Why I am never using Priceline.com again
A nightmare experience in the literal sense
The February has been unusually snowy in Seattle, and what better getaway than celebrating President’s Day long weekend in sunny San Diego? Except it wasn’t all sunny but unfortunately that turned out to be the least of our problems during the trip. The thing which ended up being the stuff of nightmares was our confirmed hotel reservation using Priceline.com. What made a bad situation worse was the attitude of customer service towards the problem combined with the (lack of) freedom their company’s employees have to genuinely help customers.
The night is young at midnight
At 12:30 am on the night of 15th February (16th morning) we checked into Hotel Ramada, National City, San Diego. We had chosen this hotel after vetting the reviews and were supposed to stay here for 3 nights. Except the front-desk informed us despite having a “confirmed” reservation they were oversold for the night, and there wasn’t much they could do about it. Aghast we asked what the resolution was and it started the classic lack of accountability battle as she pointed we needed to call Priceline.com and they’re in-charge of finding alternate accommodations for us. I am not sure how the third-parties make deals with hotels/ flights but let me get this straight- if I used Priceline’s website for making a confirmed reservation it’s their responsibility to make sure I get a place to stay there. If there’s an issue with the booking, they better fix it. So I did call the representative listening to dreadful sound of waiting music. As finally a representative addressed us, I told him the situation and asked him to find alternate nearby accommodation for us. The guy put us on hold again for a very long time. At the beginning of this period, the front-desk received a call from Priceline agent and they discussed the case. It seemed promising. After waiting for another 20 minutes, where I assumed he’s looking for hotel vacancies for us I was back on the line with some shocking words. The gist:
- Rather than finding a place for us, they’d end up cancelling the entire three-day reservation. So now we don’t have a place for three nights.
- Customer representatives don’t have the authority to make reservations for us, and it’s our duty to find alternate accommodations. Worse, we would not be compensated for the cost of hotels.
- Out of the grand sum of $ 1365 (flight + hotel + car) we paid, the company would refund us just $237.15, as according to them that’s the hotel part of the reservation cost.
As you might be able to tell, this was bewildering. It’s 1:30 am, we don’t have an accommodation and now are effectively left by ourselves in the cold. Making a hotel reservation on the last day costs much higher than the initial booking cost, especially on a long weekend. None of these arguments convinced the representative at all that he should do anything more apart from customary “sorry for inconvenience”. He wouldn’t book alternate accommodation or cover our expenses for alternate accommodation, and if he wasn’t allowed to do either give us higher compensation for inconvinience hassle. When he continued with the lack of authority slogan, frustrated I asked for manager who’d have a higher authority. After being apparently transferred, waiting on phone for another 20 minutes the phone just muted on the other end. Ironically Ramada wasn’t oversold for the remainder of two nights, but regardless Priceline was now compelled to cancel the entire reservation.
It’s 2 am in the night, we still don’t have a place. Ramada has decided to help us out, and have given us a paper signed by the manager saying they’ll cover our expenses at a different hotel nearby of our choice. The front-desk makes a call to Super 8- also a Wyndham property- to make sure check-in goes smoothly for us and we’re not asked for money. So late in the night, our desire for getting the best hotel is much lower than having a hassle-free check-in experience so we accept this gesture. Except when we got there, things weren’t that simple. There was miscommunication between managers of the properties, it wasn’t relayed properly and the end result was we’d have to pay at the Super 8 anyways. Ramada front-desk promised on the call that we’d be credited the money. Sympathetic to our plight, the front-desk guy at Super 8 offered us a very reasonable rate for 3-night stay. I called Priceline again to see if they could at least preserve the reservation for the remaining two nights. They said no, and I ended up finalizing entire trip with Super 8 at 3 am.
They never learn
Ramada money eventually came through (not without it’s own set of further further, including having to go back physically, talk to multiple front-desk staff). So Ramada kept it’s end of the promise. However Priceline.com demonstrated their bad support wasn’t an anomaly. Despite their written refund confirmation of $ 237.15, I only ended up seeing $ 201.18 in my credit card. After gathering the energy to call customer support again 4 days later, I was initially just told I was approved for only a “partial refund”!!! On giving her email confirmation ID and after 15 minutes of hold, the representative admitted she was mistaken and the entire money should come eventually (it still hasn’t). I continued discussing with her how even the “full refund” amount was insufficient given the hassles we faced, the lack of support we received and we’re entitled to a higher compensation. After being apologetic, she remarked we weren’t eligible because it was a “cheap deal” and “undisclosed reservation”. On prodding to explain jargon, she claimed it’s a reservation where you don’t know the hotel before the payment. Except we did. And I requested again for management seeing a lack of getting anywhere. The manager starting out apologetic offered a 5% discount voucher for the next trip using Priceline.com. The amount was a smack in the face and forced us to use their service again which I was in no mood to. I politely declined.
I recently filed a complaint with BBB to bring Priceline.com to accountability. As often happens I am just a small David fighting a Goliath publicly-traded corporation. In a capitalist economy, all we can do is to avoid paying these crooks any more than they deserve. To all readers, I would ask your assistance in spreading the word on utter disregard towards customer satisfaction demonstrated by Priceline, and use their competitors for booking trips.
Update: Through BBB Priceline.com was compelled to follow up with me. They ended up paying the remainder of the $35.98 which I hadn’t received, and an additional 20% of the hotel booking. Somehow even the 20% wasn’t calculated properly, and when I asked for explanation I was told the actual hotel booking costs were $183 and $54 was taxes and fees, and I am not eligible for any compensation on that!!! I’ve also initiated a charge-back with American Express as I used their credit card for booking the trip. AmEx offers good customer service especially for their Delta cards which I use and would recommend to someone looking for good credit cards. I am yet to hear resolution to the dispute from their end.