Is this enough compensation? Priceline refunds me $1 for overpriced hotel

Sometimes a best-price guarantee just isn’t worth the trouble. That’s what Lynne Fukumoto thought after trying to make a claim on a Priceline “Name Your Own Price” hotel room recently.

“I ended up with a room at the Ala Moana Hotel for $120 a night,” she says.

That’s the Ala Moana Hotel – Honolulu, a nice little property in Waikiki, and part of the terrific Outrigger Hotel chain, for your reference.

“I had never heard of this hotel and went to its website where rooms were advertised for $119 per night,” she says.

Indeed, when I visited the Ala Moana website, it prominently mentioned its $119 per night room rate.

Fortunately, Priceline has a best price guarantee. Fukumoto decided to make a claim.

When I called Priceline immediately to notify them of this problem I was given the runaround and ultimately credited the
difference of $1.

However, I have learned that there is a policy in place where if you find a better rate in 24 hours you can either cancel the reservation (which I asked repeatedly to do) or be refunded the difference. I have tried unsuccessfully to contact Priceline to complain and have gone so far as to file a Better Business Bureau complaint against Priceline.

All I want at this point is to have my reservation cancelled and my money back. Can you help?

Fukumoto’s claim is actually covered by two guarantees. The first is the best price guarantee, which I’ve already mentioned. The second is Priceline’s Big Deal Guarantee.

I’m not going to try to decipher both guarantees here. Like all other corporate guarantees, they’re written by lawyers and polished by marketers to make you think you’re protected if you find a lower price. But many consumers know better. Most don’t even bother with a claim, because they suspect they’ll get snagged on the fine print, like Fukumoto.

Of course, Fukumoto could have done more research before naming her price on a Waikiki hotel. Had she checked a few of the other sites, she might have come in with a lower bid and saved lots of money. I suspect she could have found a hotel in the area that would have gladly accepted a bid at 30 to 40 percent below what she paid. That kind of deal would make even The Negotiator smile.

Still, I thought this was an excellent opportunity for Priceline to honor the spirit in which the guarantees had been made. So I reached out to the company.

“That’s not what the guarantee says,” a representative replied. “It says WE (the caps are mine) will either refund the difference or work to cancel the reservation. This claim was handled correctly.”

He’s right. The claim appears to have been handled correctly. But did Priceline do the right thing? Is a $1 refund really worth it?

Interestingly, another online travel agency — not Priceline — is making a big deal about its automated refund system. It’s running commercials featuring customers who received refund checks.

While this is admirable, it’s also kind of sad. If a best-price guarantee worked, you’d have customers taking it up online, telling their friends how great it is. You wouldn’t have to work hard to find people who have taken advantage of the guarantee, nor would you need to create an ad campaign around them.

This case had a happy ending, though.

Fukumoto took the matter up with Outrigger. She explains:

Based on Outrigger’s intervention on my behalf I was able to cancel the reservation due to “extenuating circumstances.” Ironically, I received another message from Priceline’s corporate headquarters, stating that my reservation could not be canceled, after it had already been canceled.

(Photo: celestria/Flickr)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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