Be Wary When Booking Transportation Online


I learned an expensive lesson this week.

In July I found a good price to travel to Kelowna, BC to visit my daughter and meet my new granddaughter, so we booked two tickets for mid-September. Then we had to figure out how we would get from Kelowna to the small town of Kaslo, where they live. We checked the price of renting a car and it was nearly $700 for two weeks, more than the cost of one plane ticket. So, I booked the bus to Nelson, the closest we could get to Kaslo, and I arranged to spend one night each way in Vernon with friends, as there was only one bus a day and the times didn’t co-ordinate with our flights.

Last week, after further discussion with my daughter, we decided that we really would need our own vehicle in Kaslo, so I searched again for better deals.  I found a few at half the price we’d previously found, but by the time I consulted with Jim and we decided to book, the price had already gone up by $40.00, no matter where I looked. Hot Wire still had the best deal so I jumped on it.

Ecomomy Car

BUT when I clicked on the first choice at the low price, I got a message back saying there was an error with my order and please choose another vehicle. There were three more listed at the same price, but I got the same message with each one. The next best price was a special on a larger vehicle at a cost of $545. Jim said, “Book it”.

larger car

I did. I had to pay up front with my credit card and it said there was no refund. I completed the transaction and the confirmation notice came up. When I noticed an ad on the page for hotels in Bellingham, Washington, I took a closer look at the confirmation. I had a car booked in Bellingham, not Kelowna! How the heck did that happen! I immediately got on the phone to Hot Wire. When I told the agent about my problem, without hesitation she said, “Well, just this once, as a special courtesy, I can refund that order and rebook a new one for you.”

Great! Only problem was, the car I had booked was no longer available. The next best thing was back to an economy car at an even higher price. I told her I wasn’t happy with that, but I had no other options. She asked for my credit card information again and this time it wouldn’t go through (perhaps because one had just gone through a few minutes earlier?). She asked if I had another credit card. I said “No” (not true, but at this point I simply wanted a refund on my first order). I asked again if she couldn’t just cancel the first order and I’d book again later. She said that wasn’t possible and suggested I should contact my bank and then try to book again.  In the meantime, the original order would remain in place, and obviously the price could jump by many more dollars by the time I got back to her.

I finally handed the phone over to Jim, asking him to book it with his credit card. That conversation went something like this:

Jim: I don’t think we should have to pay the extra price because it was the fault of the Hot Wire website that the car was booked at the wrong location.

Operator: I wasn’t our fault. An error was made by Judy when booking.

Jim: No, she put in Kelowna, BC, which is nowhere near Bellingham. Why would she do a search for Bellingham? The error was in your software program.

Operator: I’m sorry, sir, there is nothing we can do about that.

Jim: You can give me the car at the original price.

Operator: It’s no longer available.

Jim:  It was when she booked it.

Operator: But that was for Bellingham

Jim: That’s Hot Wire’s fault. Just give us the refund and forget about the rebooking

She had to ask her supervisor. She came back to say she couldn’t do that, but she could give us Hot Wire Dollars.

Jim’s blood pressure rose higher and higher. This stupidity went on for another 45 minutes.

Jim: Do you really think we would ever book anything again with Hot Wire?

That’s the best she could do, so he reluctantly accepted the offer. But, low and behold, when she tried to process that offer, she couldn’t get it to go through the system! Hmm. Could there be a problem with their software?

Jim didn’t back down. He let it be known that news of this very poor customer service (and what almost seemed like a scam) would be spread around the globe.

Finally, the original order was refunded and the new, incomplete order was cancelled. Messages to that effect arrived in Jim’s Inbox before the conversation had ended. A short time later, he also received a message with Hot Wire Dollars attached. Sorry, too little, too late.

A search on the websites of specific car rental companies, rather than suppliers, yielded a hassle-free booking with Enterprise at a price not quite as good as the original price for the non-existent cars on Hot Wire, but much better than what we would have ended up with had we stuck with them.

Yesterday, there was more drama disturbing the peace in our home. I tried to cancel the bus booking in Kelowna. I was certain that I’d seen somewhere while booking that it was refundable within a certain time period. When I gave the agent the information, she needed to talk to Jim since it had been his credit card used for that booking. She told him the ticket was non-refundable. Nowhere on the confirmation sheet did it state that and he was in no mood to accept this. While he argued with her, I checked online to see if I could find anything about it being non-refundable. When I came to the list of bookings available for our dates and place, only the fourth one down said in the summary that it was Non-refundable. The first one was already selected, and was the lower price, so I’d clicked next and booked it. This time, I noticed a link that gave more details.  It was there that I found it, “NON-REFUNDABLE!” This time it was my fault, so I owe Jim $158. Lesson learned!

That’s why I prefer traveling in the RV! I hope the trip goes a lot better than the planning of it!

8 thoughts on “Be Wary When Booking Transportation Online

  1. Enjoy your time with your daughter and family in Kaslo in September. Picturesque country with the Duncan River and the majestic mountains. If I did not have family in Ontario, I would be in BC in a flash.

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    • Thanks, Helen. I used to feel the same way, but now I have more family in BC than I have in Ontario. If I ever find myself alone again, that’s where I’ll head. 🙂

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  2. Actually Enterprise was a couple if dollars less than the original Hotwire price. Plus they will pick us up! Enterprise was also great a couple of years ago when we ordered a compact and Judy’s sister’s luggage wouldn’t fit in it. They gave us a bigger Pacifica SUV for just a couple of dollars a day more.
    Good customer service.

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  3. Booking online is always risky. These companies cover their asses with three diapers but expect you to just accept their policies with no leeway. I’m glad things worked out. While it would take you longer to get there and back, it might just have been easier to plan this as a road trip in the RV rather than the planes, buses, and cars.

    As you say, you’ve learned a very expensive lesson. The tough ones usually do cost us a lot–not always in money, but there is a price.
    Thanks for sharing this. I’m sure others will learn from it.

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    • Yes, Christine, the RV would have been much more appealing, but at the time of planning the trip we felt that we couldn’t be away for more than a couple of weeks. I jumped the gun in planning it so far in advance. If we didn’t already have the plane tickets, I think we would leave in the RV a week earlier and maybe be gone wandering for the winter.:)

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