Hotwire’s Demonstration of How to Lose a Customer for Life

Here’s a simply superb recipe for how to lose a customer for life.

Step 1:  Misrepresent your offering.  

I needed to book a hotel on Hotwire.  I picked a 4-star blind booking because I didn’t care which hotel, I just wanted any nice hotel.  See the word “hotel” appearing twice on this screen.  They booked me into a condo. But I wanted a hotel — I’m not on Airbnb, I’m on Hotwire and I pressed a button called hotel.  I don’t want someone’s condo.  I want a hotel and what’s associated with it — e.g., 24-hour reception, a bar, a restaurant, lobby, etc.

I’m already unhappy and the story’s just beginning.


Step 2:  Fail to Deliver

I drove to the condo complex and my worst fears were realized.  There’s nothing hotel-ish about it.  It’s a series of residential towers.  No lobby, no restaurant, no bar, no life.  Heck, I had to struggle to find the check-in area.  I found an “agent on duty” sign but the check-in area was closed.  No worries, I called the number for the property listed on my reservation, twice, but got no answer.  I waited 15 minutes to see if anyone shows up.  No luck.  So I booked another hotel (not via Hotwire) and stayed there instead.

on dutycheck in closed

Step 3:  Repeatedly fail to handle the complaint

I emailed Hotwire requesting a refund because I was unable to access the property because the check-in area was closed and the property didn’t answer the phone.  Hotwire responded saying the property told them they have a 24-hour desk with security who will check people in.  I replied that was funny because I was there and I can tell you that they didn’t.  I mailed them pictures of the “agent on duty” sign and closed check-in area.  I reminded them that I called the number listed for the property twice and no one answered.

I also reminded them if they booked me into a hotel — as the screen said — and not a condo, then they would have had 24-hour reception and I’d never have had this problem in first place.  They refuse to do anything.

I don’t give up.  The world’s not perfect; I run a business — problems happen, it’s how you respond to them that really counts and I know we’re going to need to escalate beyond first-line support to get a refund.  I wrote again.  I asked my poor assistant to call them.  She was kept on hold for an hour, hung up on, call dropped.  Again, they refused to do anything.

Because the facts are so stark, I’m confident I’m going to win eventually and continue to use Hotwire during the ongoing dispute.

Step 4:  Issue this as final resolution

Eventually I get tired of the whole process and send the “last chance to fix this or I’m gone as a customer” letter.  Here is Hotwire’s rather amazing reply:

hotwire lame email2

Let’s review this for a second:

  • You recognize that I was unable to stay at the property because no one was there to let me in.  This is not a satisfaction issue, this a a non-delivery of service issue.
  • You regret my frustration and you want to thank me for my feedback — I’m not giving feedback, I’m demanding a refund for breach of contract.
  • But “regardless of who you may speak with our response will remain unchanged.”   (I hope you cleared that with your CEO, because he or she might like the right to overrule you, but you’ve taken that away.)

Going forward, I’m not sure what I’ll do.  I think I’ll follow the ideas suggested in this post, which I wish I found a few months ago, such as complaining to the credit card company and reporting them to the Better Business Bureau.  But that’s not the point of this post, which is about customer experience.

Hotwire, think for a second.  What other response than “goodbye forever” could a customer possibly have to your email?

Bye.  Forever.

9 responses to “Hotwire’s Demonstration of How to Lose a Customer for Life

  1. Wow! Truly unbelievable….I love how they seem to acknowledge that they blew it, but will do absolutely nothing about it!

  2. Pingback: Enterprise hits and misses – Benioff takes his stand (again) + overcoming buyer distrust – diginomica

  3. I’ve used Hotwire for years and never had a problem, and in fact on my last trip to DC last week I used them and got a great rate on a decent hotel. This is truly disappointing, and will certainly make me circumspect about using them again. I’ve started seeing better rates at other aggregators that do let you pick the property lately.
    One question: did the property have reviews? I’ve found that the (redacted) reviews are actually pretty accurate, even though you can’t see the property name.

    • The reviews aren’t relevant because I did a “blind” booking — I just said I wanted a 4-star “hotel” in area and trusted them to get me one. That usually works in my experience and just the night before it got me a nice deal at a Sheraton.

  4. I’m not sure what to make of their non_sequitur response, except that it reads like it was crudely stitched together from different boilerplate phrases, all of which were authored by someone who isn’t a native speaker.

    When it comes to charges for travel services not delivered, I’ve been using a “one email” policy. If my first email to the vendor doesn’t get direct satisfaction, I go online to my credit card bank and dispute part or all of the charge, as appropriate. Service not delivered, customer tried to resolve dispute with vendor, done. Both such disputes were promptly resolved in my favor. (Not sure what the blog you referenced says; it’s 502 right now, and web caches don’t have it.)

  5. Good idea Chris

  6. Thank you for suggesting the idea of disputing via the credit card company. I did so and won! #justice

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