I reserved two cars, but I picked up the wrong one

Photo of author

By Christopher Elliott

KC Egan reserved two cars on Priceline for the same time. She prepaid for one. The other was a simple, fully cancelable reservation.

She picked up the wrong car and now she wants me to help her get a refund for the other one.

Unfortunately, this is a case where I can’t help Egan, but maybe I can help you by preventing a car rental mixup like this from happening in the future.

The teachable moment isn’t something as obvious as, “Pick up the right car.” It’s more of a reminder about making only the number of reservations you need and paying attention to your incoming emails.

Egan rented a car for a week in July through Alamo with a pickup at Oakland airport, and prepaid $335 for it. She also made a fully cancelable reservation through Budget, with an estimated price of $289. It isn’t clear why she chose to prepay a higher rate, but both she and Priceline agree that she had two reservations.

“When the time came for the car pickup in July, I received four reminder emails from Priceline reminding me of my reservation with Budget, not Alamo,” says Egan. “When I arrived at the airport, I looked at the most recent e-mails from Priceline and went to the Budget counter where I unknowingly picked up the wrong car.”

Egan figured out she’d been billed for both cars when she returned home. She assumed Priceline would quickly reimburse her for the one she didn’t use. But it didn’t.

Have you checked the spam folder?

“I called customer service four times, and every person I talked to had no idea what I was talking about and spent more time trying to pronounce my name correctly than finding a resolution,” she says.

Cavalry Elite Travel Insurance takes the worry out of travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at Cavalrytravelinsurance.com

OK, how hard can it be to pronounce “Egan”?

“Why didn’t Priceline send me four reminder e-mails to pick up the car I had prepaid in the amount of $335?” she says.

Good question. I asked to see the email thread with her and Priceline, and the company asked her if she’d bothered to check her spam folder. Wouldn’t you know it, Priceline had sent her an email about the Alamo reservation.

This is as good a time as any to remind all of you who rent cars infrequently that confirming the vehicle is your responsibility. If you’re dealing with an online travel agency like Expedia, you’ll probably be dealing with a machine more often than not. You will be receiving canned statements such as, “If the email is not in your Inbox. Kindly check your spam folder.” (Related: Oh no, my Audi needs a new engine.)

You should really make only one reservation

Beyond that, you should really make only one reservation. If you start by making a nonrefundable reservation, you’re stuck. Priceline’s agreement with Alamo says “no refunds.” So if Priceline were to refund her $335, it would come out of Priceline’s pocket. (Here’s how to fix your own consumer problem.)

While I sympathize with Egan, I can’t bring myself to ask Priceline to cough up a refund.

But I’m also not a fan of a system that makes everything the consumer’s fault. I mean, why can’t Priceline figure out a way to ferret out double bookings like the one Egan made? Why can’t it find a way to make sure she got the message? Perhaps by sending an email that requires acknowledgement or triggers a phone call if not acknowledged? And I’m really not comfortable with her having to pay for a car she never used. It was probably rented to someone else.

In other words, Priceline is both right — and wrong. And there’s nothing I can do about it.

Should Priceline have refunded one of Egan's cars?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...
Photo of author

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

Related Posts