PROS / The interactive map lets you see hotels close to an event or venue in the area where you plan to travel.
CONS / You can’t search or book flights using the Hotwire mobile app.
VERDICT / While you can book flights and car rentals through Hotwire, you’ll find the the biggest deals and savings are on hotels with this online travel site.
Search results for flights and rental cars are plentiful, but the best deals through Hotwire are on hotel reservations. Here is a breakdown of the vast services Hotwire offers, including the unique features of each and how it compares to other online travel agencies we’ve evaluated.
Hotwire Flight Reservations
Hotwire lets you search flights into a specific airport or in a general area. In this later case, Hotwire Airlines will bring up possible flight options at all airports in that area, both international and smaller airports, so you can see where the best deal is. Search results for domestic flights show the airline and other details, such as the number of stops and any baggage fees. International flight searches typically include multiple stops and multiple airlines, so flight details aren’t usually displayed until you select a flight itinerary option.
Hotwire also provides a flight score that considers the duration of the flight, the type of airplane you will be flying on and the overall quality of the amenities that the flight offers. The search details also list how many seats are left at the quote price and how often a flight is booked by all patrons and not just those booking through Hotwire’s airfare search.
We were able to sort Hotwire airfare search results by price and times of departure, and filter results to show only those offered on a specific airline or with a certain number of stops. Be aware that if you’re searching for flights with a travel companion, the pricing is shown as per ticket rather than as a combined total. Once you click through after selecting a desired flight, you’ll be shown the entire total of all tickets, including taxes, fees and booking fees assessed by Hotwire.
Hotwire airfare tickets can be canceled with a 100-percent refund if it’s done within 24 hours of booking the flight. After that, tickets are non-refundable for any reason unless you to choose to add flight protection. As part of the booking process, Hotwire allows for you to enter your TSA PreCheck number, to choose a seat preference, apply a frequent flyer program and request special assistance.
The fine print on Hotwire gives the conditions of the Hotwire Hot Rate Flight feature that lets you choose a cheaper plane ticket to your desired destination. However, you will not know the flight details, such as the flight times or even the airline you will be traveling with until after the flight is booked and paid for. While information on this feature is listed on the Hotwire website, it isn’t clear exactly how to use it. In our experience with the site, Hot Rates for flights weren’t listed alongside other search results like they are for hotels or rental cars, and the few links we found to Hot Rate flights took us to error pages.
Hotwire Hotel Reservations
As you search for a hotel using Hotwire’s booking site, you are asked a lot of detailed information from the get-go. This includes the number of people who you are booking a hotel for, including children, whether you will be booking multiple rooms, and whether you want to bundle your hotel reservation with another online booking, such as a car or flight.
The site’s Hot Rate hotel deals are presented first when you do a search. This feature shows four-star hotels with prices discounted up to $100 in the area you are searching for, as well as hotels in surrounding cities. The catch is you won’t know the name or exact location of the hotel until you book your room. You’ll see only an approval rating from customers, a list of the hotel’s amenities and the area of town where it’s located.
You can search for hotels at the regular rate instead of focusing on the Hot Rate deals by clicking the Hotels tab at the top of the search result window. The site lets you sort them by star rating, amenities and price. The regular-rate search will result in higher prices, but you’ll be able to see the name and location of the hotels on the list, as well as other helpful information.
One neat feature of Hotwire’s hotel search is its interactive map. When you search for a hotel in a specific area, the map will show where the more popular attractions are in that area. Clicking an attraction will zoom in and show you where hotels are in that general vicinity. For example, when we searched in the Anaheim area, it was easy to see which hotels were within walking distance of the Disneyland parks, Anaheim Convention Center and Angel Stadium. This is a helpful tool if you are planning a trip for a specific event and need to find a place to stay close to the venue.
Hotwire Car Rentals
As with flight and hotel online booking, Hotwire allows you to reserve a car rental either alone or bundled with a package. You are not limited to airport rental locations, but can search for a car rental in your specific area. Hotwire will display each car option, starting with an economy-size vehicle all the way up to a full-size SUV. Specialty cars, such as convertibles, luxury cars and pickup trucks, are also listed as rental options. Prices are displayed as per-day rental costs with a total estimated cost listed right below. When you choose the car option you need, Hotwire will display the rental company and the cheapest option first along with several alternative prices and companies in case you prefer to work with a specific car rental company.
You can see a quick rundown of the vehicle, how many passengers it can hold and the address where you can pick up the car on your reserved day. Final costs are not due at the time you reserve the vehicle, but you are given the total price due at the time of pickup, which is broken down to show the total costs, the cost per day, and the taxes and fees included.
We noticed that often the quoted prices for a car rental were the same as those quoted directly from the rental car company’s website itself. This means that if you are only looking to reserve a vehicle without any other vacation bookings it may be quicker to book directly from the car rental’s website.
When it comes to international car rentals, Hotwire is just as efficient and will list additional cars that are popular in overseas markets, such as the option to rent a Mini Cooper in Europe.
The Hot Rate price feature is applied to car rentals just as it is for flights and hotel reservations. The Hot Rate guarantees you a vehicle that is a compact size or larger, but at the price of a compact vehicle. However, you will not know exactly which vehicle you are reserving, or from which rental car company, until you have made the reservation and paid for it through the Hotwire website. While the discount may be a great deal, you could end up with a large vehicle with a higher gas mileage than you planned on, meaning that you may end up spending more on gas and cutting further into your travel budget than if you had booked a more energy-efficient vehicle and knew it at the time you reserved your car.
Hotwire Deals and Vacation Packages
As with all online travel companies, Hotwire gives you the option to bundle several different types of reservations into one vacation package, often at a discount compared to reserving each one individually. One unique Hotwire offering that other online booking sites don’t have is the ability to bundle more than just a flight and hotel or a flight and hotel and car package. Hotwire lets you book a car and hotel without a flight, giving you more flexibility and options when traveling. This is especially helpful if you’re planning a weekend getaway or a family vacation where it is quicker and cheaper to forgo the flight and simply drive to a near-by spot for a nice get away.
Where Hotwire misses the mark compared to other online travel sites we reviewed is that it doesn’t offer cruise packages. While the majority of people booking online travel are looking for only flights, there are online travel agencies that offer the more options for all kinds of travelers.
Hotwire’s mobile app gives you the convenience of booking a hotel or reserving a car while on the go. This is especially helpful if you travel a lot and have last minute changes to your itinerary. You can use the app to extend your stay or ensure you have a car ready for you when you arrive at your destination, even if your specific plans change en route.
The prices of each search don’t differ between the mobile app and the online Hotwire site, meaning no matter which option you access, you will be able to get the best price Hotwire has to offer.
The biggest drawback of the Hotwire mobile app is that it doesn’t support flight searches and reservations. If you need to book a flight, the mobile app will redirect you to the Hotwire website where you can continue with your airline reservation. This means you may miss out on some important deals, especially those vacation bundles that come with booking a flight as part of the package. It also means that flight information, such as delays and cancelation notices, will not be sent to you through the app as other online travel agencies do.
As you start your Hotwire reservation, the smart fields know the location you are traveling to and will suggest airports with the correct airport codes, so you don’t have to try and guess or figure them out on your own. You have the option to search alternative dates to see if being more flexible with your travel itinerary may yield better savings. You can also look at nearby airports for any additional benefits or price differences.
When searching on Hotwire, you are asked up front how many guests are traveling, if there are any children and their age at the time of travel. Using this information, Hotwire is better able to match you with possible accommodations in the area you are traveling, including reservations using kid pricing. Hotels, especially, often have promotions that allow children to stay free, so having a price quote based on having children in your party is much more accurate than if the online booking site assumes all the people in your party are adults.
Another good reservation feature is the ability to get pricing in currency other than U.S. dollars. Using the drop-down list from the upper right corner of the Hotwire page, you can choose to search for reservations in 10 different currencies, including Euros, Francs and Krona. You are limited to North American and European currencies, though.
As you click through the reservation process, you will be asked to provide sensitive information, such as your full name and financial information to reserve and pay for your booking. Hotwire is a secure website with bank-level encryption to ensure information that is transferred between you and Hotwire is kept private. You can choose to have the reservation sent to you via email, or save it in you online account to be access later.
When you arrive at your reservation, it is always a good idea to have either a hard copy or an electronic copy of your confirmation number and reservation information. Rental service companies and airlines are equipped to access physical print outs of your reservation, verify your booking from your mobile phone or look it up within their own system once you arrive. But if you plan ahead and bring easily accessible information with you, it can help move you through the final process at the airport, hotel or car rental company more quickly.
Hotwire vs. Priceline
Priceline is a big competitor of Hotwire and one of our top picks for travel websites. Both sites allow you to search and book flights, hotels and cars, both individually and together as full vacation packages. The best travel site option may depend on what you’re looking for. Hotwire gives you the option to mix and match what you need better than Priceline does (for example, Hotwire will let you bundle a hotel and car together or a flight and car package), but Priceline has a tab exclusively for booking cruises.
Priceline has a slight edge when it comes to convenience. When returning to the Priceline website, you will find a list of recent searches so you don’t have to remember each detail when you are ready to book your hotel. This is also helpful if you need to tweak your stay by a day or two, or add another guest. Clicking on a recent search opens the results and lets you update any information before revising the quote. Hotwire doesn’t have this feature, so you must start from the beginning each time you return to the site.
Priceline has two discount programs that may be able to save you additional costs. The Express Deal can save you up to 60 percent in costs; however, you have to trust Priceline to pick the hotel, flight or car for you. This program functions much like Hotwire’s Hot Rate deals. Before booking and paying for your reservation, you can see amenities, rental policies, flight information, star ratings and user reviews, but you won’t find out the exact hotel, flight or car you are renting until after the booking is completed and payment is received.
The other discount program Priceline offers is its Name Your Own Price, which may be able to save you up to 40 percent off the cost of your rental. As with the Express Deal program, Name Your Own Price requires you to blindly accept a car model or hotel. However, you can place certain requirements, such as a specific area where the hotel needs to be or the type of vehicle you need to rent, along with the price you are willing to pay.
Priceline will do a quick search and look to see if your price is accepted. If not, Priceline will encourage you to increase your bid, and will show you bids from other users that have been accepted. Once your reservation is complete, and payment finalized, you will then be able to see all the information about the car or hotel you have reserved. One drawback is that the Name Your Own Price feature is not available for Priceline airfare.
In terms of pricing, Hotwire consistently provided a much lower quote than the other online booking companies we tested. However, Priceline has a Price Guarantee where it will refund 100 percent of the price difference if you find a better online deal. There are a few steps you must take to get your refund, so it can be a little bit of a hassle.
You can catch some deeply discounted reservations from Hotwire, especially for hotels. But some of these discounts come with a catch. The Hidden Deals cut the price, but you won't be able to see the name or exact location of the room you're booking until you've paid. If you plan to travel internationally, be aware that you can't book international-to-international flights through this website. Instead, Hotwire sends you to a partner or other travel site for this type of booking.
Contributing Writer: Renee Shipley