Look before you book on Priceline

John Lancer recently placed a bid with Priceline for a room in a specific area of Georgia, but the order that went through didn’t come close to meeting Lancer’s expectations and he requested a refund in order to book the right room. So why did Priceline balk at his request?

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Question: I’m a frequent Priceline user and love its services. But I had a technical issue with the Priceline website bidding that resulted in the booking of a room at an inferior star level and in a section of town I did not select.

I recently bid on a room in the Fulton-Gwinnett area of Georgia. As soon as the order went through, I saw that it was not what I had selected on the bidding page. I contacted Priceline to correct the error and asked it to reverse the charges so that I could book the right room.

I thought this was a reasonable request, since the website made the error, not me. Priceline has given me the runaround. The company has not refunded all of my money. What can I do? — John Lancer, Warner Robins, Ga.

Answer: Priceline should have booked a room in the neighborhood you specified and at the star rating you requested.

You used Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” service, which allows you to bid on a hotel in a particular area and with a specified set of amenities. All purchases are completely non-refundable.

You allege that you bid on a hotel in one part of the Fulton-Gwinnett area, but that Priceline moved you to a different area when you rebid. You also say Priceline changed the star rating.

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Unfortunately, Priceline’s system gets a little tricky when your first bid isn’t accepted. From personal experience, I can tell you that the system comes back to you and asks you to change some of the parameters when you rebid. I’ve also spoken to customers who claim that the system automatically will change the specifications, and that you have to review the details of your next bid carefully. Otherwise, you might bid on a hotel room you don’t want.

Adding a layer of complexity to your case: You bid on a hotel that had three stars, but received one that was rated lower on other ratings systems. (That’s not star inflation, which we’ve dealt with in this column before. The system apparently selected the wrong rating for you.)

You tried going through the right process to get this fixed. You immediately asked Priceline to address this in a phone call. You wrote to the company. You called the Better Business Bureau. Nothing worked.

I list the names and numbers of Priceline’s top executives on my site. You might have tried them, too. But as I reviewed the back-and-forth between you and the company, I came away with the impression that its answer would not change.

I contacted Priceline on your behalf. The company reviewed your case, and I have some happy news to report: “After speaking with Mr. Lancer, we are canceling his purchase and issuing a refund so he can make a replacement reservation at a star level that more closely meets his expectations,” a spokesman told me.

Next time, be sure to look before you book.