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HolidayBuyer's Guide
Tech Industry

Hotwire double-bills customers

update A "small minority" of the online travel company's customers were charged twice for items over the weekend because of a technology glitch.

update Hotwire double-billed hundreds of its customers over the weekend as a result of a system "glitch," the online travel company said Wednesday.

The company has since fixed the problem and refunded the erroneous charges, Hotwire spokeswoman Amy Bohutinsky said. Hotwire plans to notify affected customers of the double-billing via e-mail on Wednesday, Bohutinsky said.

"It's very unfortunate that this happened," she said. "This very rarely, if ever, happens."

Although the company has double-billed customers in the past, the problem has never affected more than a "handful" of customers, Bohutinsky said. This time it affected hundreds of customers, she said.

Bohutinsky blamed the problem, which occurred between late Thursday and Sunday, on a "technology glitch," but she declined to give further details.

Among those affected was Robin Noelle, a Portland, Ore.-based development consultant for sandwich chain Subway. Noelle bought two tickets to Las Vegas from Hotwire on Saturday using her debit card. When she checked her bank account on Tuesday, she found that Hotwire had billed her double the $312 price it quoted her for the tickets.

The double billing brought Noelle's account to a negative balance and has led to at least four $22 overdraft charges, she said. Noelle said she has been unable to buy gas or food out of fear of further penalties due to the overdraft. As of Wednesday morning, her account still hadn't been credited for the erroneous charges, she said.

"Pretty much my life's on hold," Noelle said. "This is so devastating. Can you imagine every cent you own being sucked away overnight?"

Hotwire plans to pay for any overdraft or bank fees that occurred because of the problem, Bohutinsky said. Customers will have to contact the company's customer service problem for a refund, she said.

Hotwire is only the latest online company to suffer a billing problem. A similar glitch on eBay this summer resulted in the company double-billing sellers for their auction fees. Two years ago, a display problem with Wells Fargo's online banking system made it appear as if the company had paid some customers' bills two times.