Travel Hack: Determining Hotwire.com Anonymous Hotels

If you’ve done any travelling in your life, you’ve likely heard of Hotwire.com. The website sells hotel rooms at an extremely cheap rate, with one condition. The condition is, you won’t know what hotel you’re reserving until after you’ve paid for it.

This is done purposefully, because it allows hotels to dump some of their hotel rooms that otherwise might not fill, without pissing off anyone who purchased a hotel at full price from their personal website and not a third party booking site.

So, purchasing a hotel room when you don’t know what the hotel is, sounds risky right? Well, if you like to live dangerously then it probably sounds like an added piece to the adventure. If you’re like me, and you like a deal but also want to make sure you don’t end up in a shitty hotel, you’re likely going to think ‘there’s got to be away around this’. And you would be right.

Here’s how to figure out what hotel the Hotwire Hotel Deal is for. Please note that this “hack” is only for people who have time to figure this out. If you’re in a hurry, this hack really isn’t for you.

(For the purpose of this post, I’m using some details I recently used for booking accommodations in Denver Colorado for a work event

Go to HOTWIRE.COM and select the location and dates that you’re looking to stay.

Hotwire will display a map of the city to display areas with hotels they have deals for. Select the area of the city you want to be in.

In my case, the work event is downtown Denver. So, I’m going to select that vicinity of the city in hopes that I don’t have to Uber everywhere, and hopefully can just walk.

By selecting the area of the city which I wish to stay in, the list changes to show only hotels in that area.

That $145 per night deal (showing second on the list in the above photo) looks like a good deal. It’s down from $219 per night. Let’s look at that one.

When you open up the $145 deal, there are three things you want to pay attention to: The ‘sample photo’ provided, the general review of the hotel, and the individual categories of which the hotel is reviewed for. It’s worth noting that all reviews on Hotwire.com are from Expedia. As Hotwire sells anonymously, they cannot accept reviews on their own site, or that would give away the anonymity. ALL REVIEWS come from Expedia. Pay attention to what I’ve highlighted with green boxes.

Overall hotel rating of 4.3/5 – Rating from Expedia as noted in Green Box.
Individual categorized ratings for Condition, quality, comfort and cleanliness. Also noted to be coming from Expedia.ca.

Now that you’ve seen these reviews on Hotwire, it’s time to go to Expedia! Select the same dates and locations to ensure you’ll get the same results.

Expedia will give you a long list of hotels in the vicinity with their nightly rates (not the Hotwire rate) and every hotel shows the overall hotel score. In the case of the example I showed, it was ranked 4.3/5. So, I know I’m looking for a hotel with the same general ranking. I highlighted the 4.3/5 in green in the following photo.

Now, if I pull up the Hampton Inn & Suites Downtown Denver, I see this:

The rooms have the same headboard as seen in the ‘sample photo’ from Hotwire.com. It also says, on Expedia, that rooms are sold out for the dates I’m looking for, which would make logical sense as to how it wound up on Hotwire, because hotels are known to dump their remaining rooms on Hotwire to try and fill their rooms at cheaper rates, rather than having empty rooms.

Hotwire says this hotel is 1 mile from Coors friend in Denver. Expedia says the Hampton Inn and Suites in Downtown Denver is 1 mile from Coors field.

Here’s the individual guest ratings from Hotwire

Here’s the individual guest ratings from Expedia

Condition of Hotel: Both say 4:4/5
Quality of Service: Both say 4.4/5
Room Cleanliness: Expedia says 4.6/5, Hotwire says 4.5/5

At this point, I’m pretty certain that I’m looking at Hampton Inn & Suites Downtown Denver.

I ask my Colleagues if they’re good with this hotel for the work trip. They do a quick search on google and they said sure!

I purchased this hotel, and sure enough, it is!

I cannot show you my hotel reservation because it’s containing corporate information, as well as the dates of when my coworkers will be there. I don’t want creepy people to catch the attention.

Anyways, that’s how I booked $210+ dollar hotel rooms for my colleagues for $145.

Which, in the grand scheme of things, doesn’t seem like a huge difference as a one off. But, my coworkers are staying for seven days and there’s four of them going. So, saving $260 per night (four coworkers) for seven nights, I just saved $1,820 for the hotel bookings.

This margin of prices widens when you start looking at luxury hotels. As I was writing this post, I looked up some luxury hotels in downtown Vancouver and there are some hotel rooms marked down from $550 to just $220.

If you have time, and you can do the research, it does pay to use Expedia to figure out what hotel is the deal on Hotwire.

I travelled to the Honeymoon capital of the world… alone, and this is what happened.

Travelling alone is freeing. Truly.

I’ve often found that when I travel with people, I struggle to be able to do the things that I want to do. I cater to what the person I’m travelling with wants, and it always seems to happen that they won’t cater to what I want. As such, I find myself giving up on the things that I want and dealing with a sub-par trip when I know it could have been better.

This past week I tried something different. It’s something that I’ve read about, quite frequently, but never dared to do. I went solo-travelling.

Let me tell you, if you ever get the opportunity for solo travel, DO IT. DO IT and don’t ever second guess it.

Niagara Falls, Ontario

For me, Niagara Falls isn’t anywhere exotic. There were no beaches, no bikinis, no foreign folk speaking foreign languages (unless a Boston accent counts). But, the jaunt across Canada meant a great deal to me, being my first dive into solo travel.

I’ve always been fascinated by natural wonders. Mountains that reach the sky, forests that go on forever, beautiful pristine (untouched beaches) that stretch as far as they eye can see, these are the pieces to our world that make me feel obsolete in the very best way. I admire things that are the way they are, not because ‘man’ made them, but because nature made them that way.

Niagara Falls, formed naturally at the end of the last ice-age by the receding of glaciers, is located on the Niagara River, which drains Lake Erie into Lake Ontario. There are three falls, The Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls. The three combined falls form the highest flow rate of any waterfall in North America and has a vertical drop of more than 50 metres (160 ft).

The view from my hotel room on the 30th floor in the Tower Suites, Niagara Falls.
(The Horeshoe Falls are on the right, American Falls on the left of this photo)

The Tower Hotel, Niagara Falls.

When I was looking for a hotel in Niagara Falls, I knew that I wanted to stay on Fallsview Blvd. because I wanted to be as close to the falls as I could be. The Tower Hotel stood out to me online due to it’s odd shape compared to every other hotel on the strip. The Tower Hotel is a tall, skinny tower with rooms only on the 25th-30th floors.

The Hotel itself was quite basic. There was nothing overly fancy about it. The view from the hotel was exceptional, though. When you’re guaranteed a room on the 25th floor, or higher, there’s a fair chance you’re going to get an exceptional view. And, the view from The Tower Hotel did not disappoint .

*Point of note for booking hotels in Niagara Falls – on Thursday, Friday and Saturday hotel rooms cost (at least) $100 more per night than they do on Sunday – Wednesday. Purchasing a hotel room on ‘off-days’ (Sunday-Wednesday) will save you some big bucks when it comes to accommodations. And, if you can afford it, book a hotel on Fallsview Blvd. You won’t regret it.

The view from the Keg restaurant on the 9th floor of the Embassy Suites, Niagara Falls.

The Food

One of the things I most wanted to do while I was there was eat at ‘The Keg’ in the Embassy Suites hotel. This Keg restaurant is pretty famous for it’s views, and for the fact that every table in that restaurant has been strategically set up to have a view of the falls. The restaurant sits on the 9th floor of the Embassy Suites Hotel.

I called ahead and made a reservation for 7:30, asked if I could sit as close to the windows as possible and hoped for the best. And honestly, the view did not disappoint. Nor did the food. The Keg, known for it’s steak dinners, was very accommodating to my dietary needs, ensuring that my food was cooked separately as to have not touched any gluten, nor to have any dairy in it. I’m not a huge fan of red meat – only eating it once every blue moon – but this dinner was absolute perfection.

*Point of note for the Keg – While the restaurant is situated to have nice views from every table, if you call ahead and make a reservation you can get seated at the windows, where the seats point towards the falls. It’s a romantic setup, and there were a lot of people there on dates/anniversaries that night.

Walking along the falls edge on the Canadian side to view the light show.

The Light Show

The light show of Niagara Falls was something that I have been dying to see. After the sun sets, the illuminate different coloured lights onto the falls to create a light show, in representation of the charity they’re bringing attention to that evening.

I’ve seen incredible pictures of the light show online and always wanted to see it in person. So, I bundled myself up in warm clothes and wandered down to the falls at 10 pm to wander.

I ended up spending over two hours walking up and down the pathway alongside the falls. The Horseshoe Falls were illuminated in beautiful, rainbow arrangements, flashing on and off and the American Falls were illuminated in yellow. The lights themselves lit the pathway for walking, and, because it was so late at night, there were a lot less tourists on the path. (I guess people chose to just not venture out after dark)

Honestly, the night was so freeing. It was almost as though nothing else existed in the universe but me, there, in that space and time. Quite a few people stopped to talk to me along the way, many of them with Boston accents, but overall, the night was filled with the most peace that I have had in a long, long time. I just walked along the edge of the falls, listening to millions upon millions of gallons of water pouring over the edge, rushing down the river into the great lakes. Nature is incredible.

The Honeymoon Capital of the World

It’s worth noting that Niagara Falls’ claim to fame is that it is ‘The Honeymoon Capital of the World’. There are couples EVERYWHERE. Which, is adorable and sweet. If you’re painfully single, though, I could see it being a bit of a nuisance to you. It’s definitely not a place for the faint of heart.

I crossed paths with many a people who were wondering where my better half was, asking my why I was alone or why I didn’t have a man with me. While I know they were just being friendly and talkative, it’s definitely something I’m going to remember for next time. Maybe I’ll bring a man back with me next time. HAHA!

The Niagara Skywheel by night.

The Niagara Skywheel

The Niagara Skywheel is the largest ferris wheel in Canada that, at the top, reaches 175 feet in the air – providing truly breathtaking views of the Horseshoe and American Falls for the very reasonable price of $14 (adult ticket).

Having a love of ferris wheels, I actually wound up on the skywheel twice. Once, during the day, and a second time after the sun had set to see the light show from the top. To add to the list of romantic settings there are in Niagara Falls, the view from the top of the Skywheel is unmatched. Had I had someone to take with me, I am sure it would have been the perfect spot for that ‘romantic movie moment kiss’ if you know what I mean.

The Skywheel is located at the edge of what is kind of a theme park in Niagara Falls. To be honest, I didn’t really venture into the theme park. Things like bumper cars weren’t really going to provide me the peace I was searching for with my trip. But the Skywheel, that is a must-see stop.

Other touristy activities (that I didn’t take part in):

  • Helicopter tours of the Falls (I would have loved to do this, but it’s quite expensive)
  • Riverboat cruise of the Falls
  • Winery Tours (the southern portion of Ontario is known for being wine country, and there are a lot of Winery’s you can tour)
  • Skylon Tower (a rotating restaurant and observatory)
  • Marine Land

General Tips:

  • Parking at hotels is EXPENSIVE. Just two blocks up from the Falls you can find parking lots that charge $10 for 24 hours. If you choose to park your car with the hotel, it’s going to cost you anywhere from $40-$120 per day/night.
  • Take warm clothes with you, for night. The mist of the falls can make it feel a lot cooler out than the temperature actually is.
  • Niagara Falls has a 13% tourist tax that exists solely within it’s boundaries. Be prepared to pay more in tax while visiting.
  • There are tourist markups the price of virtually EVERYTHING. Something as simple as your coffee at Starbucks can be $2-4 more when purchasing it at Niagara Falls. Those extra expenses add up quickly, so be prepared.
  • If you book a ‘city-view’ hotel room, there’s still a good chance that you can see the falls from your hotel room, anyway. The reasoning for this is because many of the hotels are built diagonally facing the falls, as to be seen from three sides – instead of just one. So, if you’re looking at room prices and you’re worried about the price of a ‘Fallsview’ room, a city view room might provide you just what you need.
  • Though there are towns on both sides of the river, I noticed that the Canadian side was filled mostly with Americans. I think this is largely due to the fact that the view from the falls is sooooo much better on the Canadian side of the border. While there are attractions on the American side, I’m a little biased in saying that you’ll enjoy yourself more on the Canadian side of the border.
  • Make friends! There are so many wonderful people in town. I crossed paths with so many American tourists who were so excited to talk to me when I told them I was Canadian. One, from Ohio, even gave me his email address. He says that he’s travelling to Vancouver this summer and wants me to provide him some tips to make his trip amazing. I mean, sure, why not? There are nice people everywhere, but making friends on vacation can just make it seem so much more memorable.

Overall

The trip was incredible. It was everything that I had hoped it would be and so much more. I went in search of some peace of mind, calm and adventure and I found it. All of it. I did a lot of reading, a lot of writing and a lot of thinking.

I have so many plans for my life that have become so clouded and convoluted the past few months with everything that has gone on. Being able to travel on my own and really stop to think about what my goals are and where I am going with my life was an invaluable experience to me.

ALSO – I survived! Not only that but I thrived. I looked after myself just fine, didn’t get into any trouble, have any issues or struggle at all. I was seriously doubting my abilities to do so prior to leaving, so the fact that everything went so smoothly for me was a huge relief.

I’m ready to go on my next adventure. And honestly, I’m somewhat already planning it.

Niagara Falls, thank you. Thank you for your beauty, your hospitality, and the peace of mind that you gave in just a few short days. I felt a great sense of calm being there, which meant a lot to me. It was just what I needed at this point in time and I wouldn’t change any of it.

I highly, highly recommend solo travel to anyone who has been thinking about it or wanting to go somewhere. Going on your own allows you to do things on your terms and choose your own itinerary. You don’t get wrapped up in the likes of what your travel companion wants, so the trip becomes solely about your desires and inspirations. It’s an empowering feeling, and one that I will seek more of in the future.

I bought a plane ticket.

That’s right, I did it. After weeks of humming and hawing about it, trying to talk myself out of it, telling myself that I shouldn’t be spending the money right now, etc, etc… I pulled the trigger and I bought a ticket.

It’s definitely not an exotic locale, but what matters to me is that it is somewhere that will make me happy. And I really need something to smile about right now.

I’ve been afraid to tell people about it, because I don’t wan them to lecture me on spending my money in a frivolous manner when I don’t have a steady flow of income right now. I’m not sure how I’m going to break the news, but, I will do it.

Yesterday, as I sat in bed reading one of my favourite books of all time, I made it to the chapter that has stood out in my mind since I first read it as a teenager. The quote, as follows:

So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.

If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty.

Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild

And I thought ‘I’m not waiting any longer’. So I did it. I went online, I booked the tickets, and I’m going.

It’ll be a short trip. Nothing in life lasts forever, I know that. And, in spite of the fact that it might seem rather reckless to book a trip when you don’t have a steady stream of income coming in, I’m not stupid when it comes to money. I know how to save, where to spend, how to choose the cheaper options. I’m going to be smart about this, of course. But I’m also going to live my life.

Life should be adventure, and, when it really comes down to it, I’d rather be the person that says ‘I’ve been there and it was amazing’ than the person who says ‘I’ve always wanted to go’.

Travel Diaries: Copenhagen is calling

Something inexplicable happens when I step off the plane in a foreign land. Overcome with the possibilities of the unknown, I can’t help but want more.

It’s been two years since I stood at the edge of Nyhavn. Two years since I wandered the cobblestone streets and felt the gracious charm that is Copenhagen.

When I look back on my travels there is always one memory that stands out in each country I’ve visited. One moment in time that I remember above the rest. Something that stands out as a just a little bit brighter and a little bit better in my mind than all the rest. In Copenhagen it was Thai Food.

I know how that sounds. Trust me, I do. Who goes to Scandinavia to find Thai Food? Shouldn’t the best Thai food be found in Thailand?

“I can get Thai food at home!” I remember yelling at my brother as I followed him down Strøget after watching the changing of the guards at the Royal Palace.

“Trust me, sister. You haven’t ever had Thai like this before.”

Though I didn’t believe him, I reluctantly chose to follow him and my sister-in-law anyways… daydreaming of lunch at any of the Danish cafes and restaurants we passed along the way.

Very few times in my life have I had to admit that I was wrong. And oh boy, was I ever wrong about this.

Scurry Hub, an unassuming hole-in-wall restaurant with fewer than 15 seats inside, dubs itself as “Street Food” that can be eaten in or taken out. And, if you intend to eat in, good luck finding a seat. Truthfully.

From what I gathered during the hour we spent there, people in Copenhagen are also aware of just how phenomenal Scurry Hub’s food is. People continued in and out the doors the entire time we ate lunch… hoping to find a seat, realizing there weren’t seats and having to take their food with them to ensure they didn’t miss out.

We sat, we laughed, we talked and we planned the rest of our day and we ate some of the most incredible food that I’ve ever had.

‘Did we magically get the only table with four chairs?’ I asked my brother.

‘I guess so’, he laughed as he took another bite of food.

That day, that food, that restaurant will forever stand out in my mind. It was a shining reminder to myself that you cannot judge a book by it’s cover.

As we got up to continue on with our day, a group of locals was already scooping our table before my jacket was on. I remember thinking that I couldn’t blame them for doing that. I also remember thinking that I’d be back there one day.

Copenhagen is a magical city. The old-world charm I witnessed as I wandered cobblestone streets, ate incredible food, shopped in one-of-a-kind stores with salespeople who LOVED learning of my Canadian’ness made it feel like home. And, though I didn’t speak the language, know the culture or even how to read the street signs, I felt as though I belonged.

The wanderlust has hit hard in 2019. I will be back, Copenhagen. I can promise that with certainty.


RECOMMENDATIONS FOR VISITING COPENHAGEN:

  1. Eat at Scurry Hub – It is THE BEST Thai food that you will ever have.
  2. Climb the Rundetårn – The top of this tower has 360 degree views of the Copenhagen skyline. And, on clear days, you can see across to Sweden.
  3. Visit the Nyhavn Canal – Quite possibly one of the most synonymous sights of Copenhagen, this is one instagram opportunity you won’t want to miss.
  4. Walk. Walk everywhere – There are so many unique stores, cafes and restaurants all over the city. If you’ve got a good pair of walking shoes then I strongly encourage you to walk so that you don’t miss any hole-in-the-wall along the way.
  5. Amalienborg Palace – Amalienborg is the winter home of the Danish Royal Family. Tourists flock to the Palace Courtyard each day to watch the changing of the guards. It’s a very ‘touristy’ thing to do. But it’s definitely a cool thing to witness if you’re up for it.
  6. Shopping in Strøget – If you want to shop in Copenhagen visit Strøget. It’s the shopping district in the centre of the city that is one of the longest pedestrian shopping streets in Europe. There’s something for everyone, no matter your tastes.

-V