“Nothing more I can do at this point”

Priceline’s map of Daytona Beach, Fla., looked fine to Brian Hutcheson, so he made a bid on a hotel. And he got it.

Wait. No, he didn’t.

Yes, he did, says Priceline.

As you probably know, Priceline offers deep discounts on hotel rooms. In exchange, you don’t get to choose the exact property and all bookings are completely nonrefundable. Hutcheson knew that.

It’s the map he disagrees with. Let’s get right to it. Here’s the area Hutcheson selected.

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 9.37.43 AM

Are you with me so far?

“My issue is with the misleading area title,” he says. “I booked Speedway – Airport (DAB). This title — regardless of shaded area — leads me to believe my hotel will be in just that.”

Here’s the hotel he got:

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 9.38.24 AM

“I received the Days Inn Daytona Beach Downtown on US 1 Ridgewood Blvd., which is in downtown Daytona. It’s closer to beach side than the speedway,” he says. “This misleading title — ‘Speedway – Airport (DAB)’ is why I think I should receive a refund.”

Now, the industry folks among us will say, “Duh! He should have looked at the map.”

But not so fast.

Labels are important. If you say it’s near the Speedway, shouldn’t it actually be near the Speedway? And not everyone is good at reading maps. Again, some of you will tell him to find a travel agent or use another Web site, but can’t we expect a little truth in labeling here?

I thought Hutcheson might have a case, so I suggested he pursue this with Priceline. Here’s its response:

We apologize if you are dissatisfied with the location of your hotel. We understand that you would like to be confirmed near the airport speedway area.

We presented a map with shaded locations that cover a number of hotels in an area. We have reviewed the location of your hotel and found that is located within the designated area you viewed prior to purchase.

Since your reservation is restricted, it cannot be changed, cancelled or refunded.

Since there are no other options I can offer that would result in a different outcome for your issue, I’d like to thank you for emailing us today.

Hutcheson didn’t give up. He posted his grievance to our consumer forums, where we tried to assist him, and appealed.

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Here’s what Priceline had to say:

Our records indicate that you have already contacted one of our Customer Care Representatives and have been advised that we reviewed the location of your hotel and the hotel you received is in the designated area that was displayed to you prior to purchase.

When you were reviewing your reservation information, our website stated that your hotel could be located anywhere within that designated area. Your reservation booked at the Days Inn At Daytona Beach is non-changeable/non-cancelable and non-refundable.

Moreover, when requesting a reservation using the Express Deals option where the hotel name is not revealed prior to purchase, we provide you with the area map that break major cities into more manageable area.

This map will clearly outline the boundaries of the area in which the reservation will be booked. Your confirmed hotel is guaranteed to be within the area boundaries shown prior to purchase. Also, the map you review during the request process will display that the area includes additional cities and/or states.

Since there are no other options I can offer that would result in a different outcome for your issue, I’d like to thank you for emailing us today.

Hutcheson asked me to take this directly to the company, so I did. And here’s the final “no.”

Sorry Brian disagrees with the zone name, but the hotel he received is definitely in the shaded area he was shown when he made the reservation.

Nothing more I can do at this point.

So why drag you, and Hutcheson, through all of this? Because you need to be wary of labels when you’re a consumer, and this is a perfect case in point.

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Labels can mislead. Labels can even lie.

The last decade has proven that an “airline ticket” can mean many different things, for example. Who is being transported? Does it include a seat assignment, a checked bag, a meal — or are all those things extra? Restaurants and tour operators do the same thing, too. “All” you can eat doesn’t mean everything on the menu can be consumed indiscriminately. A “VIP” tour begs the question: Who is defining “VIP”?

You get the point.

Next time you see a label, read the map or the fine print before making the reservation. Otherwise, you could end up like Hutcheson. We did our best to help him, but in the end, Priceline was correct. His hotel clearly was within the designated map.

The headline? Not really.

Should Priceline have turned down Brian Hutcheson's request?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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