Downgraded on my Priceline flight

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By Christopher Elliott

Douglas Bentele thought he lucked out when he scored two business class tickets to Paris for just $1,400 each. But now Priceline has bad news for him: He’s actually been downgraded to economy class. Can this be fixed?

Question

Earlier this year, I bought two round-trip business class tickets from St. Louis to Paris for my wife and daughter using Priceline. In May, the company sent an itinerary change, changing everything to coach.

Priceline has given many different explanations, none of which has jibed with the others. First, it blamed the airlines. Only when the company learned that I still have the original emailed confirmation and I assured them that I keep impeccable records did it say this was a “screen error” and I never was booked in business class.

Well, either way, I purchased tickets from Priceline based on what its website showed me: business class seats at $1,400 each. I know this is a great deal. But understand, it was right on the heels of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, so it is not so far out of logic to assume there weren’t many people buying tickets to Paris at that time.

A “screen error” doesn’t explain Priceline’s entire system sending me confirmations of business class tickets and then the company having to change the itinerary months later.

Priceline offered a fare for a class on its system for which I gave it money. I expect Priceline to honor it. Can you help? — Douglas Bentele, Chesterfield, Missouri

Answer

If Priceline sold you business class tickets to Paris, it should have delivered them. But hang on: A look at Priceline’s site suggests it didn’t, or shouldn’t, have given you those tickets.

The company’s “Name Your Own Price” feature, which you used to bid on your tickets, clearly says: “All tickets will be issued for Economy class only.” (Here’s the fine print.)

Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

I checked with Priceline, and it admits it goofed. Or, more specifically, one of its airline partners goofed. (Related: A $10 voucher for a filthy hotel room.)

“Due to a display error that occurred during the ongoing American Airlines/US Airways merger work, Mr. Bentele’s confirmation notice inaccurately showed business class, when he was actually bidding on — and got — an economy ticket,” says Brian Ek, a Priceline spokesman. “The error was subsequently corrected.”

This is a little bit like going to a hamburger joint and finding steak on the menu at hamburger prices. When you don’t get your steak, you have every right to be upset. But that doesn’t change the fact that you’re still at a hamburger stand. Priceline is the hamburger stand.

You could have appealed this to Priceline. I list the names and numbers of the company’s top executives on my site. But since this was a mistake by an airline, I’m not sure what they could have done to fix this. (Related: Look before you book on Priceline.)

Priceline offered to refund your tickets, but that didn’t sit well with you, or me. You contacted Priceline and reminded it that the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act statutes stipulate that no business may amend, change or modify any contract with the use of fine print.

Priceline agreed to pay for your entire flight, albeit in economy class.

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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. He is based in Rio de Janeiro.

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