Within our different types of content, we’ve often shared what our favorite tools are as travel experts, but we’ll dive deeper into each one in specific posts like this one so that you can learn more about them too. This tool we’re looking at today is really great for a very specific type of booking.
Hotwire is a great tool, and it’s one of the many we’ll talk about this Sunday in our very first free webinar on all things travel, with 50+ pro tips on how to travel for less and be a better traveler than 99% of Canadians!
This is a tool I use myself, but only a couple of times a year… when I need to book a hotel or a car rental at the last minute. It’s one of the rare ways to get deals on hotels and car rentals.
Like everything, whether it’s travel you’re booking or credit cards you’re applying for to get free travel, of course, we also appreciate when you use our links on our website at absolutely no cost to you. This way, you can support our mission of helping Canadians travel more for less.
That means not going to the Hotwire website directly, but just saving our Hotwire link instead or bookmarking this post.
Here’s what you need to know about Hotwire.
Introduction to Hotwire
You might have heard of Hotwire before, as it’s one of the largest online travel booking websites out there.
You might think, well, they’re all the same. And for the most part that’s true (apart from websites that are aggregators or metasearch engines; I’ll explain the difference in our free webinar too).
When it comes to hotels and rental cars, where you book doesn’t make prices vary AS MUCH as they do with flights (with flights, it can vary a lot as you probably know).
But Hotwire does have something special that makes it really good for last-minute hotel and rental car bookings and helps set it apart from the rest.
Hotwire specializes in opaque bookings.
What is a Hotwire opaque booking
Opaque bookings mean you don’t know the name of the hotel or the rental car provider until after you book… theoretically anyway.
But with our pro tip, it’s actually easy to know who you’re booking with, meaning you get to take advantage of a discounted price AND get to make sure you’re okay with what you’re booking.
Yes, especially when it’s last minute, hotels and rental car providers who have unsold inventory (called distressed inventory) will give Hotwire discounts to get those rooms or cars booked.
Why Hotwire opaque bookings exist
Hotels and rental car providers go through Hotwire instead of just offering discounts themselves for 2 main reasons.
First, because they don’t want to devalue their brand by associating it with discounted bargain prices — some travelers assume something that’s highly discounted is low-quality and brands don’t want to project that image.
Second, they also don’t want another website to advertise their brand at a lower price than they do themselves, so they don’t want their name to show up next to the discounted price.
That’s where opaque bookings come in.
How Hotwire opaque bookings work
Hotwire calls those discounted opaque prices “Hot Rate” bookings.
In short, Hotwire gets to advertise lower prices to sell the unsold inventory, without actually naming the hotel or rental car provider.
Seriously, the discounts are really good sometimes.
As I said, for hotels and rental cars, it’s really one of the only ways to get “deals” per se. While flight deals are pretty common — we spot many on a daily basis on our flights deal page — deals are nowhere near as easy to find for hotels and rental cars.
Read the basics section below for important notes on that, though. It’s obviously not always a good deal.
It’s also true that the discounts on hotels are even better for expensive luxury hotels, but I don’t book that often personally and I still find good hotel deals on Hotwire.
Example of a Hotwire hotel deal
So for example, if you’re looking at a last-minute hotel in Miami Beach for tonight, you’ll see this.
For some hotels, it says “Hot Rate 3.5-star Hotel” instead of a hotel name. Of course, the number of stars means nothing — as always.
And like any deal that advertises a specific figure in terms of discount (here they say 36%), you need to take that precise discount percentage with a grain of salt, but you can see that there’s somewhat of a rebate compared to the “normal” price.
Like anything, it varies. Sometimes the deals are really good, other times not so much. But it’s worth comparing.
You also always sort by the general area the hotel is located in, to make sure you don’t up far from where you want to be.
In short, there’s a map but there’s no hotel name. It’s opaque.
But they give you hints about which hotel it is, even though they can’t name it outright.
It allows you to find out which hotel it is easily, as I’ve explained in detail in a separate post.
Finally, apart from the opaque Hot Rate deals, Hotwire also has regular hotel prices where the hotel name is shown, just like all the other hotel booking websites.
Example of a Hotwire rental car deal
I’ll use Miami again to keep the same example (Miami Beach is on my mind since I’m going there again very soon for Art Basel weekend, and Flytrippers’ other co-founder Kevin will join me this time) but you really don’t need a car there of course.
Anyway, if you need a last-minute rental car, it’s the same principle on Hotwire.
There are opaque Hot Rate deals, which often give you a decent discount. And just like with hotels, the name of the rental car provider is not shown, but they give you a good hint.
Here too, you can figure out who the rental car provider is as I’ll show you Sunday. It’s even easier. And it’s a lot more important to figure this out than with hotels (see the basics at the end).
And just like with hotels, besides the opaque Hot Rate option, you can also book rental cars as you could on every other booking website. And for rental cars, I usually use both Hotwire and RentalCars.com pretty equally, since neither provides rewards anyway, so the one you choose isn’t as important as it is for hotels. Just use the cheapest of the 2 tools — and that varies. But the rental car provider is important as I said.
Maximizing your Hotwire bookings
Use a card for which you’re unlocking a welcome bonus obviously.
If you’re not doing that (you really should do more of that — as long as you pay everything in full on time always, your credit score will improve), then at least pay with the right card.
That means a card that has a multiplier earn rate on travel, such as:
- 6 points per dollar (≈ 3.6%) with the HSBC World Elite Mastercard
- 2 points per dollar (≈ 3%) with the Amex Platinum Card
- 2 points per dollar (≈ 3%) with the Amex Gold Card
- 2 points per dollar (≈ 3%) with the Amex Cobalt Card
Hotwire allows you to book in Canadian dollars, but if you do decide to book in a foreign currency, all of those cards except the HSBC World Elite Mastercard charge a 2.5% foreign transaction fee (like almost all cards in Canada do).
So anyway, it’s worth making sure you pay in Canadian dollars if you don’t have a card with no foreign transaction fee. And it’s worth getting one if you don’t because you probably spend a bit in foreign currencies if you travel.
Payments and withdrawals abroad are yet another of the topics we’ll cover in our free webinar!
Bypassing Hotwire’s opaque booking to know what you’re booking
Come back Sunday (or sign up for our free newsletter to get all our content).
Basics of booking trips
NO website, tool, or provider can be the cheapest 100% of the time. NEVER book anything without comparing. Traveling for less and planning the best trips is really not that complicated: do lots of research and compare, compare, compare!
NO tip can work 100% of the time. Prices vary so much in the world of travel. Everything depends on so many factors, so you always have to compare and try different tools and tips.
Everyone should join our free webinar because we’ll have so many pro tricks. But if anything in those previous 2 paragraphs are news to you, drop everything and register for the webinar even more than everyone else.
Basics of booking hotels
Basically, the way I go about it is I generally try to book my hotels with Hotels.com if the price is the lowest I can find, or if it’s within 10% of the lowest price available elsewhere (because Hotels.com Rewards gives you the simplest 10% back you can find to get rewarded on all your stays, regardless of the hotel chain).
But to be honest, I book hotels last-minute relatively often, because I love the flexibility of not having anything booked that limits my freedom to do what I want and go where I want.
(And unlike flights, you usually won’t pay that much more for last-minute hotels unless there’s something major going on or you’re traveling during peak periods, which I mostly try to avoid since — spoiler alert for the free webinar — it’s one of the best ways to travel for less. But don’t worry, we’ll have many tips for those who have kids or jobs that force them to travel during the worst times of the year to travel!)
And often, Hotwire really has good deals on hotels the same day or the next day. I’ve used it in September in Toronto and in May in Morocco, for a same-day booking that saved me quite a few dollars compared to other hotel search websites.
Keep in mind that if you’re booking with Marriott (or if you travel enough to make it worthwhile to earn points through other hotel chains that are way less interesting than Marriott for Canadians), booking directly usually gives you a better return than just 10% on Hotels.com, but the Hotwire discount could be worth more than the hotel program’s rewards earn rate.
Basics of booking rental cars
As for rental cars, I usually book with RentalCars.com as they compare all providers. But as I said, since they don’t offer rewards, booking with Hotwire is something I do too, depending on prices (whether it’s with their opaque Hot Rate deal or not).
Unlike with flights and hotels, there’s not really any benefit to booking directly with rental car providers instead of with an independent booking site.
Want to receive all of our pro tips to travel more for less?
Looking to book a last-minute hotel or car rental? Hotwire is one of the many tools we use as travel pros to save money on those aspects of travel, and one of the only ways to find deals on hotels and rental cars — they’re very rare. Join our free webinar for more tips and come back on Sunday for the way to bypass opaque booking.
What would you like to know about Hotwire? Tell us in the comments below.
See the deals we spot: Cheap flights
Explore awesome destinations: Travel inspiration
Learn pro tricks: Travel tips
Discover free travel: Travel rewards
Featured image: Hotel room in Bali, Indonesia (photo credit: visualsofdana)