Hey, that’s the wrong London!

Question: I tried to make a hotel reservation in London, Ontario, Canada through Priceline. The site displayed three tabs. The first two tabs displayed the correct city, but when I switched to the “best deal” tab it automatically switched to London, UK.

Unfortunately at the time I did not realize that it had switched on me and it found a nonrefundable hotel room in the wrong London. You can imagine my disappointment.

I contacted customer service, but they wouldn’t refund the room. After some arguing, they finally offered to let me try to make another bid on a room in London, Ontario, and that if the bid was successful, they would refund the charge, minus a $25 fee.

If Priceline’s site doesn’t work, shouldn’t it apologize and refund the purchase? Instead, a Priceline representative told me there was no one else I could talk to. I was wondering if there is anything that you can do. — Jaime Deane, Toronto

Answer: If this is a system glitch, then Priceline should offer you a full refund.

By way of explanation, when you book a hotel through Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” section, you’re bidding on a nonrefundable, nonchangeable hotel room. You don’t find out the name of the hotel until after you’ve made a successful bid.

As you can imagine, some customers aren’t happy with the hotel they get, so Priceline’s customer service agents are used to reminding them of the rules. But this was different: Your hotel was in the wrong country.

I’m not sure if calling Priceline was the best course of action. An email explaining your problem would have probably worked better. It turns out you did your homework, and saved some screenshots of the erroneous tabs. Sending those to Priceline might have done the trick. They could have seen the problem, as opposed to just hearing about it.

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Of course, Priceline should have taken your complaint by phone more seriously. Had an agent simply tried to recreate your booking, the glitch would have been apparent. No one did that.

I contacted Priceline on your behalf and shared your screenshots. Priceline agreed that its system failed to draw a distinction between the London in England and Canada. It promised to fix errant tabs.

It apologized to you, issued a full refund and sent you a $25 coupon for the trouble.

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.

  • Nica

    I myself have never used Priceline because I like to know what I am getting upfront. Taking chances like this with my travel that I am spending my hard earned money on is too much of a risk for me. However, I do feel that Priceline erred but they finally did the right thing by refunding all of the OP’s money.

  • Because of the nonrefundable nature of many of its products, Priceline tracks and saves each keystroke you make during the bidding process in order to deal with these types of situations. If this type of dispute develops, readers should ask that Priceline prove its position.

  • john4868

    I didn’t vote because I’m somewhere between the two. All you have to do is watch Chris’s column for a week to understand that Americans, as a traveling whole, don’t like to accept responsibility for our mistakes and failures (Shall we go through the “didn’t buy travel insurance”, “won’t refund my non-refundable”, etc complaints). A site like Priceline must accept lots of “it’s not my fault. Your website messed up” phone calls in a day. So I do think that the CSRs are jaded to that excuse. At the same time, software is written by humans and only does what you tell it to. If there’s a bug, it can cause problems.
    I honestly think this error is shared. The OP should have checked the country but the website should have only presented solutions in Canada. The correct solution was eventually reached.

  • I must respectfully disagree with your entire post

    1. The people that Chris helps are not a representative sampling of the traveling public. To draw too many conclusions would be ill-advised.

    2. The OP requested London, Ontario. London Ontario came up was presented on the first two tabs. Who in their wildest imagination would expect that a website would present two different cities in different countries. Priceline made an error, plain and simple. Its hardly the OPs fault that she didn’t catch Priceline’s crazy error.

    Think about it. Say you do an online search for hotels using Marriott.com for London, Ontario, and 5 hotels are presented each claiming to be in London, are you really expecting that hotel #4 is really in the UK?

  • TonyA_says

    Vending Machine meets Mr. and Mrs. Entitled.

  • john4868

    @yahoo-OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE:disqus Disagreeing is what makes this board great.
    1. I’d like to hear from the TAs on the board but my experience is that Chris’s reports are closer to the norm than the accept responsibility.
    2. I said it was a shared responsibility. Are you really telling me that when he went to the “Best Deal Tab” and could see the properties he didn’t look where they were at? Also, he went to a different area (tab) of the website to find the deal. It wasn’t one out of a list. Priceline owns a large portion of this for presenting options that were outside the search limits. Notice I did say I think that the correct result was reached.

  • Alan Gore

    Third-party websites are notorious for “deciding things for you.” They are the home of the pre-checked checkbox and the defaults that are always the options most lucrative to themselves. Still more reasons to stay away from them.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    Good answer, Carver Clark Farrow II – For John Baker to draw his conclusions on a small sampling of the public (and we don’t know how many ARE actually American because Chris doesn’t have the proviso he only helps Americans, thus it’s never really mentioned WHERE the people are from) is short-sided, more than a little ethnocentric and narrow minded, at best.

    Based on his observations, I guess we can now say all people named John Baker are tremendous jerks.

  • IGoEverywhere

    When you are your own travel agent, priceline is the supplier and you are the travel agent, you assume full responsability. I pay insurance premiums to cover that kind of stupidity and have used it 2 times in 40 years. She made the oops and admitted it. Priceline wasted their $$$ and time with this complaint. There is plenty of opportunity to review the accidental switch of cities before you hit the purchase button.

  • Michael__K

    The issue transcends website glitches. In general, many businesses make it very difficult to reach someone who is empowered to go off script and apply common sense and discretion to unique situations.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Wow. Look, in this case I don’t necessarily agree with John Baker (breaking a run of posts in which we DID agree with each other – sorry John!) But calling him a jerk is just out of line. Nothing he said in these posts was jerky. In fact I thought he was very respectful in his disagreement…something you were not.

    Given the representative sampling here, I guess we can now say that all people who are associated with Exploration Travel Mag are unable to carry on a civilized debate without resorting to insults and ad hominem attacks!

  • Raven_Altosk

    I’m willing to bet the Priceline reps are outsourced and just work from a script, so not being able to understand “London, Canada =/= London, England” is kind of par for the course here.

    Glad Priceline did the right thing in the end, but they really should empower their low-level employees to escalate such cases. This was obviously a computer glitch, and not a case of buyer’s remorse.

  • LeeAnneClark

    I’m a split decision on this one. Personally I think that Chris’s community of complaining travelers is probably more representative than not of the traveling public in terms of how many of them are whiners and overly-entitled. I do think that most people who correspond with him are more educated travelers than the average, as one can assume they wouldn’t know about him unless they at least occasionally read his blog. And it’s impossible to read his blog without learning at least something about travel!

    As for shared responsibility, I’m in the camp that the vast majority of the responsibility falls on Priceline. One should be able to expect the website you are using to function properly if it’s going to take your money and tell you that it’s non-refundable. The website did not work right, plain and simple, and I do agree with you that the correct result was ultimately reached.

    Should the OP have noticed the wrong city? I can’t answer that without actually seeing the screenshots. But both Christopher and Priceline were convinced enough by them that this was Priceline’s error, and that’s good enough for me. I give the traveler a pass on this one.

  • john4868

    Thanks @LeeAnneClark:disqus … Guess no lottery ticket today :)

  • Raven_Altosk

    Same here. I’d rather pay a few bucks more and know what I’m buying, but apparently there’s a large segment of the population who love these sites.

  • y_p_w

    When one is prepared to reserve on Priceline, never ever enter incomplete information such as simply the name of the city alone without the US state or country.

    However, mistakes can be made. There have been several humorous anecdotes about international travelers trying to visit San Jose, Costa Rica and who then ended up in the heart of Silicon Valley, or vice versa. Just try and book a hotel room in a city named Springfield. You’ve got to be especially careful. Always look at the preview screen, which will have all the information on the location.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Absolutely true – ESPECIALLY with Priceline! I made a fatfinger keystroke error on a Priceline bid once, and ended up with a hotel on the entirely wrong date. I could not for the life of me get anyone on the phone! I’m not even sure how the OP in this case did, because there were no humans to be found back when this happened to me.

    I know Christopher always recommends sending emails, and I do agree, but I like to try the phone first because it’s entirely possible you’ll end up with a normal human who will provide a quick resolution. If that doesn’t happen, then yes, send emails and documentation.

    But with Priceline there WERE no humans. And my emails were responded to with cookie-cutter form letters refusing to allow me to change dates. I finally did get their agreement to change the date, with a service charge. Personally I feel there should be provisions for typo errors in these non-refundable purchases, if caught by the buyer immediately (which mine was…the moment I clicked enter I realized that I’d hit the wrong month).

  • LeeAnneClark

    I stopped using Priceline some time ago. But during the period of time when I was staying home with the kids and we were living on a much tighter budget, I used it a few times quite successfully. I relied on Bidding for Travel (the one with the witch of a moderator! LOL!) and that worked VERY well for me. I got a 5-star hotel in Vancouver for a couple days pre-cruise for less than half of the cheapest price I could find for it anywhere else. I also got rooms at the Palazzo in Vegas for incredibly cheap.

    But after they gave me a hard time about a fatfinger keystroke error and refused to refund it, I stopped using them. Now I won’t use any opaque site – since I went back to work our travel budget is a bit more generous and I’m happy to pay more to know exactly what I’m getting.

    But for folks on a budget, it really can be a good way to get a good deal, provided they use one of the sites like biddingfortravel that helps them understand how it works and what they might get. And provided they don’t make any typos!

  • bc

    I know, this is what I was thinking. I just attempted to do a priceline offer and the screen you have to put your initials in is very clear about the city and country. It is someone who didn’t review their itinerary very well before committing.

  • SooZeeeQ

    I appreciate this site because it has taught me that on-line tickets/rooms and travel insurance are not sure things and possibly more trouble than they are worth when problems arise.

    But in defense of Priceline, the traveler knew he needed London, Canada and knew there was at least one other London in the UK.

  • bc

    So, despite voting YES on the poll I have to blame the OP here. If you actually go to the Priceline site and attempt to name your own price (which is the Best Deal Tab the OP refers to in his letter) in London Ontario Canada you are presented with a screen that details the information on your bid and that requires you to initial that you accept the terms and you that you’ve verified your booking information (images attached). It very clearly gives the region and city as London, ON if you select the correct city. If you select London, UK it also clearly states London, UK. This was in NO WAY a priceline mistake!
    I’ve attached a screen cap so you can see.

    Also, if you select the incorrect London you are presented with far more districts or neighborhoods than the Ontario London. Would you not wonder when you see Chelsea and Westminster in your list of London Ontario neighborhoods????

  • bc

    I posted below, if but if you select the “best deals” tab it is very clearly the name your own price section. It clearly states whether you’re bidding on London, ON and London UK. This was a end user error. The site even makes you confirm your booking information with initials before submitting your offer.

  • @LeeAnneClark…Amen ! I’ll never understand why people are so rude to each other on the internet… Are they like this in their daily, face – to – face, life? If so — I hope never to cross paths with them….

  • TonyA_says

    Of course you are correct. But people who commit mistakes need to blame others.

  • bc

    This was my point I made above. The OP was most definitely at fault here as you can see from the images I posted he failed to verify the city/country before confirming which is what lead to the booking in the wrong city.

  • ClareClare

    Didn’t Chris have a column in the last couple of months involving someone who actually DID save his screen-shots and send them to the offending company… and the company wouldn’t accept them as evidence?! Yet now, in this case, sending screen-shots to the company would have worked better than phoning them? Seems like you just can’t win for losing in this sort of game…

  • cowboyinbrla

    That’s not “precisely” true. Unless every text-box on the website was rigged with some sort of javascript keylogger, they can’t record “every keystroke” – most of the time, when you type into a form on a web page, nothing is sent back to the host computer until you click on a “submit” type button. It’s not impossible to do, but it’s a huge waste of bandwidth, and most sites have no reason to record all the things you type, backspace over, and correct before you hit “submit”.

  • cowboyinbrla

    I’m sorry, but this is a crock.

    Point blank: If you’ve told Priceline that you want “London, Ontario”, under NO circumstances should it assume, even on “other tabs”, that you might also want a non-refundable hotel room in a city of the same name in a completely different country on a different continent. Period.

    I mean – really: Let’s be honest. There are only three possibilities here. First, there was a coding mistake somewhere in the searching software that, when constructing the results for this “third tab”, the entered criteria (“London, Ontario”) was erroneously stripped to just “London”, which the search engine then assumed was the most popular “London”.

    The second possibility is that someone at Priceline thought that anyone who was shopping for London Ontario might be interested in going to London, England instead – so why not show him how cheap he might get to stay in England? Even if he has no airfare there or even if he was planning to drive to Ontario. Is this likely? No.

    The third possibility is that Priceline’s programmers rigged the software to do things like this, so as to hook unsuspecting users into buying non-refundable hotel rooms that they wouldn’t be able to use, and only refund them as a last resort if people complained to a travel advocate/ombudsman like Chris. I would like to THINK this isn’t the answer – I hope it’s not – but there are plenty of third-party travel vendors whose names pop up in Chris’s column regularly that I would believe would do such a thing.

  • cowboyinbrla

    Yes, but if you’ve asked Priceline to find “London Ontario” and you had two screens in a row that recognized that – why would you even THINK that it might suddenly shift to “London, England”? I’m not saying the OP wasn’t told the room was in “London, England”; I’m saying if he didn’t ask for that, and if the other screen shots showed that, in fact, he asked for London Ontario – Priceline should never have even SUGGESTED rooms in another country on another continent. I mean… really. This is a no-brainer. Princeline screwed up, and the OP didn’t catch Priceline’s screwup fast enough to please Priceline.

  • bc

    No, because you obviously didn’t ask for London ON then.

    AND Besides that…you are asked specifically to review the page and provide your initials that you accept the information above why would you think it’s okay not to read it and blindly initial the page?

  • bc

    If you really want to be “honest” here lets agree that there is a forth possibility and that is the user messed up and simply typed LONDON and didn’t indicate which city and the priceline application spit out London England as the result.

    Now, lets take a look at the four scenarios and see which is more plausible. The likely hood that this is a programming error is very small otherwise the 4 times I went out there and requested prices for London Ontario I should have seen some occurrences of London UK. The most plausible reason here is customer error PERIOD.

    For lack of any other information and in light of the fact that nobody has been able to reproduce this error it stands to reason that the simplest solution is true. This was HUMAN ERROR.

    Finally, your theory that priceline somehow rigs its system to provide erroneous results shows just how irrational you and you haven’t applied any logic to your reasoning.

  • cowboyinbrla

    BC: If the user just typed “London”, then it would seem logical – to me, at least – that the FIRST two tabs would have also shown lodging options for London, England. But they did not. They (correctly) showed London, Ontario. I can’t envision a scenario where a programming algorithm correctly guesses you mean the “less” likely answer first, but separately offers you a “best deals” tab with a similarly-named and actually more-likely name choice that was nonetheless incorrect.

    You said you went to the site and got the correct results. It’s entirely possible that between the time the initial problem was reported, and Chris began digging into it – AND, mind you, after Priceline itself said there was something wrong – they found the error and fixed it. Just because YOU can’t reproduce the error NOW doesn’t mean it didn’t produce an error THEN. I maintain a fairly complex interactive website for my company – one with hundreds of search routines and hundreds of form pages, etc – and it’s quite possible to make a mistake in coding when updating a site like that. It’s also quite possible to quickly track down such errors when they’re reported, and fix them. And passing user-entered text strings to behind-the-page search and processing routines, and parsing those passed strings, is an easy place to make such errors.

    As for my final possibility – not a “theory” as you renamed it, just an option for what COULD be an explanation – you may have missed the recent news coverage that some travel site search engines were discovered to be coded so that users who were coming to the site from Apple-brand computers received higher price quotes and were pushed towards higher-priced properties because studies had shown them that people who use Apple equipment were apparently willing to spend more money than other users. MANY people have complained about extra-cost options being “pre-checked” in very non-obvious locations to trick unwary people into picking options they don’t need to boost the company’s bottom line. If you don’t think an untrustworthy company – not saying Priceline is one – would possibly also “accidentally” show a customer a bid for a place he hadn’t chosen, hoping to pass it off as “user mistake”, then you’re naive.

  • BMG4ME

    Some flexibility would be nice, I had a situation where I booked the wrong hotel when it wasn’t really a glitch and British Airways, whom I booked through, were kind enough to refund the money. In the end the hotel I really wanted – which was not available originally, became available and I booked it again – through British Airways – so they were the beneificiaries too of their own good service.

  • bc

    You are obviously reading only what you want in this article and the news. First of all let me clarify something for you. Apple users were not receiving higher prices on hotels than non apple users. Apple users were being shown hotels that cost more vs cheaper hotels presented to PC users. For any individual hotel the website was showing the same price regardless of the operating system used to visit the site. Apple users tend to be less price conscious than PC users so they were presented higher end options. They were not being shaken down for more money on the same hotels. Get your facts straight.

    Second If you had taken a moment to actually look at the site you would see that this isn’t the matter of prechecked box to “trick”people. You have to actually use your keyboard to enter your initials to approve your bid on the room. That same sheet very clearly shows the City and COUNTRY for the hotel you’re bidding on. There is zero excuse out there to not read the page that you are initialing indicating you accept the terms and bid information. In effect this forms is telling the user, mistakes happen, please check the information before you continue. Even if there was a glitch of some sort this would have been the time to correct it, BEFORE submitting your bid. This error was 100% avoidable had the OP taken a brief moment to read what he initialed before entering his initials and clicking submit.


    Leaving conspiracy theories behind. Staying with the known information

    Two tabs showed London Ontario, the third showed London, UK. Regardless of what the OP entered, that is a scenario that should never occur.

    There is no situation by which one hotel search should produce two cities thousands of miles apart. This is obviously a priceline error due to the similarities in the names. . The only two question are whether the OP was remiss in catching priceline’s error and if so, what percentage of fault should be apportioned to the OP for failing to catch priceline’s error.

    My dispute with your analysis is that you fault the OP for her failure to catch Priceline’s error, but don’t fault Priceline for making the error in the first place. I do not understand that reasoning.

  • Because you skimmed the page for the relevant information, Location, date, price, saw London, and in your wildest imagination never imagined that after seeing two pages with the correct London, that Priceline would screw up and present the wrong London.

  • bc

    Nowhere has anyone shown or given any proof that the other two tabs were London ON, other than the OPs claim. How do we know she didn’t miss the fact it was London UK on the other two tabs if she missed it on this one?

    What we do know is, had the OP actually read the page they initialed and accepted BEFORE actually initialing and accepting it, this case would never be here. If they had checked the page before this was 100% preventable.

    I think priceline was generous to cancel the reservation and it was the right thing to do, I still feel this was a preventable mistake and should have been caught.

  • bc

    But why is it acceptable to only skim the page…if you skimmed this page for that information why is it unreasonable to assume they only skimmed the other pages for the same info.

    Nobody has proven that priceline screwed up here. Who’s to say that the other three tabs were not London UK? We do know you are asked to confirm it with initials and review on that tab which was clearly not done.

    When I make reservations I’m methodical. I check and recheck as I’m booking and sometimes I will get to the “buy” screen and check again and realize I’ve messed up. It happens. I think that’s what happened here. Otherwise there would be a flood of complaints that Priceline or whomever is booking people rooms in the wrong city.

  • Nowhere has anyone shown or given any proof that the other two tabs were London ON,
    That is incorrect. I quote

    ” It turns out you did your homework, and saved some screenshots of the erroneous tabs… ”

    “….Had an agent simply tried to recreate your booking, the glitch would have been apparent. No one did that. I.contacted Priceline on your behalf and shared your screenshots.
    Priceline agreed that its system failed to draw a distinction between
    the London in England and Canada. It promised to fix errant tabs.”

    Priceline, upon being shown the screenshots that were taken accepted responsibility.

    Given that opaque sites are not known for their generous refunds policy, we can presume that the screen shots were sufficient persuasive.

  • You may be correct. I do not know the extent of what Priceline tracks. Nevertheless, it does use what it tracks and saves to resolve some disputes.

  • judyserienagy

    If you want zero customer service, use something like Priceline, pay rock-bottom prices and don’t complain when you occasionally get ripped off. If you want some help when you make an error, use a regular booking agency and pay a little more. It’s like expecting Nordstrom service from the Dollar Store; ain’t gonna happen. Who you patronize is your choice.

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