Hotwire.com: Low Flight Prices, but you must Take what you Get
Feb 10, 2004 (Updated May 16, 2005)
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Hotwire.com is a vacation travel web site that helps customers find discounts on their vacation related needs. This web service is useful for travelers who are more flexible with their travel plans and are willing to tolerate a little bit of uncertainty in order to obtain the lowest possible price.
Features of This Service:
Hotwire.com offers many travel services. You should begin by first establishing an account (you can search without an account, but you must have an established account to make a purchase), which is very easy and takes about three minutes. After the account is set, you can browse for travel in the following areas:
Flights- Hotwire.com offers flight purchases to most U.S. destinations and many international as well. Last minute specials are available for those who are adventurous and want to buy flights quickly.
Lodging- Hotels, resorts, and other lodging can be purchased at Hotwire.com. The choices include hotel units and certain resorts that are sold as hotel units.
Vacation Packages- If you want a complete vacation package that includes air and lodging, Hotwire.com can help you locate a good deal on both your flight and hotel all bundled into one.
Car Rentals- Deals on car rentals can also be purchased here, with all of the major businesses (Hertz, National, Alamo, etc.) featured in this web site.
Cruises- Hotwire.com offers Caribbean cruises, Mexican cruises, Mediterranean, Alaskan, and other cruises for as few as 3 days and as many as two weeks or longer.
Hotwire.com offers a few other services besides the ability to purchase travel. One is the Fare Alert system. You can enter multiple pairs of cities and Hotwire.com will alert, via e-mail, when a match is found. You can also sign up for a travel newsletter that Hotwire.com will e-mail to you when good deals are found.
If you have questions about the site or your purchase, you can contact Hotwire.com by sending an e-mail to or by calling toll- free, 1-866-HOTWIRE. If you live outside the U.S. or Canada, you need to call 1-920-330-9418.
Hotwire.com has been offering discounts on travel for its faithful members for many years. A fully- owned affiliate of Interactive Corp. (NASDAQ traded, under the ticker symbol IACI), Hotwire.com helps customers by purchasing large blocks of unused inventory (seats on flights, excess hotel rooms) in bulk and then selling them at rates that are lower than other travel web services.
I have used Hotwire.com on and off again since first signing up for this service a few years ago. From my experience, I have found that airline flights are the area where the best deals are most often found. Hotwire.com competes with many other travel web sites, but Priceline.com is the one it is most often compared to. In many areas, Hotwire.com is better; in other areas, Priceline.com is slightly better.
With flights, Hotwire.com works a little differently than Priceline.com. First of all, you need to understand that there is no bidding at Hotwire.com. When you search for a flight, you are presented with a list of possible prices for your chosen departure and destination cities. This is the only data you can see. You dont know the time of your flights or the airline (Based on my experience, most Hotwire flights are morning flights) for either departure or arrival. You have to accept the offer before you know this information. And, most importantly, once you press the button to accept an offer, there is no turning back (similar to Priceline.com). You have now purchased the flight displayed on screen, regardless of the times or price. You cannot back out at this point. Even if you dont like the airline or the flight times, you cannot get a refund. Because of this mystery factor with Hotwire.com, many potential flyers do not like to take chances with this service.
The price that is offered is good for two hours. You can leave your pc and make other plans while you decide on what to do. The original offer will remain in place for two hours. After that point, you have to search again and hope that the flight you wanted is still being offered. This is a nice feature, and its something you dont find in other web services. With other web sites, you have to be very quick to make up your mind or the seats will be sold to another traveler within minutes.
Speaking of seats, Hotwire.com has certain other limitations that could make it unsuitable to specific travelers. First, you do not get the option to select your seating. Second, you cannot get credit for frequent flyer miles. Also, keep in mind that if you make a purchase via Hotwire, your options at the airport will be limited. You cannot switch flights and ask the airline for an earlier flight, even if there are seats open (unless, of course, you are willing to pay extra money). Because the purchase was made via Hotwire, your priority is lower than with other customers.
Hotwire.com is often compared to Priceline.com, and its true that there are some similarities. But there are key differences that make Hotwire.com a little different and often better choice. One is that the bidding feature is not present, but the prices are just as good if not better than Priceline.com. With Hotwire.com, you will see a list of possible flight prices, without any airline or times shown. You then select the flight you would like and hope for the best. With Priceline.com, you have to place a bid, which may or may not be accepted. Hotwire.com, on the other hand, lets you know the price up- front.
Hotwire.com is not as useful as Priceline.com for hotel purchases. The mechanism works the same way as Hotwires search for flights- the price is displayed without the hotel name (but you do get to see the quality rating and amenities of the hotel). But the prices are not as competitive for lodging as with flights. You can often find a better deal elsewhere. Also, you dont get to specify what you want in your room (i.e.- the number of beds and size of beds) but you do identify the number of travelers, which will ensure that you at least get something close to what you need (for instance, if you say there are four travelers in your party, Hotwire.com will make sure that the room you get has at least two large beds). And if you want to, you can call the hotel upon receiving your confirmation and request a specific room.
Hotwire.com offers the user one way to narrow down the possible hotel choices: selecting a location of the city to search from a map. This way, you at least know that, if you accept an offer, the hotel you end up with will be in the general vicinity of where you want to stay. I really like this map feature. Its something offered in only a few other web sites and it adds a visual element that makes the site more user- friendly. I can quickly look at the map of a city and narrow down the acceptable areas. For example, if I search for lodging in New Orleans, I can narrow my choices down to the French Quarter, Downtown, Midtown, Garden District, New Orleans East, Airport, La Place, etc. I still dont know the precise location of my hotel until I accept an offer. But at least I have an idea as to where in the city my hotel will be.
Overall, Hotwire.com is a very good web service for finding bargain deals on flights and fairly competitive deals on other travel services. There is, of course, a degree of uncertainty when you use a service like this because you dont really know what youre going to get. For this reason, Hotwire.com is not a good choice if you need a flight that will arrive at a more definite time (like for a conference, or work- related event) or if you need to stay in one, specific hotel location. But if your travel plans are more flexible, then Hotwire.com can save you a bundle on travel, particularly on flights. Logon and see for yourself just how inexpensive flight travel can be, with Hotwire.com.
Be Sure to Click the Links Below to Read More Reviews on Other Popular Travel Web Sites:
American Express Travel
Americas Vacation Center
Vacations To Go
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