Avis refused to give me a car, even with my prepaid receipt from Priceline

Catherine Diviney prepays Priceline for a name-your-own-price car rental from Avis. When she tries to pick up the car, Avis won’t release it to her because she only has a debit card. And Priceline won’t refund her money. Can our advocates help her get her money back?

Question: I made a rental car reservation using Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” option. I prepaid $446 for a rental through Avis. When I made the reservation, the only requirement was that I would have to present a valid credit or debit card in my name for the security deposit.

During the booking process, I indicated that I was a local renter and would use a debit card for the security deposit. When I went to get the car, Avis wouldn’t release the car to me because I had a debit card. I was told there had been a recent policy change and that this Avis location would accept debit cards only with a round-trip airline ticket.

Avis canceled my reservation and confirmed that it would not request payment from Priceline. Avis acknowledged the debit card policy change and didn’t dispute that a refund is due. I immediately called Priceline and it didn’t even try to find another rental for me. I requested a refund, and Priceline refused because the “Name Your Own Price” deals are not regular rentals and are not refundable.

I contacted my bank and was told that if I didn’t receive the car, I was entitled to a full refund. The bank’s agent recommended a chargeback, so I initiated a dispute. The bank subsequently closed the dispute based on Priceline’s statement that the rental wasn’t refundable. I had to cancel my travel plans because I didn’t have a car and Priceline wouldn’t refund the money I needed to rent another car. Can you help me get my money back from Priceline? — Catherine Diviney, Cumberland, Maine.

Answer: How frustrating. You did everything right when you made your reservation through Priceline. You read the terms and conditions and made sure that you could use a debit card for the security deposit.

The problem arose when Avis changed its policy after you made the nonrefundable reservation through Priceline. It seems that Avis failed to honor its agreement with Priceline by requiring you to meet the normal rental terms instead of the negotiated terms.

But this wasn’t a normal rental. You paid Priceline a fixed amount in advance to rent a car from Avis. You didn’t rent directly from Avis, and you didn’t pay Avis.

Priceline would have paid Avis the negotiated rate for your rental. If Avis hadn’t canceled the reservation and Priceline had paid Avis, Avis wouldn’t issue a refund to you because it would have been paid by Priceline, not you. The only good thing that happened is that Avis canceled your reservation and didn’t try to collect from Priceline.

Once you contacted Priceline while at the rental agency, the representative should have worked this out with Avis, its partner. Priceline should have found you another car rental company or refunded your money right away. Priceline represents that the reason to book through it is that if you need help, it’s there “for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.” What good is Priceline being there for you 24/7 if it doesn’t do anything for you — and keeps your money?

At first, you communicated with Priceline by phone. You didn’t start a paper trail with Priceline immediately after Avis refused to honor your reservation, because you “didn’t expect any issues.” Next, you communicated with Priceline via its online chat function. It’s easier to create a paper trail with email communications. Priceline’s help center gives you the option of contacting it by phone, chat or email. You could have begun by contacting Priceline via email through its help center. If you weren’t able to resolve the issue, you could have escalated your complaint by contacting Priceline’s executives for help. We list executive contact information for Priceline on our website. And, you could have posted your question to our help forums. Our help forums are staffed by travel industry experts, who may have had helpful suggestions about how to address this issue with Priceline.

Our advocates contacted Priceline on your behalf. Priceline reviewed your case again, and agreed that you were due a refund.

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