Nikolay Lesko’s credit card statement didn’t make sense. It showed charges from Priceline for four air tickets. But he had only booked two tickets, for himself and his wife. Then the airline voided both tickets, forcing the Leskos to pay for two new tickets. Lesko filed a chargeback dispute for two of the ticket charges, which he lost. And nobody could tell him what had caused the Priceline error.
Lesko’s case is a complex story of an online booking gone wrong, compounded by pushback from the travel agent. It’s a reminder that the three P’s of consumer advocacy are your best friends throughout a case. A company may not give a helpful response to a consumer’s help request. But like Lesko, by not giving up, that consumer may ultimately prevail.
Are these holds or pending charges?
Lesko used Priceline to book two round-trip tickets from New York to Vinnitsa, Ukraine, via Kiev on Ukraine International Airlines. His wife, Anzhela, would fly to Ukraine two weeks ahead of Lesko, and they would return together on the same flight.
The Leskos received email confirmations from Priceline which showed two round-trip tickets for $867 apiece. But four $867 charges, not two, appeared on Lesko’s credit card statement.
A Priceline representative told Lesko that the two extra charges were “holds” and not final charges.
Priceline also informed Lesko that its reservations system contained no duplicate charges for the tickets. The agent instructed him to resolve the problem directly with the credit card issuer. Lesko then called his credit card company, which agreed that none of the charges were “holds” or “pending charges.” It corrected the Priceline error by reversing two of the charges.
Because of the Priceline error, she couldn’t fly
Then the Leskos received an email from Priceline indicating that Ukraine International Airlines had notified Priceline that “one or more of [their] flights are cancelled.” Ukraine International Airlines pointed its finger at Priceline, indicating that the notice was erroneous. Priceline assured Lesko that “all was in order” with his and his wife’s reservations.
The day before Anzhela Lesko was scheduled to depart, she received an email from Ukraine International Airlines advising her that she could check in online. But Anzhela couldn’t complete the online check-in process. Both Priceline and Ukraine International Airlines advised Anzhela to check in at the airport. But the airline’s agents at the airport told Anzhela that her confirmation code and ticket were now void. They instructed her to call Priceline. Yet nobody at Priceline could provide any explanations that made sense. The airline representatives told Anzhela that she would have to pay the walk-up fare of $2,284 for a new ticket.
Nikolay Lasko promptly contacted both Priceline and Ukraine International Airlines about his own reservation. Both Priceline and the airline assured him that his reservation was still intact. He too received an email from the airline advising him that he could check in online. But, like Anzhela, he was unable to do so. And like his wife, at the airport he found that his reservation was void. He had to pay $2,037 for a new ticket for himself.
A chargeback dispute failure
Lasko then wrote to Priceline to request a refund for his unused tickets. A Priceline travel support team member replied that the travel agency could not process Lasko’s refund request.
According to the travel support team member, Priceline had not “double-charged” the Laskos for their original tickets. Two of the charges were “pending charges” that would have “fallen off” within three to five business days:
Ukraine International Airlines refunded the tickets because they received a chargeback from your bank, but they left the flights active. We did not touch your reservation; that is why the itinerary stays active on our end but are [sic] invalid because [your] tickets were refunded…
But the extra two charges had never “fallen off.” And neither itinerary was “active” when the Laskos tried to check in.
Lasko then used our Priceline executive contacts to request assistance from its customer service. Unfortunately, this was one instance in which our executive contacts were not helpful. He received no response from any of the persons listed.
At this point, Lasko initiated a chargeback dispute with his credit card company for the tickets he purchased from Priceline. But the credit card issuer resolved the chargeback dispute in favor of Priceline. The travel agency responded that “the merchant [Priceline] provided proof evidencing that by making purchase … online you have agreed [to] their terms and conditions that they do not have refund policy [sic].”
Unfortunately for Lasko, Priceline’s terms and conditions state that “Priceline.com does not agree to act as your agent or fiduciary in providing services through the Site.” They also contain a boilerplate provision in which customers agree to a travel provider’s own terms and conditions of purchase.
Pushback from Priceline
Lasko then asked us for help in resolving his complaint. Our advocate, Dwayne Coward, asked Priceline to look into his case.
Our contact at Priceline initially reiterated that the first set of charges on Lasko’s credit card statement were a “hold.” The true cost of his airfares were still “pending charges” at that time, according to the contact. But when Lasko initiated his chargeback dispute, the bank challenged the second, “true” set of charges. This left the Laskos without tickets. The Priceline contact claimed that this was not technically a “Priceline error.” But he agreed to a refund of the price difference between the two sets of tickets.
Dwayne disagreed with the Priceline contact:
[There] are two problems with this theory. The first being if any of the amounts were just an authorization hold, it would not have shown up as a charge on his end of cycle statement, … Second, there are four different ticket numbers associated with these charges.
He also asked Lasko for copies of his dispute resolution letters from his credit card company. After further investigation, the Priceline contact then agreed to refund Lasko $2,587. Lasko told the contact that he was pleased with the outcome.
The contact still couldn’t explain how the problem had originated. But he acknowledged that the Priceline error was his company’s responsibility: “Nonetheless, we refunded him in full because the cancellation of his original flights set this whole chain into motion, so the responsibility is ours to fix this.”
Some important takeaways
Lasko’s case has some important takeaways: Even if a travel agent’s terms and conditions disclaim responsibility for helping you, it still shouldn’t charge you for its booking errors. And consider booking trips directly with a travel company rather than through a third-party website.
Also, don’t be discouraged if a company doesn’t immediately resolve a help request in your favor. It can require multiple contacts via different channels for a company to assist you. And even if its executive contacts give you the silent treatment, we won’t. Our advocates are here for you.