Alva Logsdon says she felt a little safer booking her Las Vegas vacation through the Southwest Airlines website. That’s because it offered a guarantee through its partner, Booking.com, that she’d get “the best rate possible.” So when Southwest’s best price guarantee turned into something not quite so good, she turned to my magnificent advocacy team for help.
Logsdon’s story is a case study in fine print, a misadventure through the maddeningly complex process of booking travel online, and a giant neon “BUYER BEWARE” sign that could light up the sky in Sin City. There’s also a remarkably simple solution. Please tell me if you figure it out before you get to the end.
Is this the worst best price guarantee?
Logsdon booked two flights from Dallas to Las Vegas and five nights at the Excalibur Hotel & Casino. Then she started looking around to see if she could do better. (Slightly off topic, but why do people wait until after they’ve made a reservation to see if they can do better?)
“I found a better hotel rate a few minutes later and submitted screenshots and all information requested to Southwest Airlines and Booking.com,” she told me.
Southwest said it couldn’t help her and that she should take the matter up with Booking.com. And Booking.com sent her repeated emails asking for the same information, trapping her in an infinite bureaucratic loop.
“Both Southwest and Booking.com advertise a price match guarantee, but they only gave me the runaround,” she says. “I thought booking through the Southwest site protected consumers against shady business practices that are sometimes the norm for online businesses.”
Logsdon paid $443 for her fully refundable hotel reservation. She’d found a $374 rate and asked Booking.com to honor it.
“I have now spent a day and a half of my time, including late night replies, away from my other responsibilities trying to find someone to honor their advertised guarantee,” she adds. “The price difference is $68; I rounded up to $500 because of the value of my time having to deal with such lousy service and the endless cycle of emails from Booking.com asking for the same thing and the Southwest Airlines Facebook rep saying they can’t assist me.”
OK, obviously this customer is very frustrated.
What the best price guarantee says
As far as best price guarantees, the Southwest Airlines/Booking.com one is pretty standard.
“We’ve partnered with Booking.com in order to offer Customers the convenience of shopping for all of their travel needs in one place, as well as the opportunity to earn Rapid Rewards Points for qualifying stays,” it says. “When you book a hotel via SouthwestHotels.com, we want to ensure you’re receiving the best rate possible. If you find a lower rate for your reservation, you can contact the customer care team right away.”
Of course, the devil’s in the details. Among them: It can’t be a “PointsPlus” property, tied to Southwest’s loyalty program.
Logsdon’s hotel was — you guessed it! — a PointsPlus reservation.
Well, why didn’t they just say so?
This should have been easy. Someone from Booking.com or Southwest — or both — should have directed her to the rules. Case closed.
It was not.
I’m going to spare you the pages upon pages of emails and text messages between Logsdon, Booking.com and Southwest Airlines. But let me describe them to you because I think they’re instructive.
Logsdon started by contacting Southwest on Facebook. Sure enough, a representative quickly punted to Booking.com — even though the reservation was Southwest’s. Booking.com then said no, not our problem. It’s Southwest’s problem. As far as I can tell, Logsdon then returned to Southwest, which again directed her to Booking.com.
Then Booking.com said it couldn’t find her reservation. Not possible, she said and sent them her confirmation number. To which Booking.com replied:
We apologize we were not able to find your reservation in our system, even with all the information you provided to us. As we were not able to find any reservation using the name or dates provided in our joint reservation system, we called the Excalibur directly, and they advised us the reservation came through a wholesale company called Tourico, and not Booking.com.
After speaking with a Southwest Airlines representative, they advised us that Tourico is one of their wholesale sources for Rocketmiles reservations, and apologized that they previously misguided you to contact our customer service team instead.
We then spoke with Henry at Rocketmiles Customer Service, and he let us know that you had already been in touch with them regarding your We Price Match claim. He requested that if you had any further questions or concerns related to this claim, to reach out to them directly at [number redacted] and they will gladly assist you further.
Say what? There’s a third company involved in this reservation?
Remember, Logsdon doesn’t know — because no one has told her yet — that her reservation does not qualify for the best price guarantee. If I didn’t know any better, I would say bouncing customers around like this is becoming a sport for these travel companies.
Fixing the worst price guarantee
If you’ve been following this drama, you probably already know what needs to happen and how to fix it. But before I get to that, let’s lay out a few lessons we’ve learned.
Best price guarantees are not worth the HTML they’re coded on. Even the most reputable companies in travel, and I would consider Booking and Southwest to be among them, have terms that make it too easy for them to avoid making good on their digital promises.
I’ve been writing about these best price guarantees for decades. They are all the same, by which I mean, they’re meaningless.
However, if you’re going to invoke a best price guarantee, you’d better make damn sure you qualify. Logsdon could have done that by reading the guarantee and reviewing her reservation. She could have saved herself a lot of pain and suffering.
So we told her she didn’t have a case. And did you guess the solution yet? I’m sure you did. When she contacted our advocacy team, we advised her to cancel her hotel reservation for a full refund, which she can do, and find a less expensive hotel.