Wednesday, June 14, 2006 is a must for business travel

Hotwire One of the things that becomes second-nature when working for startups is an aversion to spending unnecessary cash. If you’ve ever been part of the company-wide conference call about whether or not you’re going to make payroll, you get a newfound respect for the value of saving every dollar that you just don’t have when you’re on an expense account with little oversight from the higher-ups. (Just in case you’re wondering, that phone call was a couple companies ago! Not fun, needless to say.)

And when you’re on the business side, you tend to be one of the ones in the company spending lots of that cash. Travel is ridiculously expensive — hotels in New York are routinely north of $300 per night these days. A four day trip to New York, when cabs, hotels, airfare and meals are factored in can easily run close to $2k. That’s nuts.

I first tried when I was at Socialtext and needed to make a last-minute trip to Monterey to attend the Red Herring Spring conference. Hotels in Monterey were outrageous, yet Hotwire was able to find me a great spot, just a mile from the conference, for $80/night. A few months later, I had to spend a night by the San Francisco Airport. The various travel websites (Expedia, Orbitz, etc.) were all in the $150-200/night range; Hotwire got me a room at Homewood Suites (a Hilton property) for $49/night. I was hooked.

Hotwire is a travel site that buys unfilled beds from hotels, then resells them at a significant discount compared to what the properties will sell them for directly (they do the same with rental cars, airline tickets, etc. But I use them for hotels.). Last week’s trip to L.A.? Sheraton had a room for $260/night in Santa Monica. Hotwire got me the same room for $155. The catch with Hotwire — a catch that’s yet to be a problem for me — is that you don’t know which property you’re actually getting until you’ve paid for it. You do get details like quality of hotel (1-5 stars), amenities (Internet access, pool, restaurant, etc.) and neighborhood.

Here’s how I look at it: my last trip through New York I saved almost $200/night. In L.A., a one-day trip, I saved $150. Add that up across 5 or 6 trips per month, and I’m saving well over $10k per year.

Now I love frequent flier points, and the various rewards programs as much as the next guy. And when you book with a site like, you’re not going to get Starwood points when you stay at the Sheraton, so there’s a little sacrifice involved. But if you can save the company $10k — and you get a bunch of employees doing the same — before long, you’ve got a free employee (probably in dev, at the rate we’re growing).

I’ve seen some reports about some hiccups with bookings — not getting a non-smoking room, for instance — but knowing the art of being a demanding hotel guest is a skill that comes in handy in those cases. And there are cases where isn’t perfect: if I need to stay at a particular property, it’s not worth the risk that will put me in a property theoretically in the same neighborhood but a 15 minute walk from where I need to be.

Overall, however, I’ve yet to be let down when using the service. And tonight I got an email that shows they’re being smart with how their system gets used. I searched for a hotel for a trip next week to DC. I didn’t book a room — got distracted by a call, and didn’t finish the booking. This afternoon, look what showed up in my inbox:

Hotwire email



  1. Rick, you should try Kayak for flights, hotels, cars, and more ( It's a real-time travel search engine (powered by AJAX).

  2. Erik -

    Site looks interesting, though it's not clear that the savings on hotels in particular will approach those of Hotwire. If I understand the site, it's primarily an aggregator of info from the various travel sites (including many of the hotels' sites themselves), giving you an ability to select the lowest price for a particular hotel. Am I reading it right?

    Hotwire, on the other hand, is actually undercutting those rates - in many cases by 40% or more by buying unfilled rooms at a steep discount. (Lowest 3+ star hotel on Kayak: $339. Lowest 3+ star hotel on Hotwire: $161.) In cases where I need to know which property I'm staying at (instead of just a neighborhood), Kayak looks like a great answer. In cases where I want to save as much money as possible, it would seem Hotwire's a better answer. For airfare and cars, it may be a better fit for general use.

    Thanks for the tip!

  3. I'm addicted as well. I recently rediscovered it in March. Since then I've done 4 weeks of travel, during which Hotwire has saved b5 more than 3500$.

    I've found I don't save as much on cars and flights. Expedia tends to do just as well on pricing for those, I've found.

  4. Thanks for sharing Rick! That's great information. I wonder if you guys have experience booking hotels internationally on HotWire.

  5. I whole heartedly agree. I use Hotwire all the time and have never been disappointed.

    I also travel to the UK but had to use since Hotwire is US-only so far. Anyone suggest anything better for the UK?

  6. Rick:

    I've been using Hotwire for a couple of years now (they've been a client) and they are the best at Hotels.

    A month ago I stayed in a 3.5 star hotel - turned out to be a brand new Hilton with LCD TVs in the rooms - for $95 a night.

    All that and only a 5 minute walk to the office. There was nothing else available that week for less than $160.


  7. has a list of hotels recently sold on hotwire and how they were listed. A few times I've been able to compare the list of hotels given to me on hotwire against their list and have determined which hotel I was going to buy. Works 3/4 times.

  8. I've used Hotwire before and also have been pretty happy with it.

    I don't remember which site it was that I did get burned on one time - reserved a room in Toronto when the hotel said they were full through a pre-pay discounter, turns out they were full, and they shunted me to a lesser property in Scarborough. It was a cheap but not especially pleasant way to spend the night.

    I'm not willing to do the fly some random time of day on the flights part of things, since time is generally of the essence.

  9. Ed - Yeah, I need to book specific flights/times, so I almost never use the discount services on airfare. I find United's website maddening, but apparently I'm a glutton, as I continue to book my flights there.

  10. Wow. That r0x..... thanks for the tip. I might be doing more traveling here shortly.


  11. You better check the fine print
    Hotwire is not all it is cracked up to be.
    They like to screw the customer with statements as you did not read the fine print. We did not say that a Resort Spa had a pool.
    We asked you to verify that all restaurants at the resort would be closed for renovations!