When ‘Should I Take The Case?’ becomes ‘Should I Have Taken The Case?’

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By Christopher Elliott

I love it when a company beats me to it.

Like when Scott Ho contacted me about his problem with Priceline recently. He was trying to book the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, but clicked on the button for the Loews Coronado Bay Resort, instead. He wanted to fix it, but Priceline wouldn’t budge.

Before I get involved in a case, I ask the reader to send me a paper trail of correspondence with the company. It’s a necessary step, because it ensures the company has the chance to fully address the problem before escalating it to an advocate.

And, well, before I could ask if this was a case worth accepting, Priceline fixed it. But it took a little prodding.

Turning the tide

When Ho first contacted me, Priceline was being intransigent.

“I am trying to take my son to experience the beach and sand for the very first time and would never knowingly book the Loews,” he says. “I tried to reason with Priceline to cancel or change the hotel, to no avail. This is very frustrating customer service. Is there nothing I can do? I really felt cheated and deceived.”

Actually, there is something he can do. At this point, I knew very little about his reservation. Was it Priceline’s notorious “name-your-own-price” service? Or was it a regular agency booking? I needed to find out.

So I sent Ho my standard response, which says I need to see the written evidence that you tried to fix this — the emails between you and Priceline. I also referred him to my Priceline executive contacts.

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The response? A big surprise, actually.

“After submitting an email to Priceline, I got a phone call from them and was asked to wait on the phone for 10 minutes while they made contact to see if cancellation was possible,” he says. “After waiting on the phone for 10 minutes, the reservation was canceled.”

Well, how about that? Nice going, Priceline.

Navigating shades of grey

If Priceline hadn’t helped, my advocacy team and I would have reviewed the paperwork and then made a decision. If Ho’s booking was a traditional agency reservation, and the hangup was a “nonrefundable” room policy, it would have been easier than an opaque booking. Those are really tough. (Related: Downgraded on my Priceline flight.)

So I guess today’s question isn’t “Should I take Ho’s case?” but “Should I have taken Ho’s case?” I think I know the answer, but then again, I might be surprised. And I love surprises — especially good ones. (Here’s our guide to resolving your consumer problem.)

A lot of readers think consumer transactions are always a black-and-white issue. If you’re right, you can get a refund or you can have your warranty honored. If you’re wrong, you walk away with nothing. But what they don’t seem to understand is that people who set these policies and rules can be bent. Sometimes, they should be bent. This was one of those cases.

I don’t want to overlook what Priceline did here. It appears to have advocated on behalf of one of its customers, which is exactly what you would expect a travel agent to do. All he needed was a little encouragement to put his request in writing, which he did. If only every case were this easy.

Should I have taken Scott Ho's case?

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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.

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