I’ve discovered online travel sites like Expedia and Hotwire can be a great way to spontaneously book motel/hotel rooms on road trips. Just find a place and price you like, type in your credit card number and, boom, you’re soon tuning in to HBO and recharging every electronic device you’ve dragged along with you.
Hotwire is actually a subsidiary of Expedia and differs from the former in just offering last-minute discounts, though I haven’t usually noticed a huge price difference between the two. But I have used both sites enough to help you, dear reader, avoid some of the pits I’ve fallen into.
Lesson 1: Once you hit “accept”, you’re on the hook
In other words, look carefully at what you’re getting before accepting. This rule especially applies to Hotwire, though you can often buy cancellation insurance when you book. Cancellation, a day or two ahead, is generally available through Expedia, depending on the specific motel’s policy. But I prefer last-minute booking, which gives me flexibility and avoids having to seek a refund if my plans change or an emergency arises. Note: Lesson 1 is the big one and applies to the next three.
Lesson 2: Double check where you’re actually staying
I thought I’d booked a room in Santa Barbara, California only to discover, too late, that my motel was in the “Santa Barbara area”. Which turned out to be an hour’s drive, each way, to less-than-lovely Lompoc, though it was nice to tick it off my bucket list. It was my own damn fault, as Expedia allows you to see the name and address of the place before accepting; I just mistakenly assumed Lompoc was a Santa Barbara suburb. With Hotwire, you don’t know the name and address till you hit “accept”, though their little maps give you a rough idea of what neighbourhood you’ll be in.
Lesson 3: Read the fine print about being “pet friendly”
Pet friendly is great if you’re packing critters. Not so much if you’re deathly allergic to cats or dogs. As I was walking to my $40 room in Portland, nearly every window curtain I passed had a pink nose poking through it. Good thing the red eyes and wheezing from my mild cat allergy never kicked in.
Lesson 4: Read the other fine print about what is and isn’t include
I thought I’d landed a hell of an under-$100 Hotwire deal when I pulled up to the high-falutin Hilton near the Los Angeles international airport (LAX); I tried to cover the stains on my pants as I approached the tony front desk. That’s till I discovered that things free at a fleabag motel were not at the snooty Hilton. Like $5 for Internet access in my room. And $27 to drive down a five-floor, twisting concrete ramp to park my car in a tiny, scarcely-open-the-door-without-banging-the-Lexus-next-to-me parking space. Twenty-seven effin’ dollars for parking! Next time, I won’t bother booking the room. I’ll just pay for the parkade and sleep in the back of my car.