June 16, 2021

The Haggler: On Hotwire, Lost in the Stars of a Hotel’s Rating

Our question this week is from a man who handled his Internet-inflamed frustration the best way that one can. He didn’t get mad, or go nuts. He just collected a lot of evidence.

Q. On Nov. 8, I visited Hotwire’s Web site to reserve a room in Ithaca, N.Y., where I was going for business. I used the site’s “opaque” system, which allows you to specify the quality of hotel where you’d like to stay but doesn’t say where you’ll end up until you’ve committed to pay. But you can get a look at names of a handful of hotels in each category.

In Ithaca, Hotwire’s 3-star list looked fine — Holiday Inn Express, Hampton, Best Western, etc. So I typed in that I’d like two nights at a 3-star hotel, which would cost $135 a night. To my surprise, I “won” two nights at the Clarion Hotel. I’ve stayed there before and found it pretty awful. I would never have bid on a 3-star hotel had I known that the Clarion was in the mix.

Which it should not have been, according to Hotwire itself. The Clarion appears on the company’s list of Ithaca hotels where you might land when specifying a 2.5-star hotel. When I later double-checked this through an online chat with a Hotwire customer representative, I was told that the Clarion in Ithaca is actually a 2-star property. In another online chat, I was told it’s a 2.5-star property.

Regardless, when I called Hotwire and asked for a refund, a rep and his manager refused. They explained that the Clarion in Ithaca is a 3-star property, and in subsequent e-mails the company did not seem to care that its Web site and two online reps say otherwise. I say Hotwire sold me a 2- or 2.5-star property while charging me a 3-star rate. I actually stayed at the Courtyard when I went to Ithaca, but nobody at Hotwire will listen when I argue that I deserve a refund.

Care to see if they’ll listen to you?


Potomac, Md.

A. The Haggler contacted Hotwire and sent along a copy of one of Mr. Bruns’s online chats. It includes this exchange:

Mr. Bruns: That property in Ithaca is a 2.5 star? So if I bid on a 3-star, there’s no chance I will get the Clarion, right?

Hotwire: Yes. If it is under our 3-star category you are guaranteed to get a 3-star hotel.

What happened here? Garrett Whittemore, a Hotwire spokesman, said that while the Clarion chain gets 2.5 stars, Hotwire sometimes awards higher or lower grades to individual properties. “Many hotel chains are independently owned and operated, so some offer more or less amenities and services than others, and that will impact their class levels appropriately,” the spokesman wrote in an e-mail. “Although in general Clarions fall into the 2.5-star category, there are many that qualify for the 3-star class in our rating system, and the Clarion in Ithaca is one of them.”

So what’s with the reps who say otherwise in online chats? A mistake, wrote Mr. Whittemore. He said that one of those reps had already been “educated” — which somehow sounds vaguely ominous — so that this wouldn’t happen again. Maybe Hotwire can educate its Web site, too. The Haggler visited it and went through some of the same motions that Mr. Bruns did. Up pops the Clarion in the company’s list of Ithaca hotels where you might land if you opt for a 2.5-star stay. Maybe the site is referring here to the Clarion as a chain, but it sure doesn’t make that clear.

Given the confusion, Hotwire said it would refund Mr. Bruns’s money. That’s nice. But here’s a metaquestion: Why are the ministrations of the Haggler necessary in a case like this, where it’s clear that a customer has been given bad information, and thus has a legitimate grievance? Mr. Bruns had every scrap of evidence he needed, including screen grabs. He also had a receipt from the Courtyard. Why aren’t companies like Hotwire supple enough to truly listen to people like Mr. Bruns and accommodate them, without a nudge?

No doubt many people call Hotwire each year and demand refunds, for lame or laughable reasons. No doubt it’s harder than it looks to sort the credible complaints from the noncredible ones. But as the Haggler has written before, if we’re headed for an economy dominated by the service sector, why can’t we do service really well?

The Haggler posed these questions to the outside public-relations representative who handles media inquiries for Hotwire. That’s right — Hotwire’s spokesman has a P.R. rep, and a media-shy one at that, who did not want to be quoted. He promised to cogitate and follow up. Did the Haggler expect a thoughtful, philosophical answer? Yes, he did, proving once again that he is an idealistic fool. The P.R. rep offered nothing thoughtful at all and instead claimed that because Mr. Bruns had used a different name during his online chat, the company was never able to piece his entire story together until the Haggler stepped in.

This is nonsense. Mr. Bruns e-mailed all the details to Hotwire a week after this mini-debacle, in November. Hotwire had the entire tale months ago.

So as perverse as this may sound, take comfort in this episode, all you aggrieved consumers: on occasion, when the Haggler asks a company a question, he can’t get a straight answer, either.

E-mail: haggler@nytimes.com. Keep it brief and family-friendly, include your hometown and go easy on the caps-lock key. Letters may be edited for clarity and length.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/10/your-money/on-hotwire-lost-in-the-stars-of-a-hotels-rating.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Bucks Blog: Monday Reading: Hotels Add Perks as Airlines Cut Back

December 05

Monday Reading: Hotels Add Perks as Airlines Cut Back

As airlines cut back, hotels add perks, higher loan limits again for pricey markets, banking by mobile phone and other consumer-focused news from The New York Times.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=72d4527df5d5b2a67d397c102bd3a731

Bucks Blog: Thursday Reading: Student Debt Grew 5% Last Year

November 03

Thursday Reading: Student Debt Grew 5% Last Year

Student debt grew again last year, cellphone apps give speed dating new meaning, hotels offer Veterans Day deals and other consumer-focused news from The New York Times.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=c449bc58280b0a402fc252146b15e5df

Bucks Blog: Friday Reading: Panel Advises No Prostate Test for Healthy Men

October 07

Friday Reading: Panel Advises No Prostate Test for Healthy Men

A panel advises against prostate screening for healthy men, why the latest iPhone looks the same, hotels join the flash mob fad and other consumer-focused news from The New York Times.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=45dfbf90322c436afaac4ce99b4cf27f

Bucks: Tuesday Reading: New Ways to Answer Hospital Patients’ Calls

May 31

Tuesday Reading: New Ways to Answer Hospital Patients’ Calls

New systems for answering hospital patients’ calls, hotels try to get in-room movies right, sleeping under the stars in Manhattan and other consumer-focused news from The New York Times.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=feb21d52f0f34d4c11419a8a0a6911c2

Corner Office: You’ve Passed the Interview. Now Give Us a Presentation.

Q. Do you remember the first time you were somebody’s boss? 

A. It was when I started a magazine in North Carolina called the Vagabond. And the vision was to enable business travelers and families to discover restaurants, hotels and golf courses in 50 top cities. It is the same theory that I believe in today with Appssavvy, which is to be really clear about the vision and how you’re going to get there, and tell people how their involvement will be meaningful. The more you can make people feel that they have a hand at the wheel, that they’re driving something, the more that they’ll participate and own it like you own it. 

 From my experience, if you have an army of people who believe as passionately about the goal and the vision, you’re going to find a lot more success than by using the theory of command and demand. 

Q. And what were some early leadership lessons?

A. I was born in Finland. My grandfather started a paper company in Finland, and I had experience in high school as an intern selling paper products internationally from a desk outside of Helsinki. And I didn’t really know what I was doing other than having a phone and a piece of paper and some sort of concept of the products. But learning how to sell internationally gave me confidence to do things at an early age. 

You also learn through sports — and I was a sports junkie, from hockey to football to lacrosse — what you have in your gut, in your heart, and you learn about your ability to get people to listen. Most of the time, people will listen to you not just because of the direction you set, but also because of the follow-through and the execution. 

Q. How do you hire?

A. We look for people who really want the job. And that sounds really simple to say, but some of the most important people in the organization who shine and are really transformative people were the ones who were almost jumping out of the chair, saying: “I have to be here. I’ve been studying this company. This is all I’ve ever wanted. And if I’m not here, I’m not going to be happy.” Those individuals took that extra step as well to follow through after the interview. We watch how quickly the person follows through, and how much thought they put into how they want to contribute. But how badly do they want the job — I can’t stress that piece enough. 

Their résumé, I believe, is one of the least-valuable components of an interview. For me, primarily it sits on the desk as a reference point, and to potentially make that person feel comfortable that I’m a professional C.E.O. But the truth is, I’m not interested in the résumé. I’m more interested in understanding the time that the person took in understanding our business, product and the industry landscape. 

I spend a lot of time asking about the challenges people have faced in prior work environments, and how they would behave or react in an unfamiliar situation where they might not be too comfortable. The people who are able to respond quite quickly and have very short, concise answers to how they would overcome a problematic situation typically are the ones who seem to possess leadership skills. You have to ensure that you’re not just hiring a person because you have an opening, but you want people who possess leadership qualities so that they could replace the person who’s hiring them. 

Q. Can you elaborate on this quality of facing down challenges?

A. I ask them to recall real examples. It can potentially expose something that we believe is very important, which is problem-solving. Great leaders can take the initiative and solve problems on their own. So we ask: Were you in a challenging predicament, and faced with a scenario that you were not used to? What did you do? Who do you reach out to? How did you go about handling this? How would you follow through on it?

Some of the biggest misses, I think, come from people not following through. A great idea or solution is only as strong as the follow-through. Nothing will potentially frustrate me more than if there’s no action item. If you follow through, that is a tremendous asset that a lot of individuals don’t necessarily possess. 

Q. What else is unusual about your hiring process?

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=32211ddfc658b72d1df779d48508fbae