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Updated July 31, 2019

Hotwire: What You Need to Know

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Hotwire is the best site for discounts on hotels, flights, and car rentals. Read this to learn how to save money on your next trip.

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, Hotwire lets you book and pay right on their website.

You can find travel options like:

  • Hotels
  • Flights
  • Car rentals
  • Vacation packages

Hotwire also partners with companies to sell their last-minute empty seats and rooms. You can find great deals, even when making reservations near your travel date.

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 a flight, hotel, or car offer with the exact same itinerary at a lower price, they'll refund you the difference. This applies to all Hotwire bookings that meet the following requirements:

  • You must report your lower rate within 24 hours of booking your original trip.
  • The itineraries must match exactly.
  • The lower rate must be available to the general public. No discounts or members-only deals.
  • The lower rate must be in the same currency as your original transaction.
  • If you are booking a Bundle/Vacation, 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 Bundles
These allow you to purchase two services together for a reduced rate. You can get Bundles for:

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

Rewards and Membership
Booking with Hotwire will usually not earn you points with your airline/hotel/car rental programs. You also can't cash in on any elite statuses 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 their deals before they're released to the public. You can create and account then click the "Sign In" button in the upper right-hand corner of their webpage.

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.

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

Hotwire for Flights

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, your destination, your dates, and the number of travelers. Select a round-trip or one-way option.

  3. Hotwire will give you a list of outgoing flight options. Each option will show a round-trip fare, but you won't choose your return flight until you've chosen your departing flight.

  4. On the right-hand side, you'll see filters to only show certain flights based on the number of stops, airlines, departure times, and arrival times. You can also sort your list based on prices, flight duration, or timing.

    Look underneath the timing and airline of each flight to see the flight score and the details and baggage fees. The flight score is based on the duration of the flight, type of aircraft, and amenities offered on the flight. It ranges from 1-10 or Poor - Excellent.

Some airlines charge extras 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.

  1. Choose the Outgoing Flight that works best for you.

  2. You'll be redirected to a new screen to choose your Return Flight options. Because you were given a round-trip price on the first page, you won't see prices here unless a flight costs more money.

  3. Pay for your flight right on the Hotwire website.

Hotwire doesn't offer Southwest flights since the airline only sell flights on Delta has also been withholding 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 deeper discounts.

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 closer to your departure date, since they 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 a rough estimate for your departure and arrival times (it will say whether you'll leave in the 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 and pay right on Hotwire's site.

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

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 its competitors. This is a round trip flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo:

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

Generally, Hotwire pulls roughly the same prices as other sites. If you find a rare Hot Rate deal, you can save some money.

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

If you find the exact same itinerary (meaning the same flight, with the same number of stops, with the 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.

Hotwire for Hotels

Hotwire can get you great discounts on hotels around the world. To book through Hotwire, follow these easy 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 rooms you need.

  3. You will see a map on the right with various neighborhoods highlighted in green. On the left, you'll see a list of hotel options.

  4. Click on one of the green areas on the map to narrow your search to a certain neighborhood. Filter your search by price, hotel class (number of stars), amenities, guest rating, or TripAdvisor rating.

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

Hotwire Hot Rates for Hotels
The platform offers Hot Rate deals for hotels. As with flights, you won't get all of the hotel information upfront, so some flexibility is required.

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

    All Hot Rate deals will be shown at the top of the list. You can also click on the toggle at the top to only see Hot Rate Hotels.

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

    Hotwire offers more hotel information than other OTAs. Hot Rates gives detailed info on the accommodations and tell you how close it is to major attractions.

    Priceline and Orbitz, the other sites with opaque bookings, don't give you as many details before you book.

  3. Once you click on the Hot Rate, Hotwire will show you four hotels. The hotel you're booking is one of those, but you don't know which.

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

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

  5. 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.

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

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

To see how Hotwire stacks up, we compared its hotel prices to the competition. 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$124Stay Alfred on UnionN/A

Hotwire prices can be a bit higher than its competitors for regular hotel bookings. Its Hot Rates, however, are a better deal than the competition.

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 finding much of a discount. However, you can sometimes get better deals with Hotwire compared to the hotel's website (we found a hotel in Honolulu through 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 sometimes have special offers that can beat out Hotwire's pricing. Oftentimes it's free to sign up for these programs.

If you're a Marriott member, for example, their special offers site should be your first stop. Then head over to one of the OTAs like Hotwire.

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

Hotwire for Cars

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. Filter your search by pick up location, car type, agency, payment (pay when you book or pay when you pick up), and how you want to make your security deposit (credit or debit card).

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

  5. Choose the best option for your needs, then enter the driver's information. You'll also have to decide if you'll buy Hotwire's rental damage protection (more on this later).

Hotwire Hot Rates for 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
  • Perks like unlimited miles

You will not see the exact model of the car or the rental agency. Once you check out, they'll tell you the car rental agency.

So how does Hotwire 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 it down. We noticed that the taxes and fees from Orbitz were sometimes $10-$15 cheaper than Hotwire. That site is also transparent with what, exactly, those charges are.

Rental 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.

We compared your options here:

Insurance TermsHotwireChase Sapphire PreferredChase Sapphire ReserveThe Platinum Card from American Express, a CreditDonkey partner
Coverage Cost$9/dayFreeFreeFree
Coverage Type**PrimaryPrimaryPrimarySecondary

**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 on eligible rentals.

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.

Hotwire Bundles/Vacations

Hotwire offers great discounts by bundling the services you purchase through them.

On Hotwire's site, click on the "Vacations" tab. You'll then choose which two services you want to bundle:

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

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. Hotwire will give you the step-by-step for booking your vacation at the top of the page.

  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 want to upgrade or choose a nicer hotel/car/flight than originally listed, Hotwire will show you how much more you'll need to pay.

  7. Pay on Hotwire's website.

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 your flight and car 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 pretty much equal to those found on other OTAs. You can get better deals with its Hot Rates compared to competitors except Priceline. 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 the hotel you're getting, which is definitely handy for families or groups.

Here are the other trends we've seen between Priceline and Hotwire:

  • Priceline has more Express Deals on flights. Hotwire has very few.
  • Hotwire has more Hot Deals for hotels and rental cars.

The last comparison to make is on how many choices you get through each website. Here are the number of options each website offers for a three-day stay in Orlando, FL.

WebsiteNumber of 3 Star HotelsNumber of Car Rentals

The 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.

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. This site may be compensated through the Advertiser's affiliate programs.

For rates and fees of the American Express Platinum card, please click here.

More from CreditDonkey:

How to Save Money on Hotels

How to land great flights for cheap

How to Save Money on Flights

Best Vacation Rentals

Best Vacation Rentals

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