Mary Jane Prough reserves a room in Las Vegas through Hotwire.com. But the resort she's supposed to stay at has never heard of her, and she's sent to a different hotel that's out in the boondocks. What is Prough owed for the reservations snafu?
Q: We recently booked a hotel room in Las Vegas through Hotwire.com. We prepaid $952 for it. Hotwire took our money but never gave us the room it promised.
We traveled to Las Vegas for an employee's wedding, and were supposed to be staying at the Wynn in Las Vegas. But when we tried to check in, a clerk told us there was no reservation in our name.
I phoned Hotwire, which checked its records and discovered Wynn had neglected to complete the reservation. It was a holiday weekend, and there were no more available rooms at the hotel, so we were basically out of luck.
Hotwire offered a refund and tried to find another place for us to stay. We were sent to the Loews Lake Las Vegas Resort, which is located about 20 miles outside of Las Vegas and is a $62 taxi fare. Needless to say, we missed every event for the wedding with the exception of the wedding itself.
Hotwire completely ruined our trip. Although they offered us $50 vouchers for the "inconvenience" of having to stay at another hotel, I feel that we should be reimbursed for every expense we incurred, since our vacation ended up being nothing but frustration after frustration. What do you think? -- Mary Jane Prough, Santa Cruz, Calif.
A: Hotwire should have found a room for you at the Wynn or a comparable property -- not sent you to the suburbs with a $50 voucher as compensation.
Hotwire offers discounts on hotel rooms by letting you pick the hotel category, but not a specific property. So you could pick a four-star hotel in Las Vegas, but wouldn't know the name of the resort until you've paid for it. That's why Hotwire is sometimes referred to as an "opaque" site.
This has nothing to do with your missing reservation. When that happens, it doesn't matter that your hotel was made online or offline, through an opaque or a "clear" Web site, or whether you prepaid or used your award points. If you had a confirmation, but no reservation, then someone screwed up. And it's up to that someone to fix it.
If Hotwire was correct, then Wynn failed to process your reservation. And that means Wynn -- not Hotwire -- should have tried to make things right. It could have done that by either finding a room at one of its other properties or at one of the other nearby hotels with which it has agreements to walk its customers (being "walked" is an industry term for sending a guest to another hotel when you've run out of rooms).
If, on the other hand, someone at Hotwire pushed the wrong button, then the company should have found a comparable hotel in a similar location. Not a resort out in the suburbs.
Bottom line: someone screwed up. Hotwire, in fact, offered you either a three-star hotel on the north end of the Strip for $112 a night or a four-star resort "located 10 miles outside of town" for $175 a night. The Loews -- which, don't get me wrong, is a really nice resort -- is closer to 20 miles outside of town.
In a situation like this, I would have stayed in the check-in area until you had acceptable accommodations. Do not leave without a room key. The hotel will try to persuade you to move on, but don't.
I think Hotwire's $50 voucher was a good start. I'm not sure it owed you a full refund for your trip, but the certificates didn't quite cut it. After I contacted Hotwire on your behalf, a representative called you and apologized for the mix-up. Hotwire credited you $571, which covers your weekend at the Loews.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the host of "What You Get For The Money: Vacations" on the Fine Living Network. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c) 2008 Christopher Elliott Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.