews the percentage is based on.
  7. Factor in transportation costs. If you would have to take a taxi every day from a hotel that’s too far away, you’d be better off booking a nearer hotel on another website, or through the hotel itself. If there’s a fast and relatively cost-efficient public transportation system, then the area doesn’t matter as much.
  8. You can book quite far in advance on Hotwire. I just experimented with booking a hotel in Berlin: comparing a Thursday night stay in August, September and October. The best deal with my search criteria was €55 a room in a four-star hotel, and that price was the same each month. However, the more last-minute you book, the fewer choices you’ll have, if any.

Have you ever used Hotwire to book a hotel? If you haven’t, but you decide to try it, I’d appreciate if you went there through this link. And please let me know how it works out for you!


I am a co-host of Travel Photo Thursday, along with Jan from Budget Travel TalkRuth fromTanama Tales and Nancie from Budget Travelers Sandbox. If you have a travel blog and want to join in, do the following:

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34 Comments

  • cindy

    August 17, 2016 at 2:38 pm

    I did try Hotwire when we flew out of Arlanda. The hotel was fine (new, trendy, with an airport shuttle, great food, and REALLY basic), but was not a four star, which is what I supposedly was booking. Nor was it anywhere near the equivalent of the Radisson Blue and other hotels listed as “examples” for this class of hotel. I felt I paid about what it was worth, but it wasn’t a great deal. Just easy.

    I used to use Priceline a lot, but discovered that using it in Europe was a crapshoot and haven’t used it much anywhere since. The two seem pretty comparable, although on Priceline you could first search for deals and see what hotels came up in the search, which gave you a pretty good idea of what you would get by bidding (usually the worst one listed for that star class, although not always).

    Reply
    • Rachel

      August 17, 2016 at 7:42 pm

      I’ve never tried Priceline. On that one do you bid for the rooms? On Hotwire you used to be able to take the description of the hotel and figure out which one it was before you booked, but they’ve reduced how much info they give in order to avoid that from happening. I like the surprise of it; just leaving it to fate.

      Reply
  • Nancie

    August 19, 2016 at 2:33 pm

    Hi Rachel!

    I’ve never tried Hotwire, but one of these days I will. Good tips. I remember one of the hotels that you stayed in when you were in Seoul. The room was very nice. We also had that great meal in the traditional area, which was very good too. Hotel prices in Seoul are often outrageous. I would recommend anyone visiting to book through Hotwire. Thanks for co-hosting this week. #TPThursday

    Reply
  • Jackie Smith

    August 19, 2016 at 3:58 pm

    We’ve used Hotwire a few times and ended up in a hotel that met our expectations. I’d still prefer researching and finding a place in advance that met our expectations, but your example from Stockholm is a good one for why Hotwire is often the best way to go.

    Reply
    • Rachel

      August 19, 2016 at 4:55 pm

      Yes, I’d prefer choosing a particular hotel too, but when I’m on a budget, that’s not always an option, especially in expensive places like Stockholm. And I really like to stay in 4-star hotels!

      Reply
  • Ruth

    August 19, 2016 at 6:46 pm

    I have never given this site a try. Maybe I should. The hotel room you found in Sweden was a super good price. This site may work wonders for cities that are known to be expensive. The only minor thing is that I like to compare ratings of a hotel across sites. In this case, you will need to trust Hotwire’s reviews (which is fine).

    Reply
  • JD

    August 21, 2016 at 9:34 am

    That’s pretty interesting. I’m toying with the idea of a trip to EU with my daughter & a friend, possibly next year (have to see what the uni says). I really wouldn’t care about the location as long as it’s got fairly good reviews (as you say). I’m one of those people whose plan is “no plan”. I like to just happen upon stuff to do, rather than obsess over everything– too stressful!

    I also like the look of Benidorm….so thanks for that, too. I’ll have to remember to come back & use your links. 🙂

    Reply
    • Rachel

      August 21, 2016 at 4:31 pm

      Thanks! The only risk if you’re booking really last minute is that there won’t be any rooms left. In a big city I’d be very surprised if that ever happens, but in a smaller place Hotwire might not show anything available. Of course then you could just try other booking sites or Airbnb.

      Reply
  • budget jan

    August 22, 2016 at 5:50 am

    What an interesting post! I’ve never used hotwire but might consider it in the future if the need arose. We like you are Airbnb devotees but the prices and places you achieved in Seoul and Stockholm were amazing and I would love those experiences.

    Reply
    • Rachel

      August 22, 2016 at 7:00 am

      I often start with Airbnb too, but if I’m traveling solo, as I was in both Seoul and Stockholm, that means booking a room, not a whole apartment. And that means making small talk over breakfast, etc. That’s perfect in some situations, but I wanted to be really alone in these two cities. In Stockholm I knew I’d be really busy every day so I’d want alone time. In Seoul I was dealing with an illness.

      Reply
  • Rebecca Hall (Bex)

    August 22, 2016 at 1:31 pm

    I’d never hear of Hotwire – thanks for introducing me to the concept! For sure I’d heard of AirBNB and use it all the time, but now I think I will look into Hotwire and maybe even give it a go – thanks for this informative article and tips!

    Reply
  • Anita @ No Particular Place To Go

    August 22, 2016 at 1:51 pm

    Thanks for the tips Rachel. We always start our search with AirBnB for longer stays (greater than 2 nights) and then use hotels.com to take advantage of the 10th night free reward but I’m going to add Hotwire to our search list too. I’ll try it in the next few weeks since we’ve just started a 5 week trip in the US and have a few nights open in between visiting family and friends. Scoring a good hotel can make a long trip a lot less tiring!

    Reply
  • Wendy

    August 22, 2016 at 3:55 pm

    I recently used Hotwire for a car. It worked out well except they assumed the driver was me because I signed in even though I used my husband’s credit card – driver and credit card must match, and there was no place to fill in driver’s name. I called Hotwire, first they tried to bait and switch me for a higher price, and I refused; then they called the rental car company and the company changed the driver. It all worked out well; it just took a bit more time.

    Reply
  • Janice Chung

    August 22, 2016 at 7:40 pm

    Thanks for your tips on using Hotwire. I was certainly aware of it but hadn’t considered some of your tips (ie. hotel might be cheap, but you might be paying a lot to get to the airport). I think I always thought it would be in US funds but went on after reading your post, and it’s in Canadian, so I am more open to using the site. Thanks for your advice!

    Reply
  • noel

    August 22, 2016 at 8:44 pm

    I’m not a fan of Hotwire, In fact I will probably write a post and send it to the CEO. My booking came via email and unfortunately the green area where the booking was the extreme fringe area of where I really needed to be. Don’t even try to call customer service since you will be on hold indefinitely while they patch you to customer service in the Philippines. The worst part of this one bad incident happened with the same booking when I arrived at the hotel past 10pm and the manager told me that they had oversold for a big conference and my paid booking was invalid with Hotwire (Let me tell you how extremely upset and tired I was at this point) Needless to say she not Hotwire bent over backwards to call the roster of their reservations, calling each no show and giving me the one booking left. While this was happening, I was trying to call Hotwire and of course was in that cursed hold pattern patching to the Philippines – never again! Let me just say if you do book with them, beware….

    Reply
    • Rachel

      August 23, 2016 at 8:02 am

      Wow, that’s awful! I’ve never had trouble with them. The bad area your hotel was in is just part of the gamble you take, in my opinion, but the hotel not honoring it is ridiculous!

      Reply
  • Irene S. Levine

    August 29, 2016 at 4:47 am

    I’ve never used Hotwire so I was very happy to read this balanced piece pointing out the pros and cons. It also reminded me that even when you know what hotel you are booking, the room can turn out to be smaller than you had hoped for.

    Reply
    • Rachel

      August 29, 2016 at 7:34 pm

      Or bigger than you expected! One of the hotels I stayed in in Seoul gave me an enormous room. It wasn’t very light because it only had one window, but it made up for that in sheer size.

      Reply

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