The Problem with Hotwire

I've always been pleased when I've used Hotwire to arrange hotel accommodations. Recently, I booked my London hotel through Hotwire, and again the site worked well. But when you use Hotwire or any other opaque agency, you have to embrace one basic reality: You may have to accept some compromise with your ideal. Even when you can specify the general neighborhood within a big metro area, hotel location often emerges as the key problem.

For this trip, I accepted a price of $80 a night for a "four-star" hotel in London. As with any opaque booking, Hotwire added fees and charges that brought the real price to $100 a night—still a terrific rate for a four-star London hotel. Because I was flying out of Stansted Airport, I chose the "Islington Shoreditch Benthal Green" area, which would be reasonably convenient to Liverpool Street station for the Stansted Express. The hotel I got was the Re London Shoreditch.

As is often the case, its basic problem is location. For me, the location was excellent—just two blocks from a rail station with trains to Stansted. But the hotel is really in Hackney, and for many other visitors, this was a downer. Hackney is quite a bit scruffier than the gentrified Islington-Shoreditch areas, and the neighborhood around the Re has little to offer the typical visitor. Its saving grace is a good little Indian restaurant two blocks away, and the hotel's own dining room isn't bad. But I saw very few other eating options within walking distance. Visitors looking for theater and museums would face big taxi bills or long bus treks to access the parts of London where they really want to spend their time.

Rooms and services were generally consistent with other four-star London hotels. A property a mile east could charge upward of $300 a night. Even so, I found some features that fell below what I would call the four-star level: The room had no comfortable sitting chair. The TV, although flat-screen, was small and very definitely low-def. The Wi-Fi, supposedly available in room, was glacially slow—as if it were connected by a dial-up phone line. But that problem isn't unique to the Re.

All in all, the hotel suited my needs quite well. But I'd give it three and a half stars rather than four.

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