Updated January 21, 2020

Hotwire: What You Need to Know

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Is Hotwire still the cheapest booking site for hotels, flights and car rentals? Read this to save money on your next trip with a good deal.

Pros and Cons of Hotwire

Hotwire is one of the most popular online travel agencies (OTA). Here is a snapshot of Hotwire's strengths and weaknesses to help you decide if its right for you.

What We Like About Hotwire:

  • Low Price Guarantee: If customers find cheaper travel accommodations with the exact same itinerary within 24 hours of booking, Hotwire will refund the difference. It's a good feeling to know there's no buyer's remorse when it comes to price.

  • Hot Rates: Patient customers can get steep discounts by booking reservations without knowing all the information beforehand. This is a great match for travelers on a budget.

  • Easy-to-figure out Hot Rate hotels: Figuring out an opaque Hot Rate hotel is usually possible with a little bit of effort.

  • Vacation bundles: Booking multiple travel accommodations at once through Hotwire can often save customers more money than if everything was booked separately.

  • Free membership program: Hotwire's membership program is free and easy to sign up for. Other OTAs may require customers to get a branded credit card to earn rewards.

What We Don't Like About Hotwire:

  • Third-party booking: Because Hotwire is a third-party booking site, customers will not book or collect loyalty points with the travel providers themselves.

  • Less detailed opaque bookings: Hotwire's Hot Rates offer less up-front information than comparable opaque bookings from other OTAs.

  • No multiple dates/locations search tool: It's difficult to search for the best deals for flexible trips, since Hotwire can only search for specific locations one at a time.

  • No price comparison to other sites: Hotwire does not compile prices from other travel sites/individual providers alongside its own listings.

  • Slightly more expensive than other OTAs: Most of Hotwire's prices on regular bookings are comparable to other OTAs, but some Hotwire listings tend to run slightly higher.

How to Find Cheap Deals on Hotwire

You can still find good travel deals on Hotwire. In this article, we'll explain:

What Is Hotwire?

Hotwire is an online travel agency (OTA) that finds the best travel options based on your needs. Unlike "metasearch sites" like Google Flights or Kayak that redirect you to another website, customers book and pay directly through the Hotwire website.

You can find travel options such as:

  • Hotels
  • Flights
  • Rental cars
  • Vacation packages

Hotwire also partners with companies to sell their last-minute empty seats and rooms at a discounted rate. That means you can find great deals even when making reservations near your travel date. Plus you can look for hotwire promo codes on sites such as RetailMeNot and Groupon.

Hotwire has a 24-hour cancellation policy if your plans suddenly change.

Hotwire Features

Hotwire offers some features that allow you to book at an even deeper discount. Keep reading to learn more.

Low Price Guarantee
If you book through Hotwire and then find the same flight, hotel, rental car or vacation package at a lower price, Hotwire will refund you the difference. This applies to all Hotwire bookings. First, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Report lower rate within 24 hours of booking the original trip.
  • Itineraries must match exactly.
  • Lower rate must be available to the general public. No members-only deals.
  • Lower rate must be in the same currency.
  • If it's a bundle/vacation package, each piece of the bundle must exactly match the lower rate you found.

Hot Rates
Hotwire has "opaque booking" options called "Hot Rates." You won't have all the details of your itinerary (like what airline or hotel chain you'll be traveling with) until after you book.

Hot Rate options are available for:

  • Hotels
  • Flights
  • Rental cars

Hotwire's 24-hour cancellation policy does not apply to Hot Rate deals. Make sure you're ready to commit to the trip when booking a Hot Rate.

Vacation Packages
Hotwire's vacation packages bundle multiple travel reservations under one price. The goal is to help travelers save when making all the necessary arrangements for their trips.

Hotwire vacation packages allow you to bundle:

  • Hotel + Flight
  • Hotel + Car
  • Flight + Car
  • Flight + Car + Hotel

Not all packages may give you significant savings, so be sure to compare prices with the travel providers directly and with other OTAs.

Rewards and Membership
Because you're not booking with the travel providers directly, using Hotwire will usually not earn you points with any airline/hotel/car rental programs.

You also can't cash in on any complimentary upgrades like free Wi-Fi or free checked bags because you're in a frequent flyer program like American AAdvantage Gold status.

But Hotwire has a membership program that will get you extra discounts and update you on travel deals before they're released to the public.

You can create an account by clicking on the "Sign Up" button in the upper right-hand corner of the Hotwire site. After you have an account, you can sign into it from the same place.

When booking travel, always cross-check the Hotwire results with the airline/car rental/hotel website. If you find the same itinerary for a similar price, consider booking directly to earn your loyalty points.

Also remember to always book with a credit card that gives you bonuses for travel purchases.

Hotwire Flights

Here's what to expect when booking a Hotwire flight, how to get the best deals, and sample flight prices. Read on for more.

How to Book a Hotwire Flight

To book flights on Hotwire, follow these steps:

  1. Go to Hotwire's website and click on the "Flights" tab on its homepage.

  2. Type in your departure city, destination, travel dates, and the number of travelers. Select a round-trip or one-way option.

  3. Hotwire displays a list of outgoing flights and the round-trip fare. You'll choose the departing flight first, then the return flight.

  4. Use the filters on the left-hand side to narrow your search by number of stops, airline, departure/arrival times, price, and duration.

  5. Choose the outgoing flight that works best for you.

  6. Then, you'll choose your return flight. Because you were given a round-trip price on the first page, the return flight displays as $0 unless it costs more money.

    Hotwire will also display a flight score for each flight listing which is based on the duration of the flight, type of aircraft, and amenities offered. It ranges from 1-10, with 1 being Poor and 10 being Excellent.

    Some airlines charge extra fees that won't appear in the Hotwire price.

    If you are booking with low-budget airlines like Spirit or Frontier, you can expect to pay for everything from a carry-on bag to choosing your seat.

    If you're flying with a traditional airline like United or American, you should expect to pay for checked bags.

  7. Complete your booking and pay for your flight through the Hotwire website.

    Hotwire doesn't offer Southwest flights since the airline only sell flights on Southwest.com. Delta also withholds some airfares. It's worth checking the Delta site separately to compare fares.

Hotwire Hot Rates for Flights

Hotwire's opaque booking option, Hot Rates, sometimes offers flights with even steeper discounts than the regular bookings.

To find a Hot Rate flight, follow these steps:

  1. Input your departure city, destination, and dates. Select whether you want a round-trip, one-way, or multi-city flight.

    You are most likely to find Hot Rate flights for one-way flights close to your departure date, since airlines are trying to fill those last unsold seats.

  2. If a Hot Rate flight is available for that date, it will be the first result. If you don't see one, try for a different date, or try your search again the following day.

  3. You will only see an estimate of your departure and arrival times (morning, afternoon, or night).

    You will not see the name of the airline you're flying with, your exact timing, or the number of stops you'll take.

  4. Select the flight, complete the booking and pay right on Hotwire's site.

    Hot Rate hotels, flights and rental cars are non-changeable, non-refundable, and non-transferable. That means you are locked into whatever itinerary you book.

Hotwire Flight Prices

So how do Hotwire prices compare to other travel sites? As a sample, check out these round-trip flights from Los Angeles to San Francisco:

Hotwire$146JetBlue$132 Hot Rate
Priceline$149American$122 Express Deal
Google Flights$149AmericanN/A
Orbitz$149Alaska Airlines$132 Rewards Flight Available
Skyscanner$147Alaska AirlinesN/A

Here is an example of international flight prices from Hotwire and other competing travel sites. This is a round trip flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo:

Google Flights$998American
Orbitz$927Alaska Airlines
Skyscanner$886Alaska Airlines

Hotwire works exclusively with reputable airlines for its international travel. That's one less thing to worry about. We're all about lowering stress when you travel.

Since Hotwire compiles prices from multiple airlines, the cost of your roundtrip flight will likely be less than if you booked a roundtrip flight through one airline.

If you have more flexible travel plans, consider searching for flights (one-way or roundtrip) to multiple locations and then booking the cheapest Hot Rate option.

Hotwire Flight Terms

You cannot transfer, change, or receive a refund on Hot Rate flights.

If you find the exact same itinerary (the same flight with the same number of stops and exact same departure and arrival dates) for a lower price within 24 hours, report it to Hotwire. They should refund the difference through their Low Price Guarantee.

Is it safe to buy through travel sites?
When you book through verified travel sites, such as Hotwire, Expedia or Orbitz, you can be confident that your money is safe. Make sure to read reviews of any travel sites you're thinking of using before booking. A good general rule of thumb is that if a price is too good to be true, it probably is.

What travel sites might not always be the best at is saving you money, however. Keep reading to learn about when it's best to book through an airline, hotel or car rental service directly.

Hotwire Hotels

Hotwire offers some of the best hotels available online. Read on to learn how, plus what you can do to figure out Hotwire's secret Hot Rate hotels.

How to Book a Hotwire Hotel

Hotwire can get you great discounts on hotels around the world. To book through Hotwire, follow these steps:

  1. Go to Hotwire's homepage and click on the "Hotels" tab.

  2. Enter in your destination city and your travel dates. Indicate the number of guests and how many rooms you'll need.

  3. After clicking "Find a Hotel", you'll see a map of your travel area with various neighborhoods highlighted in green. On the left, you'll see a list of hotel options.

  4. Click on one of the green neighborhood areas to narrow your search. Filter by price, hotel class, amenities, guest rating, or TripAdvisor rating.

  5. Select and pay for your hotel right on Hotwire's site.

Hotwire's Hot Rate Hotels

Hotwire offers cheap prices with its Hot Rate hotels. As with flights, you won't get all of the hotel information upfront, so some flexibility is required.

Book a Hot Rate hotel with the following steps:

  1. On Hotwire's homepage under the "Hotels" tab, enter your destination city and dates.

  2. Click "Find a Hotel". All Hot Rate deals will be shown at the top of the list, or you can toggle to only see Hot Rate Hotels.

  3. Check the TripAdvisor rating, guest rating, hotel amenities, and neighborhood before you book. You won't see the name of the hotel until after.

  4. Once you click on the Hot Rate button, Hotwire will show you four hotels. The hotel you're booking is one of those listed, through Hotwire won't tell you the exact one until after you book.

    If you want, you can compare the amenities shown on Hotwire with the amenities shown on each hotel's website to narrow it down.

  5. Choose your bed type (1 king-size bed, 2 queen-size beds, etc.)

  6. Make absolutely sure you like the offer that you see. Once you book a Hot Rate Hotel, it's non-refundable, non-transferable, and can't be changed.

  7. Click "Book Now" and pay right on Hotwire's site.

    Hot Rate hotels are much more common than Hot Rate flights. You will probably have at least one option, if not more, for every search.

How to Figure Out a Hot Rate Hotel

Hotwire offers more information with its opaque hotel booking than most other OTAs, like Priceline and Orbitz.

These extra details can help you discover the secret hotels you're looking at. First, notice the hotel's:

  • Star rating
  • Number of TripAdvisor or Expedia reviews
  • Guest rating
  • General area
  • Accommodations & amenities

If Hotwire shows you another list hotels…
Your Hot Rate hotel is guaranteed to be one of them. First, find the hotel(s) with the same TripAdvisor (or Expedia) rating as the Hot Rate. Then, follow the steps outlined below.

If you don't see another list…
Click on the "Standard rate hotels" tab above the search bar. Match all of the filters to your Hot Rate hotel (star rating, specific neighborhood, guest rating and amenities).

Click on the listings with the same guest rating as the Hot Rate (usually within a percentage point).

Note: Hotwire may show you hotels out of your specific neighborhood, so make sure you only look at the ones in the correct area.

Cross-check these hotels' number of TripAdvisor or Expedia reviews by searching for them on TripAdvisor or Expedia. If a listing has the same number of reviews (or within a close range), you've found your hotel. Pretty neat tip, right? It takes some of the guesswork out of booking an unknown hotel.

If Hotwire gives you a range of reviews…
Even if it says "1000+ reviews," still check to narrow it down. If you're between two hotels and one has 300 reviews while one has 1060, you'll soon figure it out.

Hotwire Hotel Prices

To see how Hotwire stacks up, we compared its hotel prices other travel sites. Here is a price comparison for a 4-star hotel in downtown Seattle, WA:

Hotwire$129Pioneer Square$105 Hot Rate Deal
Priceline$123The Westin Seattle$100 Express Deal
Google Flights$116Crowne Plaza Seattle DowntownN/A
Expedia$105Pioneer SquareN/A
Orbitz$105Pioneer SquareN/A
Hotels.com$124Stay Alfred on UnionN/A

Hotwire prices can be a bit higher than its competitors for regular hotel bookings. The Hot Rates prices, however, are better deals than the competition's offerings.

How do the prices compare when looking at the exact same hotel? Here are the prices for the Westin Philadelphia in Philadelphia, PA.

Google Hotels$384
Marriott's Members$376

In this case, you aren't getting much of a discount. In other cases, you will get a better deal on Hotwire than the hotel's website (we found a Honolulu hotel on Hotwire for $120 less than the hotel's site).

In this situation, we would book directly with Marriott so that you can earn points.

Hotel membership programs are often free to join and can offer special deals that beat out Hotwire's pricing.

If you're a Marriott member, for example, their special offers site should be your first stop. Then head over to one of the OTA travel sites, such as Hotwire, to doublecheck for better deals..

Hotwire Hotel Terms

If you purchase a normal hotel booking through Hotwire, there are a number of packages to choose from. Here are some examples:

Each hotel offer is different, so be sure to read the fine print before booking. It's easy to get caught up in the booking process and forget those little details.

Some will require payment when you book, others will charge a reservation deposit, and others will let you pay once you arrive.

Hotwire Rental Cars

When your travel plans require a rental car, look to Hotwire. Below we cover everything you should know about booking a rental car with Hotwire.

How to Book a Rental Car with Hotwire

Hotwire has many options for rental cars. To search, follow these steps.

  1. On the homepage, click on the "Cars" tab.

  2. Enter your destination and your travel dates.

  3. Then, filter the listings by pick up location, car type, agency, and security deposit preferences.

  4. Each option will show the price per day, the total price (which includes taxes and fees), and whether you pay upfront or later.

  5. Choose your car, then enter the driver's information. You'll also have to opt into or out of Hotwire's rental damage protection (more on this later).

Hotwire Hot Rates for Rental Cars

The platform offers lots of Hot Rate options for cars. They're listed with a red "Hot Rate Car" logo.

You will see the:

  • Type of car
  • User rating
  • Any additional perks (such as unlimited miles)

You will not see the exact model of the car or the rental agency. Once you check out, Hotwire will tell you the name of the car rental agency.

Hotwire Rental Car Prices

So how do Hotwire's prices for rental cars measure up to its competitors? We compared the price per day and the total cost (including taxes and fees) of a four-day rental in Asheville, NC:

WebsitePrice/DayTotal CostCar TypeAgency
Expedia$22$93Special (determined on pickup)Dollar

Hotwire shows you the "Taxes and Fees" included in each price, but it doesn't break them down. We noticed that the taxes and fees for Orbitz's rental cars were sometimes $10-$15 cheaper than Hotwire. Orbitz is also transparent with what, exactly, each of its charges are.

Rental Car Insurance with Hotwire

Hotwire offers a collision damage waiver (CDW) as rental car damage protection. Check with your credit card company before buying rental car insurance. You may get it as a free perk.

**Secondary insurance means that you have to file a claim with your personal insurance company. Then the credit card company would cover whatever your personal insurance will not for eligible rental cars.

As you can see, paying with a credit card that offers its own CDW is often a better option, both in terms of benefits and cost.

You will need to decline Hotwire's CDW option and the car rental agency's offer in order to take advantage. As always, read the fine print before booking using your credit card.

How to cancel a Hotwire car rental: If you booked a regular rate car, you can cancel without any penalty. Just log into your Hotwire account, click "My Account" and choose the rental you want to cancel. If you booked a Hot Rate vehicle, you can't cancel or get any refund. You'll be charged the full price whether you use the car or not.

Hotwire Vacation Packages

Hotwire offers great discounts by bundling multiple services in a "vacation package".

How to Book Vacation Packages with Hotwire

First, click on the "Vacations" tab. Then choose which services you want to bundle:

  • Flight + Hotel
  • Flight + Car Rental
  • Hotel + Car Rental
  • Flight + Car Rental + Hotel

Follow these steps to book your bundle.

  1. Enter your destination and departure cities and your dates.

  2. Depending on your vacation bundle, you'll see either the flight or hotel screen first.

  3. You'll see a list of options for your trip. Filter these options using the controls on the left.

  4. The prices listed are for the total price of the bundle for each person.

  5. Select the hotel/flight that works best for your itinerary.

  6. Choose the second part of your bundle. If you choose an upgraded option than what the original bundle price was based on, Hotwire will show you how much more you'll need to pay.

  7. Pay on Hotwire's website to complete your booking.

Hotwire Vacation Package Prices

Does booking through Hotwire Vacations really save you money? We compared booking a 5-day (4-night) trip through Vacations versus booking two separate services to find out.

ItineraryVacation PackageIndividual Purchase Total*Total Package Savings
Denver > Chicago$732$785$53
New York > Madrid$748$788$40
Minneapolis > Portland$660$461-$199

*The Individual Purchase Total Is made up of the individual prices for Hotel, Car Rental, and Flight ticket of the destination city.

There are two big takeaways here:

  • Bundling for your services is a good deal overall. You can save anywhere from $40-$200.
  • Bundling for your Flight + Car is not the way to go. We tried a bunch of different options here and they all ended up costing more than just booking flights and rental cars separately.

Wondering how you'll pay for your next vacation? This article from Aowanders covers 83 creative ways of earning cash to fund your travels.

How Does Hotwire Compare?

Hotwire's prices are pretty much equal to those found on other OTAs. You can get better deals with its Hot Rates compared to most other travel sites.

Here's a look at Hotwire's competitors:

Priceline's opaque booking options (called "Express Deals") are usually $15-$40 cheaper.

But Hotwire gives you more information upfront on its Hot Rate deals, especially for hotels. That gives you more control over your booking, which can be helpful for families or groups.

Here are the other trends we've noticed:

  • Priceline has more Express Deals on flights compared to Hotwire's Hot Rates flights.
  • Hotwire has more Hot Rates deals for hotels and rental cars.

Expedia is one of the most comprehensive OTAs operating at the moment. It owns multiple other travel sites, including Hotwire, Orbitz and Travelocity.

Just like Hotwire, Expedia offers deals on flights, hotels, car rentals, cruises and vacation bundles. The site offers more upfront information than any other OTA and does not offer any opaque bookings.

Last-minute deals are Expedia's specialty. Because of that, it's not as useful as Hotwire when planning more flexible future travel.

Both Hotwire and Orbitz are owned by Expedia, so they operate similarly.

Orbitz does not have opaque booking deals to compete with Hotwire's Hot Rates, instead opting for more specific types of deals. These can include last-minute deals, luxury deals and promo code deals, among others.

Orbitz does have an extensive rewards program, however, that offers multiple tier levels and accompanying perks. Just like Hotwire, Orbitz also offers a rewards credit card.

Unlike Priceline, Hotwire, Expedia and Orbitz, Kayak is not an OTA. It's a metasearch site, which means it can compile data from all of those sites in its search results.

Kayak allows users to search for most of the same accommodations as other sites. It also has a comparison tool right on its search page so travelers can actively cross-check their deals.

Any booking made through the Kayak website is actually redirected to the actual travel provider's website itself. So, someone searching for deals through Kayak could actually end up booking through an airline, hotel or an OTA, such as Hotwire.

Google Flights
Google Flights is another metasearch engine, which means it pulls deals from OTAs and the airlines themselves.

The site offers lots of specific tools to track flight prices and determine when airline tickets will likely be at their cheapest. It also offers the ability to search for flights across a range of dates.

Like Kayak, all Google Flights bookings are redirected to the providers' own sites for payment.

Variety of choices is also a factor in choosing the best booking site for you. Compare what options each website offers for a three-day stay in Orlando, FL.:

WebsiteNumber of 3 Star HotelsNumber of Car Rentals

Bottom Line

Hotwire is a great option for finding big discounts, especially for its Hot Rate hotel deals. You won't earn program-specific rewards. But finding a lower rate could justify losing out on those points.

Write to Shawna Taets at feedback@creditdonkey.com. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for our latest posts.

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Save money on your next vacation. These top travel websites offer deep discounts and worthwhile deals on airfare, hotel rooms, and car rentals.

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