ETA: Since writing this post, Hostelworld sent out their usual feedback form. I wrote something suitably scathing. A few days later, I got a response from a customer service manager to say they'd refund my deposit and with apologies for how things had been handled.
There are so many hotel and hostel bookers in the travel industry, you'd think that a company would want to go the extra mile in customer service. Repeat customers are gold. But recently I had a nasty incident with Hostelworld that means I will never, ever use their service again. I won't say it was a blatant rip off but it came close.
I rarely use the Hostelworld booking site. For starters, I don't stay in hostel dorms so most of their listings don't apply to me.
When I use them to find a single room in a hostel, I find them super annoying. You can filter on single rooms but the price you get is the cheapest rate (ie. for a dorm bed) so you have to go into every single listing to get the single room rate. I don't have time for that.
Recently though, I wanted to book at one of the cheap budget hotels in Osaka. Being Japanese, if you book direct, you email them then wait for a person to get back to you to let you know if they have a room etc. It's time consuming and annoying so I figured I'd go through the Hostelworld site to have an immediate booking.
That was fine. I booked it and paid the extra buck or so to have a flexible booking plus my deposit.
I have NFI why you even need to pay a deposit. No other booking site I use asks for one.
Then I decided to change my booking. I'm going to Osaka for the Arashi concert but my ticket is for the Friday night and I'd booked to stay for 3 nights after that as well. I'm getting the Horuriku train pass that takes you through Kanazawa and other parts of Japan I've not explored so I figured I'd get the hell out of Osaka after the concert and go to new and exciting places.
I figured I could go on Hostelworld and change my booking. I was giving a few weeks notice.
Only I could find no way to change the booking.
So, next best thing, I contacted the hotel directly. After a few emails confirming my details, they told me they couldn't do it. I had to go through Hostelworld. Jeez Louise. Get with the 21st century.
I went back on Hostelworld and found out the only way to change my booking was to cancel it and rebook. I was a bit wary about doing that because it's Arashi concert weekend. Rooms are in high demand.
Anyway, I cancelled. Then I tried to rebook. I tried a whole bunch of times and it kept just booting me back to the start of the booking process. I had no room booked and began thinking that I'd be sleeping on the streets of Osaka!
So, I contacted their customer support. After a few hours of hearing nothing from them, I went on another site and found a room at a different hotel and booked that.
A day or so later, I got a reply. It was the standard thing. You know when the customer service person (maybe not even a real person, actually) does a quick scan, finds a key word then answers a question unrelated to anything you've actually said.
I emailed them back and told them their reply did not help me at all and asked for my deposit back since I was unable to rebook on their site. I think that was a reasonable request considering they didn't give me the functionality to rebook.
The customer service person got back to me (this was two days after I cancelled my booking), telling me to clear my browser cookies! WTF! I've never had to do that on any other site and there was nothing in any of their help or instructions to tell me that. I can't say that, when a website malfunctions, my first thought is clearing my browser cookies.
I sent another email saying that even though it wasn't their policy to give a cash refund, in this case I wanted one because it was impossible to rebook. I got another unhelpful email back.
And the issue was not caused by Hostelworld website but by your browser cookies. Sorry for this happened to you, if it keep happening in future, we sugguest you clear cookies and normally all cuased by browser cookies. Thanks for attention.
Hope this clearlifed. [sic]
So Hostelworld can keep my $13 since it means so much to them. I will never use them again. I will tell everyone I know never to use them. I've used other booking sites in the past who've gone out of their way to help me. I made a double booking with non-cancellable bookings on Booking.com, totally my fault and I was prepared to wear the cost but, when I got in touch with them, they let me cancel one of them. That's the kind of customer service you remember and you tell people about.