Ben Weiss calls Priceline to extend his hotel stay by a day, but a representative misunderstands him and cancels his entire reservation. Now he can't get it back. Did Priceline break its own rules by canceling the vacation? And does Weiss have any recourse?
Q: I booked a reservation through the "name your own price" option at Priceline (www.priceline.com), and I won a bid for the West Hollywood Andaz for $100 a night.
I tried to add another night at the same price, but Priceline said it would cost $160. I turned that down and said I would attempt another bid during the week. At that point, the agent canceled my entire reservation.
I've spent numerous hours on the phone with Priceline's customer support center, to no avail, even though they fully admit my original reservation was canceled by mistake. I have pointed out to them that their policy is clear: All "name your own price" reservations are non-cancelable, non-refundable and non-changeable. And yet they broke their own policy and will not reinstate my reservation. Can you help? -- Ben Weiss, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
A: Priceline shouldn't have canceled your reservation. What's more, it shouldn't be too hard to explain to a company representative that it should heed its own rules.
It's difficult to know exactly what went wrong with this reservation, based on your account. As you know, the "name your own price" option is completely non-refundable -- once you've bid on a hotel, and the bid is accepted, you're stuck with it. So the agent shouldn't have been able to cancel the room even if you had asked.
Obviously, you could have avoided this by not calling Priceline to extend your room by a day. Its "name your own price" program just doesn't work that way. You can never be sure of which hotel you're going to get, although you can make a reasonably informed guess. (There's a website called Bidding For Travel (www.biddingfortravel.yuku.com) that can help.)
A safer bet would have been to buy another night online, maybe through the hotel's website. When you check in, you could have let the hotel know you had two reservations, and made arrangements to stay in the same room, if possible.
It isn't that you should never call an online travel agency. But there are times when a call would just confuse the issue. This is one of those times. You would have been much better off using Priceline's website, or another site, to secure an extra room night.
A review of your correspondence suggests that you did the right thing when Priceline wouldn't reconfirm your original hotel reservation. You wrote a short, cordial email and you appealed to a vice president. Unfortunately, this didn't work. It should have.
I contacted Priceline on your behalf. The company investigated your complaint and found that an "agent error" was to blame for the cancellation. Priceline reinstated your reservation and refunded one night's stay as an apology.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the host of "What You Get For The Money: Vacations" on the Fine Living Network. E-mail him at email@example.com.
(c) 2010 Christopher Elliott. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.