Cracking the "mystery" of hotwire

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Last night Drew, MaryAnn and I arrived in Salzburg in our rental car without a plan (are you starting to get the idea of how we function?), assuming we’d be able to find a cheap “Pension,” or something outside of town.  A Dutch friend of ours told us that “Pensions” and “GastHofs” were great little discount options in the Germany/Austria region.  Unfortunately we didn’t realize that these places tend to close down their reception offices by around 7 pm.  We also didn’t realize that there was a huge event in town.

As though we were back in the old days before internet bookings, we drove around knocking on hotel doors, asking for the lowest 3 person room rate.

Times like these call for sites like Hotwire, one of a variety of sites that offers unsold rooms, car rentals, flights, etc listing them as mystery hotels that you can book for cheap.

Really though, the hotel we were  hoping for was the Crowne Plaza Salzburg because of its awesome location downtown (where MaryAnn wanted to embrace her inner Sound of Music fan-girl).  Earlier in the day Drew had called them to see if there was any way they could come down on their 3rd person charge.  It made a difference of 65 Euros or so: 104 Euros bookable online for 2 people or 169 Euros for 3.  Pretty expensive 3rd person charge.  Well, Crowne Plaza was not going to budge on this fee.

Plan A to book with the Crowne Plaza was a no-go, and with lousy success going door to door, Plan B was a bust as well.  Plan C.  We hopped on Hotwire and booked a 3 person room for 109 Euros.  Not a great price for budget connoisseurs, but considering the circumstances and the high 3rd person fees we’d been seeing, we felt good about it.  And as we suspected, our so-called “mystery hotel” was indeed the Crowne Plaza.

You see, while it’s not an exact science, there are some pretty solid clues to help you decipher what the “mystery room” is.

First of all, why bother figuring out the mystery room?

For one, if you have status with a certain hotel chain and want to take advantage of those perks, you’d want to know what hotel you’re reserving.

Or maybe, as in our situation, you want to make sure you’re going to be in a specific part of town.

What are the clues?

1.) Star Rating

When you search for a hotel on Hotwire, you can specify the star rating you’d like for your stay.

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With a list of Hotwire options now in front of us, we’ll bring another site into the process.

Now, we can check the hotel availability for hotels of this star rating on Expedia which will give us a similar list as Hotwire, but with names provided.  In other words, by searching the exact details (dates, star rating, location) we’re bringing up a little inventory of possible hotels our mystery hotel will get us.

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This brought up way more results than our Hotwire search, so we’ll still need more ways to narrow this list down.


2.) Hotel description/amenities

Now we can start reading some hotel details.  When we click on an option we can read more about the hotel’s information.

For instance, when I click on our cheapest mystery hotel to receive more information, I can see that this hotel has free internet, a business center, allows pets, and non-smoking rooms.

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When I compare this to my results on Expedia, I can rule out the hotels that don’t offer free internet and don’t have business centers.  A lot of them in this particular search allow pets and have non-smoking rooms, so those aren’t my most helpful clues.

By now maybe we’ve eliminated a few options.  For instance based on the free wifi alone, I have determined that the cheapest Hotwire hotel listed is definitely not the Crowne Plaza and because of the available business center, I was able to negate a few other possibilities as well.

3.) Map!

Now we can do a bit more sleuthing by observing the map.  (Yep.  Even though they won’t tell you what hotel you’re selecting, they will show you a map with a little green section showing the area you’ll be staying in.)

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This particular example doesn’t have any tourist attractions marked for us to use, but it does say that it’s 2.6 miles from the airport.  Perhaps you’ve noticed that many hotel websites will give information about area attractions or distance from the airport?  This is where the map becomes useful.  Or perhaps you already know that there’s only one 5 star hotel in the “Old City” and all the rest are in the Business district.  You get the idea.

4.) Trip Advisor rating

The final clue I’ll mention is the Trip Advisor rating.

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If you are suspicious that you know the identity of the “mystery hotel” you’re about to commit to, hop on TripAdvisor and see if the ratings match.



Each little clue may not tell you much on its own, but by the time you combine all of these little clues, you’ll often be able to make a pretty good guess as to which hotel you’re committing to.

In our case last night we weren’t 100% sure of course as this is by no means a science, but because of the Trip Advisor rating and star rating, (and thanks to a fairly low amount of hotels showing up to even investigate in the first place) we were able to feel pretty confident we were getting the Crowne Plaza.

Thanks to Hotwire we didn’t need Crowne Plaza’s permission after all to get a 3 person room for a lower price.


3 Comments on “Cracking the "mystery" of hotwire

  1. Have you ever used It works better in some cities than others but they compile data from users of Priceline and Hotwire to determine what hotels are in which star ratings for different cities, as well as tell you what amenities are listed for a particular hotel. It doesn’t appear to be well populated for Salzburg (only listing 1 hotel- the Sheraton) but it’s a good resource.

    • I haven’t but it sounds like a great tool! Thanks for mentioning it. I’ll look into it more.

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