Q: I recently visited Priceline.com to book a hotel. I was checking out a few websites and shopping around for prices to see if I could find a good deal.
I put in my dates and location, and found a hotel I was interested in, the Waldorf Astoria in Jerusalem. It said in big, bold letters: “Reasons to book now. Buy now & cancel anytime.” I took a look at it, and it seemed like a great idea. I could make a reservation now, and if I didn’t want it or found a cheaper one, I could cancel.
Right before I clicked on the last screen to book the reservation, I was nervous that Priceline would later deny me the cancellation, so I took a screenshot. About two minutes after I booked the hotel, I realized that the hotel’s website had the rooms for significantly less than Priceline. I called to cancel the reservation. A representative told me she was sorry, but they would not refund my reservation because it was nonrefundable. I told her I had a screenshot showing that it says free cancellation available. Priceline refused to help.
Can you help me get a refund from Priceline?
Malka Mandel, Lakewood, New Jersey
A: If your reservation was refundable, then Priceline should refund it. But was it refundable? No, it wasn’t.
But first, you absolutely did the right thing when you took a screenshot. I always say, “When in doubt, take a screenshot.” You were in doubt. You should have been. It turns out Priceline had several room choices, some which allowed refunds, and others that didn’t. Priceline should have said that at the top of the screen.
When you received the confirmation, you immediately noticed that the actual terms were far more restrictive. As in, your room was nonrefundable. Worse, the Waldorf Astoria had a better rate on its website, so Priceline was overcharging you for a nonrefundable room. That doesn’t seem like such a deal. Where’s the Priceline Negotiator when you need him?
Instead of accepting Priceline’s answer, you canceled your reservation and disputed your credit card charges. That’s the nuclear option, because it forces an “all or nothing” decision from your credit card company. And, unfortunately, your credit card company sided with Priceline.
End of story? Not quite.
You skipped a step. A brief, polite email to one of the Priceline executive contacts I list on my nonprofit consumer-advocacy site might have nudged the company to help you. That can sometimes help, although it’s no guarantee.
After you lost your dispute, you decided to keep your reservation at the Waldorf. But then Priceline informed you that your reservation wasn’t just nonrefundable, but also nonreinstateable. And that’s when I got involved.
While I agree that Priceline can keep your money, despite the poorly disclosed terms and conditions of your reservation, it can’t just pocket your money. If you want to keep your room, you should be able to.
I contacted Priceline on your behalf. Priceline restored your reservation and offered a $100 refund as a gesture of goodwill.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more at elliott.org, or email email@example.com.