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Hotwire: Hidden Fees in their “Complete” Prices


When it comes to shopping for travel, the price that catches your eye is not always the price you pay. And rarely is it lower than advertised.

Hotwire.com is a site that offers discounted airfares, hotel, and car reservations by not disclosing what airline, hotel or car rental agency you are contracting for until after you pay. (It is like Priceline without the price guessing games.)

On it website, Hotwire advertised car rental rates as low as “$13.95 with no hidden fees.”  Just beneath that it listed Boston with rates as low as $5.95. What a deal!  Clicking on that link brings up the typical pricing form where you enter dates of travel.

For a one day rental from March 28 to March 29, the system returned the following price:


Yes, it is $3 higher than the lowest price, but it still a great deal. The asterisk after “$8.95 per day” goes to this:


* Rates are shown in US dollars. Total cost for Hotwire Discount rates includes applicable tax recovery charges and fees.

Indeed, this is more good news — $8.95 is price you really pay. Or is it?

*MOUSE PRINT: On the next screen, the truth is revealed:


Adding the taxes and fees makes the total cost of the car triple the advertised price!

Unfortunately, the problem of advertising incomplete prices is not limited to Hotwire. Most car rental companies, airlines, cell providers, and cable companies attract you with seemingly low priced packages only to relegate to the fine print or your first bill what the true total and complete price really is.

All these services have extraordinarily high fees, charges, and taxes added to the promoted price which can bring the total to 30%, 40% or more than advertised. Here’s a novel idea: companies should make the price you see be the price you pay! 

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18 thoughts on “Hotwire: Hidden Fees in their “Complete” Prices”

  1. I’ve never found hotwire to be the cheapest and I can’t get myself to pay for something without knowing exactly what I get!

  2. This is the way someone who can’t offer you a deal makes it seem as if they can.
    Many sellers on Ebay do something similar. For example, someone offers a fantastic
    deal for computer memory, say $30 for a gig of ram. Then when you go to pay for the
    it you notice that shipping and handling is $35! The lesson here is that if it looks
    to good to be true, it probably is.

  3. They aren’t so bad, especially compared to the others. Hotwire actually gave me a $50 credit because a hotel I book that was advertised as 3 star had its rating dropped to 2 1/2 stars. I shop them all but end up at Hotwire.

  4. I think this is a fairly good deal. As long as the “Tax recovery charge and fees” is not a daily fee. It’s the same with airline tickets. Everything is hidden as surcharges.

  5. There should be a law… the advertised price is the price that a person with no previous relationship with the seller and who buys no other goods or services pays (all taxes, tariffs, fees, and surcharges included).

    Otherwise, I’d love to open a shop that advertises everything as FREE… with per item handling charges.

  6. It reminds me of a tourist attraction in California. Admission is free. They charge you to get out. Yes, terms are posted at the gate, but the free admission is the dominate message.

  7. One thing I discovered is special rates that might not be advertised. I did a rental in San Diego with Fox and was looking for five days and entered four and got a base rate of $20 a day for a full size. When I corrected my error and entered five days it jumped up to $37 a day. I got nowhere explaining this so I just rented the car for four days and a second rental for one day. I was going downtown so stopping by was no problem. That four days was a special weekend rate and the manager honored it for all five days.

    I always check the web site of the rental company after getting the low rate via Orbitz, Expedia and so on. Have a five day rental in Houston that saved me $10 after using the renters site.

    I fly into Houston frequently and the last time I rented from Dollar. I always go cheap and someone is always having a promotion. They said “I see you have not rented from us for awhile? Any reason?” Said I always go with the cheapest….so they upgraded me to a luxury car “To win you back.”

    When I leave the rental station I always check for the gas stations nearby to see gas prices so when I return I have no problems filling the tank.

  8. In the defense of car rental companies, airlines, and cell providers, there are a lot of taxes on these things, and we don’t make stores or car dealerships add in sales taxes on their products, though gas stations do add in the gas taxes to gas prices. As long as its a tax and not some fee which generates profit for the agency, there really is no difference between this practice and any retail store. I wouldn’t be surprised if they did stick on some dumb fee though, and that is dishonest. I’d like to see a law forcing everyone to include all fees, taxes, tips whatever in the advertised price of everything, but I’m not holding my breath.

  9. I’m not opposed to fees, as long as they are reasonable and consistent.
    I agree with Bill that sometimes there are fees that are passed along, like when a car rental company is at an airport, there are often airport fees that are placed on them by the airport. As long as all the rental companies pass along the same rate that they have to pay, that’s acceptable.

    However, when you look at phone bills, there is a gov’t-authorized (aka “suggested”) long distance recovery fee, but companies are allowed to charge whatever they want !!?? So they all charge a different fee. It looks like a govt fee but it’s not.

    As for shipping and handling, I should be able to buy the product and have them ship it at MY cost, rather than theirs. If they want to add a very minor handling cost, then I should be able to show up at their door and avoid all of those other fees!

  10. I usually book flights and cars directly from the company. They usually have less obfuscated prices than the deal sites.

    Also reminds me of when I flew home for xmas. My mom lives halfway inbetween chicago and st louis. Usually I fly to st louis and rent a car, but this time I flew to chicago cause I could get a cheap direct flight. But the car rental was 3x the price I normally pay compared to st louis! So, the next time I think I’m flying to st louis with stop overs because I can save $200.

  11. i am surprised that rental car companies have not started creating various kinds of fees that the telecom giants (cell phone companies) have. i find it hilarious to read about all these different charges on my cell phone bill.

  12. Boston (not Boston metro, just the city of) is funky in that it adds an additional fee on every car rental – and this fee is per rental, not per day. So I’d expect if you were to rent the car for more than one day, the additional $17.93 will not be charged more than once.

  13. Note that tax recovery charge is _not_ a tax or includes their _own_ assessment of regulatory compliance. Which if you were particularly devious could include the amount you pay in taxes each year, the amount for mandatory health coverage, the amount for OSHA compliance….

  14. It truly is a buyer beware world out there but the travel industry seems to confuse me more than the rest. I purchased to plane tickets for my employees last week. They were for an upcoming business trip three weeks from now. Price was $366 each. Within an hour I needed to purchase two more seats because my customer want an additional two members there. Price was now $580 each. One hour later? There were still seats available. I’m convinced that monkeys behind the curtain are just grabbing numbers out of a box. Look forward to reading more posts.

  15. It always amazes me , to see how gullible we humans can be. We all want alot for less! But, you know what, you just about get what you paid for. I despise all those sites, with their gimmicks.

  16. If you think that’s bad, try booking a flight with a budget airline. They add fees for everything, even using the overhead locker these days! By the way, we have a local park similar to the tourist attraction Peter mentions above. They charge you to get out of the car park.

  17. I agree with the comment made about e-bay. Very frequently you think you have got a greta deal until you find out that the shipping charge is just as much as the item itself.

  18. I have used Hotwire for booking hotel accommodation almost nightly over the past eight weeks. I have not been disappointed on a single occasion. After purchasing a hotel I have compared the price with other sites and have consistently found that Hotwire is the cheapest by a wide margin. Hotwire has saved me hundreds of dollars. So, in terms of hotel accommodation, I find them unmatched.

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