Whatever happened to mercy?

Duncan Addison/Shutterstock
Duncan Addison/Shutterstock

It’s not a word you hear very often in business. It’s something Tami Alloway desperately needed when she contacted Priceline recently to cancel a nonrefundable reservation at the Hawthorn Suites in Charleston.

Alloway, a nurse from Kansas City, had every intention of honoring the reservation when she made it last summer. But then something happened.

“Totally unexpectedly, my sister’s children were removed from their home and taken into state custody,” she told me. “I was awarded foster care for all three of them and they have been with me since then.”

Her sister’s kids will be with her until the end of the school year. Which brings us to that hotel reservation in South Carolina. In order to find the best price, Alloway clicked on Priceline.com, a site with great rates but super-strict refundability rules.

Alloway couldn’t take the kids out of school, so she had to cancel her reservation. But there’s just one problem — her reservation wasn’t cancel-able.

“I was told there is no refund, even under extreme situations,” she says. “I’ve spoken to upper management and emailed the executive offices, but their response is that the policy states that I am not allowed to change or cancel my reservation and will still be charged the full reservation amount.”

Alloway can’t afford that.

“My finances have been greatly affected by accepting the foster role, because I am family foster care, not a licensed foster care provider, so I receive very minimal financial support from the state system. The bill for the week for the hotel room is $772, and I can’t afford another $800 on top of the expenditures I have incurred from caring for the children,” she says. “Can you help me to get Priceline to reconsider and allow me to cancel my reservation due to extreme extenuating circumstances?”

At about this time in the story, half the readers are probably saying: “Serves her right for booking her hotel on Priceline.” And the other half: “She deserves a break. Go help her, Chris!”

Enabling ignorant consumers?

For the last few months, my site has been under almost constant attack from a small group of readers who want to end my consumer advocacy practice. They lurk on blogs and forums for frequent travelers and lash out at me whenever I persuade a company to bend a rule for a customer who is down on her luck, like Alloway.

They believe that by helping customers in need, I’m not only perpetuating the ignorance of consumers, I’m also engaged in a kind of high-tech extortion. Just the act of contacting a company is an implied threat, they say. A company has no choice but to bend over unless it wants bad publicity.

But the truth is far more complicated. These know-it-alls don’t really care about the companies, and they care even less about you, the consumer. Instead, they’re boiling mad at me for calling them out for their morally bankrupt behavior, like churning the balance on their credit cards to generate more miles, booking mistake fares and spending their employers’ money for “mileage runs” designed to maintain their elite status with an airline or hotel.

They believe the fastest way to shut me up is with an endless barrage of angry personal attacks and to claim what I’m doing — helping consumers — is unethical.

One day, maybe you’ll want a rule bent

Actually, they aren’t alone. A larger “rules are rules” crowd is aligned with this tiny group of extreme, entitled elite-level customers who troll the comments on my site. It’s comprised of travel industry employees, lawyers and by-the-book consumers who just think it’s unfair that someone like me might consider jumping in and helping Alloway, or someone like her.

They like the fact that there’s someone to help advocate for consumers in real need, but what part of nonrefundable didn’t Alloway understand, they would ask. And they would be right — she prepaid for her hotel room knowing full well there would be no refund under any circumstances.

I understand their arguments, but I don’t agree with them. My mission isn’t to protect a hotel company’s revenue by ensuring it gets Alloway’s money. It isn’t even to ensure that the travel industry is fair, which, by the way, is an impossible task.

My mission is to help travelers in need.

You may not think Alloway deserves to have a refundability rule waived for her, but one day you might find yourself in a similar predicament. You might have made a reservation with every intention of using it, and maybe you didn’t buy a travel insurance policy and then something happened and you had to change your plans.

You never know.

Do you really want me to be the guy to tell you: I can’t help? Do you want me to refuse to do anything because it wouldn’t be fair to everyone else?

Time to get busy

I didn’t think twice about coming to Alloway’s aid, even though I knew the haters and the rule-obsessed readers would protest. I asked Priceline if it could take another a look at her case. My exact words to the company, if you must know, were as non-threatening as I could manage: “just passing this one along,” I said, asking a company rep what I should tell Alloway.

My Priceline contact, who I’ve known for years and has never had a problem telling me “no” — ever — responded quickly. He said the online agency had contacted the hotel and advocated on its customers’ behalf.

She would not be charged for her hotel.

“I am so thankful for the assistance you provided,” Alloway said, when informed of the refund. “I can’t believe it was resolved so quickly, and I know it is due to your skill in working as an advocate for consumers. The resolution of being able to have the reservation canceled so quickly far exceeded my expectations.”

I would only correct her on one small point: I wouldn’t attribute it to my skill, but to the compassion of the folks at Priceline, who pushed the hotel for the refund. Also, maybe a hat tip to a quality my family complains about regularly: my unyielding obstinacy, which makes my critics so easy to ignore.

Let me add one thing: To those of you who think I should be lecturing to consumers that non-refundable means non-refundable and who cry foul when I help a customer in need, I say: try a little mercy. Because what goes around comes around.

And to those of you trying to silence one of the last remaining consumer advocates in this industry because you don’t want anyone to know the truth about your own ethically-challenged behavior, I say: You ought to be ashamed of yourselves.

Should Priceline have helped Tami Alloway get a refund?

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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 chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • http://thestockhome.com/ Josh S

    I agree — Rules ARE Rules.

    But there is always some situation, some reason, that calls for compassion that extends beyond the ‘rules’. Most often, IMO, that kind of compassion (or Mercy, as Chris calls it) is found in situations where the relationship is personal and accountable. That is, it’s not just someone trying to take advantage of someone else.

    This is the same sentiment that applies to people who take advantage of every loophole in the rules that they can find. Whether it’s tax avoidance (the legal kind — *NOT* tax Evasion, which is the illegal kind), churning credit cards for miles, or anything else.

    Really, it comes down to the question, “If everyone in this situation took this action/got this result, what would the outcome be?” If everyone who had to cancel a prepaid hotel reservation because of unexpected, unforeseeable foster kids was given a break, that would be a total of about 3 people. Ever. So really, there’s no real harm in making the exception.

    But if the company wants to abide by their policies, they are well within their rights to do so, and I wouldn’t really fault them, though I would wonder if they had any compassion.

  • technomage1

    Leaving the question of mercy aside, I poked around on the hawthorn website and found the rates per night to be really close (and in some cases less) than what she would’ve paid on Priceline. Also, you can cancel up to 4 pm on the day of check in. So, this leads me to wonder why Priceline was so inflexible as the property itself is not.

    Honestly, over the last couple of years I’ve found it’s usually better and very close in price just to book on the hotels website instead of using an online agency. You get better treatment at the property and they’re much more flexible. The online agencies are great to use as a search engine but that’s about it.

  • Oliver M.

    I agree that there are situations that may warrant “mercy” and that doing the right thing in those situations is entirely voluntary. However, the frequency or indeed infrequency of such events is misrepresented here. If you purchase iron-clad no-refunds-under-any-circumstances airline tickets as part of a surprise honeymoon getaway to the Maldives, and your new spouse dies as a result of an allergic reaction precipitated by food served at the wedding reception, a compassionate airline might work with you to process refunds. Therein lies the rub: given the possibility of abuse by customers and a virtually boundless realm of extreme circumstances, the choice then becomes one of establishing compassion as a cost of doing business with intangible returns at one extreme, and instituting draconian measures demanding burdensome proof from customers on the other end of the spectrum. Many companies decide just where to be on that continuum for their own reasons. My point here is that Chris’ article sounds awfully defensive and paints big groups of people with one large brush. I agree with the assertion that organizing behind the legal protection of the corporation does not absolve you of being a decent human being. Unfortunately, as always, the devil is in the details. Is it beyond the realm of possibility that because Chris has a relationship with Priceline or its employees, and that since he has established a precedent wherein he only intervenes where intervention is warranted, the risk of being scammed on Priceline’s end took a dive, and potential transaction costs of verifying the customer’s situation were shifted to him? Priceline was more than happy to issue a refund, but to ask the question “Why didn’t they do the right thing from the beginning?” after such an interaction strikes me as intellectually dishonest.

  • TonyA_says

    A perfect story for Easter Sunday. Now, is there any way we can help folks make better decisions so they can avoid such problems?

  • bodega3

    I will play the bad guy and say that if she couldn’t afford to lose the nonrefundable hotel stay, she shouldn’t have booked it, period! There are rates that aren’t nonrefundable for so little more that taking your time to do this just keeps people from paying attention to the terms and conditons as rules mean nothing anymore.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CarverFarrow Carver Clark Farrow

    I totally get where Chris is coming from. There are many folks who rabidly stick to the rules are rules mantra, showing neither compassion nor mercy. Josh said it best, in that we should look to the impact that extending mercy in a given case would have. I totally get why “I’m too sick to travel, no longer works” It so easy to abuse.

    The OPs circumstances are so unusual, so unforeseeable, that Priceline was right in making an exception to the rules.

  • Dutchess

    Mercy ended when everyone came out of the woodwork with bad excuses on why they should be the exception and asking for special circumstances waivers. If a company constantly waived the non-refundable policy for every excuse presented, what would be the point of a non-refundable rate?

    If the tides were turned and the hotel canceled your reservation without your consent, giving you some excuse that forced you to stay someplace else and cost you more money you would expect the hotel to honor their part of the bargain, in fact most people would ask the hotel to cover the additional cost of the new room. So, why is it so hard for you to expect them to hold you to the same standard?

  • Dutchess

    So, what exactly is this standard of unusualness? Who gets to decide it? Also, why should we expect the hotel or travel agency to honor their side of an agreement while we get off so easy? The double standard here is huge.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CarverFarrow Carver Clark Farrow

    If I were to argue your position I certainly wouldn’t submit a position that relies upon the supposition that determining whether a circumstance is unusual or not is a particularly difficult task. Simply let common sense guide you and you will succeed.

    Getting off easy? Let’s see, the OP suddenly become a foster parent, not by choice, but by circumstances to three, almost certainly, high needs children, her finances have taken a plunge because of this. I’m not seeing the “get off easy” side of this.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CarverFarrow Carver Clark Farrow

    The short answer is that the is a huge inequity between the power and position of business as opposed to consumers. That’s why we have consumer protections laws, not merchant protection laws. To compare the consumer with the merchant is an unwise comparison.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CarverFarrow Carver Clark Farrow

    A thought. I am assuming that when she booked the room, the risk of loss reasonably fit within her risk tolerance, Had she simply been unable to take the trip then she would just be SOL and moved on with life However, now her circumstances have changed radically. Money is infinitely tighter. For me its important that this was unexpected and not a result of a poor choice or poor planning by the OP

    Now, if she books something today, knowing that she cannot afford to lose the money, that would be a different scenario for me and I would call that irresponsible.

  • http://flyicarusfly.com/ Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Hmmm. A thought provoking post, Chris. Halfway down, I was already mentally formulating my comment – she’s probably already paid for the reservation so she’s actually saving the travel costs, who books a non-refundable that long in advance, etc. – but by the end, I’m glad you helped her out. I’m not in either camp – rules-obsessed or anti-consumer – I think I’m more in the “cynical” camp. So many times, consumers have demanded far more than they’re entitled to, or the amazing supersleuth readers have dug up something online that shows the consumer didn’t provide you with the full story.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ElisaTammela Elisa Tammela

    Correct. But then, we all want the best prices, and those best prices only happen because the rooms are non-refundable. I’m honestly getting a bit tired of how many articles are the same basic story. Sure, every story has a good excuse and we’ll all need the tissues. But they all end up the same line: I want a refund because I’m more special than the rules allow.

  • Molly

    May you be judged as you have judged others.

  • Mike Coffey

    I think the root cause here can be summarized in one sentence: No one wants to be the chump. The people who follow the “rules” don’t want to be chumps when people who don’t are absolved from the consequences that should have followed.

    When people forego the mileage runs and whatnot, then see their friends/co-workers doing it without repercussions, they feel like chumps.

    When people buy travel insurance and otherwise mitigate the potential risks their purchases carry, then see people who didn’t do those things get refunds and other relief from their situations, they feel like chumps.

    Chris, I’m a huge fan and want you to keep doing what you’re doing. And I don’t believe for a second Ms. Alloway is in anything but an awful situation. I’m just pointing out the people who are following the “rules” wonder why they should bother when folks who didn’t get the same relief even though they didn’t take the same steps. It’s like the ant coming home to find the grasshopper curled up in front of the fire with plenty of food to eat.

  • MortarMagnet

    Chris, I think you did the right thing. Kudos. In this nation (the U.S.) we love to put so much emphasis on family and taking care of children, but when it comes to actually assisting someone to do so, or bending a rule to help someone out who is trying to do so, we fuss and fidget, and revel in the pain of others. It’s clear this woman was not trying to pull a fast one and was in genuine distress over the amount of money.

    It’s funny you should mention the type of individuals that you did. I had a bit of a run-in with one on a CNN comment section months ago, who began frothing at the mouth and went apoplectic when I mentioned your name and quoted something you had said. These morally and ethically corrupt individuals have yet to understand that the universe does not revolve around them and their little sphere of influence, yet they would crush anyone and hold anyone’s feet to the fire so long as it suits their purpose and conceals their deeds. This is the ype of individual who believes in trial by the media and convicts in a jury trial just to get home in time to watch their soap opera. As you so aptly put it: “shame on them.”

  • Boomer Traveler

    Mercy is an admirable trait and a worthy approach on a personal and a business level, but like any good thing it can be misapplied. I admire your assistance in this case, Chris, as this is certainly an exceptional circumstance.

    But I wonder about the precedent you have set and perhaps the “Pandora’s Box” you may have opened. What if ….

    – I was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Does it have to rare in order for a refund? Or maybe for me to have only a few months left.
    – Two weeks before I was laid off and “cannot afford” the trip.
    – A family emergency arose and I have to make alternate plans.

    In other words, where does it end? I confess that I do not know. What I HAVE done for our travel is to avoid the non-refundables where unless the discount is steep. And if I purchase the non-refundable (or a product with a high change fee), I accept the risk associated with the purchase, knowing that an unforeseen event may “do me in” (or buy insurance).

    And example of this occurred when we unexpectedly decided to move to another state for a better job/climate. We had INTENTIONALLY booked a vacation using Southwest so we could change flights without penalty. We also had another trip that year booked with United. We re-routed the Southwest flight to do the trip we had planned with United – no problem. Then I called United, explained the move, and asked for grace (“mercy”) in applying the airfare elsewhere which they granted for just the difference in fare. Bottom line, even though United worked with me, I knew going in that the United trip was booked at the risk of a high change fee.

    When you help others in these type of situations Chris, I would suggest that you ask why they booked a non-refundable product without trip insurance. That way you can ascertain whether they were on a shoestring budget or simply traveling “on the cheap”.

    But whatever happens, tip-of-the-cap to you Chris for your compassion …

  • Jeff

    Chris, I find you evenhanded with your advocacy, and on occasion, you rebuke consumers for trying to take advantage of companies. In this case and in many others, my take on it is that you provide the companies with an opportunity for publicity of their kindheartedness with appropriate “rulebreaking” when a compassionate case arises. This is of greater value to the companies than the few dollars they return to the consumer. Sounds like a win-win situation to me with your help!

  • Justice Tempered by Mercy

    What I would like to know is what verification do the sites such as Priceline, etc. require to allow purchasers of non-refundable airline tickets, hotels, car rentals to cancel their reservations at no cost? And what proof does Chris require to advocate on behalf of another? Did Tami provide proof of being awarded custody of nieces and nephews and the date of that court order?

    While I certainly believe there are instances when people should be shown “mercy” by such sites as Priceline, I do think that such mercy should require proof of the circumstances alleged by the person requesting mercy. Otherwise, there can be cases when legitimate causes for relief are denied while false claims are granted relief.

    Chris, can you tell us what proof you got in this case (and what proof you generally require in order to advocate on behalf of another?)

  • NakinaAce

    Chris, I know you must have been having a hard time these last few months. However, these paranoid comments from you do nothing but encourage the people you believe are against you, if they exist at all. You cannot have it both ways. Either be a consumer advocate and ignore your critics or find something else to do. I say this to you with both sympathy and empathy.

  • KyRoamer

    No 50/50 split here. 86% favored intervention. I did as well. But rules are rules and other than in exceptional circumstances I believe Chris should not intervene. Scams and where providers don’t honor commitments is where Chris shines.

  • Eileen Joan

    There’s always extenuating circumstances where a rule should be bent. Bravo Chris! And Bravo to Priceline.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Has it occurred to you that an extremely high proportion of cases at a consumer advocacy website will be about refund requests? If you visited the hospital every day and got tired of all the sick people, I’d recommend you stop visiting the hospital every day! Same advice would apply here.

  • http://upgrd.com/roadmoretraveled MeanMeosh

    With all due respect, Chris, I find it unnecessary, and offensive, that you have decided to dismiss as “trolls” a sizeable subset of your readers whose only crime is to disagree with your expansive definition of “compassion”. If you want to extoll the virtues of taking a compassionate approach to life, then fine, but why did you then find it necessary to launch an ad hominem attack on everyone who disagrees with you, and declare that they must be the same people who take advantage of mistake fares and churn credit cards? You are also comparing apples to oranges here. What this lady is dealing with is very different from a lot of the other cases we see on your site, where folks are demanding the rules be broken for them because “my great aunt is sick!” or “but I didn’t understand the 36-point font that said this reservation is nonrefundable!”.

    I’m not a strict rules guy, but I tend to come down hard on these “compassion” cases. The problem is that a lot of ordinary business people who find themselves in a position to make decisions like this, myself included, have been gamed by unscrupulous individuals trying to play the compassion card to get themselves relief they aren’t entitled to. Anyone is free to ask – nicely! – whether the travel provider or whatever can cut them a break. The person they’re talking to, though, has to make a judgment call on whether 1) the request warrants an exception, and 2) whether the person is even telling the truth or not. My problem is that there are some in the “compassion” crowd who believe that every request for “mercy” must be granted, no questions asked, and anybody who dares deny the request or even ask for a little documentation is a heartless troll that must be banished to the deepest depths of Hades. I have no problem with an appeal to a higher-up if the first person says no, makes unreasonable demands, or commits an egregious error, but as someone who has to make these difficult decision, I really don’t appreciate it when a denial leads me to being threatened with the press and harangued as a scrooge. (/rant)

    And for the record, I think this lady deserved the refund in this case…

  • cahdot

    Chris, ur doing the right thing for the consumers ..keep up the good work…. ignore the idiots..they r prob lib lefters anyway

  • steve

    haters always gonna hate. I’d consider it a good thing.

  • Homey_Dont

    It’s all too common to simply call people trolls that don’t agree with you. Hard to believe anyone who thinks the internet is all one big hug-fest. Especially naive people who write an advocate/opinion blog and are shocked when large numbers of people don’t agree. Chris thinks hes a Journalist but Journalist don’t advocate.

    Compassion is one thing, but most of these people are just stupid or gaming the system.

    if you can’t take the heat gt out of the kitchen.

  • Alan Gore

    Who in the travel industry was it who decided that the whole world would henceforward be non-refundable? Cancellation fees, where they existed, used to be based on time-to-event, scaling up with the increasing probability that a canceled booking could not be resold.

    Think about this next time you fly with a passenger who obviously has an advanced case of the flu, knowing that you and everyone else on the plane will lose a valuable week as a result. You won’t be one of those activists who writes his Congressman to have your rulebook shoved where the sun doesn’t shine, but it’s probable that several other passengers on that flight will be.

  • Homey_Dont

    More name calling. Gotta love it.

  • Gary Leff

    It’s a VERY generous thing for Priceline to have done. Kudos to them! But at the same time let’s be clear that there would NOT have been a legitimate beef against them if they hadn’t been so accommodating. I’m glad you helped your reader, Chris. And I’m glad Priceline came through.

    But the point that’s valid which some of your critics make is that you are too quick at times to side with a reader complaint against a company — there are things it’s great for a company to do, but the company isn’t wrong if they don’t do.

    Intercede and get the very best out of customer service, but that’s totally different than taking a entitlement mindset.

    Ironic, isn’t it, that you harangue your critics for the entitlement mindset when it’s often the complainers looking to bend a rule? Bending rules in the name of customer service is great, but seek it out humbly rather than with an air of superiority. It’s a tone thing.

  • Tincanrider

    Keep up the good work – – sometimes readers make mistakes and we learn from them. Sometimes life hands us a hand grenade, and falling on it is devastating, allowing you to help if possible. As for the naysayers, listen to them, and, take note that they could be right once in a blue moon….

  • emanon256

    I think I tend to be one of those rules-are-rules folks, though I am not one of those mileage run, churning cards, mistake fares people. I agree with Chris 100% that those people are both unethical and stealing. I also am quite a sceptic, and it has been interesting when people dig up info on some of Chris’s people, that show that they have not given him the full story. I think Chris must have to deal with a fare number of people who are simply trying to take advantage of things and game the system, and he can not weed all of them out. That said, we need Chris, because he does help people who need it. And while rules-are-rules, and I am a rule follower, I am glad Chris was able to help in this case.

    What I hope Chris’s practice and column does more than anything is to educate people on what happens when you book with sites like price line so they learn to book with the hotels, and they learn how the rules work, and learn how to make smart decisions. I get frustrated when people ask Chris for help because they did something incredibly stupid. I really don’t have sympathy for many of those people, but we need those columns to educate others so they won’t make the same mistakes.

    While I think the majority of the time that a non-refundable fare should not ever be refunded, I do agree that there are extenuating circumstances. I admit they are hard to define and I don’t want to propose any criteria or argue with people about it, but I feel this case is truly an extenuating circumstance worth of a second look, and I am glad Chris asked for one.

  • Julie Northrop

    When you have a poll asking your readers if they think you should mediate, you bring on the chance that you will have readers who aren’t going to be compassionate. I can’t count the times I’ve seen people say heartless and cruel things about the people you want to help. Your readers throw out the “She’s playing the sympathy card” quite a bit, and it really leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The people who contact you are asking for YOUR help, not the advice of your readers who may or may not feel sympathy for the person you are helping. Maybe if you stopped with the polls asking them what they think you should do, you would eliminate a lot of your headaches. After all, YOU are the consumer advocate, not them.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    In general, perhaps. In this case? Not likely. She picked up three foster kids at the drop of a hat with zero forewarning. Was she supposed to never plan a trip for her entire life in the anticipation that something like this might happen?

  • http://www.facebook.com/CarverFarrow Carver Clark Farrow

    I think that Chris is getting defensive because he’s been attacked, often unkindly, and have been accused of everything from media blackmail to always siding with the consumer, Just look at some of the other posts today where they even deny that he’s a journalist.

  • bodega3

    I have always said that it never hurts to ask, the worst you will get is a No. However, with OTA’s and everyone wanting the lowest price, thinking they are offering the best rates, there are rules involved with those low prices that just seem to be overlooked and played down, too many times. The bottom line is, if you can’t afford to lose a nonrefundable booking, don’t make it. With airline tickets, cost difference in some markets can be large, but with hotel rooms, the price difference usually isn’t that great, so book the rate that gives you a chance to cancel for little or no penalty.

  • bodega3

    Life happens to all of Joe, so don’t back yourself into a corner if you can’t afford it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CarverFarrow Carver Clark Farrow

    Joe, I agree. I don’t see this as a case of poor planning or poor decision making. That’s one of the main reason why I think that compassion very appropriate in this case.

  • bodega3

    Run a business that sells something to people and you get pretty good at reading between the lines. Part of Chris’ column is to get people talking and those of us in the travel business see things differently than those just being a DIY’er, so it is good to get all sides.

  • TonyA_says

    Yup. The business model is simple. Hotels sell to wholesalers at approximately 25-35% off Best Available Rate (BAR). Wholesaler usually keeps at least 10% commission (the typical hotel commission) so approx 10% of BAR is really at play (since the OTA has other costs). So unless this is a package trip/tour or a beach resort (where you are required to prepay), I never prepay. (Of course you can always use Carver’s trick to extend your stay at the hotel – use OTA prepay rate while at the hotel lobby.)

  • SoBeSparky

    Exactly. I do not know why Christopher rails against his readers as haters and worse, and yet forgets to admonish readers in general to avoid these opaque booking sites with absolute no-refund policies. Wasn’t it in the Bible about the parable of teaching the people to fish rather than giving them a fish? Feed them once or feed them for a lifetime?

    I book perfectly good no advance payment reservations two weeks or more in advance from one chain and get hefty discounts. I must give them at worst 24-hour notice of cancellation or at best at 6 p.m. on the day of arrival. Those discounts still exist. Some consumers, brain washed by a tide of TV spots, believe the drivel that they must go to priceline et al to get a decent discount.

    You can do both. Help one unfortunate consumer in a unique predicament and educate hundreds more.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CarverFarrow Carver Clark Farrow

    But that the rub. When she bought the ticket she probably could have afforded to lose the money. Its this rare situation which changed her financial profile after the purchase.
    In most of the other scenarios, at the time of purchase, the customer made a poor or uninformed choice because from day one, they couldn’t afford to lose the fare if something bad happened.

  • TonyA_says

    Joe, it’s her sister’s kids. I will pick up my blood relatives in a drop of a hat (or faster), especially KIDS !!!

  • TonyA_says

    That’s an important point – what Priceline did. Nice to know they have mercy. Thanks to Elliott’s buddy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CarverFarrow Carver Clark Farrow

    Except that opaque booking sites are not fundamentally bad. They are a tool to be used like any other travel tool. The education should be that, much like a power tool, you would be well advised to educate yourself on its operations. My chainsaw is a great tool when I use it to cut down trees. Mishandled, it will probably cut my hand off.
    The lesson: read instruction carefully.

  • bodega3

    Sounds good to me. I don’t make a travel booking that I can’t afford to lose. I also apply this to my client’s bookings!

  • ExplorationTravMag

    I feel something to note in all this is, readers only see the people Chris agrees to help, thus he posts it here. What we don’t see are the dozens and dozens he doesn’t help because he agrees there are times when the rules simply must apply. It’s easy to judge someone from your armchair but to actually get in the game puts things in an entirely different light.

    Please, Chris, keep doing what you’re doing. As a journalist, I feel the more you’re getting under someone’s skin, the better you are at your job. For this many people to be this mad at you? Well, thanks for the compliment, really. You’re not doing what you do so people can feel good about you. You’re doing what you do so the consumer can get some help in a pretty rough world of (to use your phrase) “No favors, no waivers”.

    There are some things in life you simply can’t anticipate and one of them is your nieces and nephews being made wards of the state on an emergency basis. I simply won’t believe the “rule mongers” of the world wouldn’t expect the same thing were they in the OPs situation and be glad to have the same consideration.

    Life’s messy. Sometimes we need someone like Chris to help clean it up.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CarverFarrow Carver Clark Farrow

    Its not about the OP being special. None of here knows the OP. So it can’t be about her. It’s about her circumstances, i.e. are the OPs circumstances so special that the rules don’t contemplate her situation.

  • Aaron Gold

    I don’t know about this one, Chris. Ms. Alloway had already appealed to the highest levels. She asked (a reasonable action) and Priceline said no (a reasonable, if not terribly compassionate, decision). The only reason Priceline gave her a refund was because a well-known consumer advocate got involved. I guess they were either concerned about negative publicity, or they figured that $772 was a cheap price to pay for an endorsement on Elliott.org.

    Did Priceline show mercy…or fear? Or cunning?

    Personally, I think showing compassion was the right thing to do. Rules are rules, but genuinely unfortunate circumstances do pop up, and it can never hurt to ask. Sometimes companies will show mercy, as they should. This was not one of those times, and shame on Priceline for not helping this woman out until it was clear there was a potential PR disaster in the making.

    Priceline acted in their best interests, not in Ms. Alloway’s. I am not impressed.

    Lastly, good on Ms. Alloway for stepping up to take care of her sister’s children. Now THAT is compassion and mercy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CarverFarrow Carver Clark Farrow


    You make a good point. The OP had already appealed to the highest levels. The natural assumption is that the company gave in for publicity sakes.

    However, in my experience that’s not necessarily true. I have learned that having an advocate can often have a beneficial effect. As a professional in this field, Chris has certain advantages including being able to articulate the OPs issue and getting someone to actually take some time to look at it. Also, unless the person the OP dealt with had the title CEO, after his/her name, she didn’t appeal to the highest levels.

    And sometimes Chris gets a no. Chris tried to help me out with Hilton a few years ago and they told him to kiss off, though is a “well known consumer advocate”

  • SoBeSparky

    Notice I said, “avoid these opaque booking sites with absolute no-refund policies.” Crap happens. That is as certain as change being normal.

    While a tool might accomplish its purpose and be good in that regard, some tools have defects, like a failure to have (or a broken/over-ridden) dead man’s switch. I don’t know a soul whose travel plans don’t change for mildly probable (flight delayed or canceled) to totally improbable and unanticipated (state custody of nieces and nephews) reason. When you can still get decent discounts with refunds (such as in this case, according to technomage1 above) why use a dangerous tool? Shopping smarter upfront for a safer tool is always preferable to “booking sites with absolute no-refund policies.” Problem is, most consumers are blinded by advertising “image” and the price displayed in type sized 3X the rest of the listing. Refund policy is somewhere down there in the small print.

  • John Herrmann

    I made an error in dates in a reservation with Priceline, and called within an hour to get a simple change of a couple of days, same month. It wouldn’t budge. No changes. I called the hotel and the nice person at the reservations desk changed my dates,saying that they had to stay more flexible because of Priceline’s rules. I normally stay away from agencies that operate as though anything they arrange is carved into stone tablets.

    In Alloway’s situation, I applaud the individual at Priceline (not the company) for acting in a responsible manner. And I applaud Chris Elliott’s determination to punch away at enabling the many facets of the travel industry to act in a way that shows it is operated by real humans with real human values.

  • Dutchess

    Judge not lest ye be judged. Though I don’t see where quoting from fiction books books gets us in this discussion.

  • Dutchess

    But isn’t that the reason we have contracts? She entered into the contract knowing her booking was NOT refundable. This isn’t a case where a business took advantage of the situation. She KNOWINGLY booked a non refundable room, there were other options available she gambled and lost. I still fail to see why this would be a consumer protection issue. If non-refundable rooms were the only option I might agree but that isn’t the case.

  • bodega3

    Life happens to all of us Carver, so don’t go for the lowest nonrefundable price if you can’t afford to lose the money should something come up.

  • Dutchess

    Right, but you still haven”t said why this is the businesses responsibility? Why should the business take a loss because of something outside their control? They offer refundable and non-refundable prices the OP made a choice. If the hotel had something come up out of their control say a bed bug infestation, everyone here would be clamoring for the hotel to find them different accommodations at the hotel’s costs. You might say this is “part of doing business” if so, why wouldn’t risk of illness or other emergency be considered “part of the risk” of booking a non-refundable room.

    My point is that nobody seems to hold consumers and businesses in these situations up to the same standards.

  • Julie Northrop

    You’re right about that to a certain extent. My point is that, consumers are coming to Chris for help, not his readers. I’m quite certain that these consumers, who are needing Chris’ help, aren’t asking Chris to get the advice of his readers before taking their case. He brings a lot of these attacks on himself by having these polls asking, “should I mediate this case.” If I were a consumer needing Chris’s help, I would be offended if he felt the need to ask his readers if mine was a case worth mediating. What he should do, is decide if this is the kind of case worth advocating on his own, and then the readers can give their two cents. I just get so sick of reading “I was with the OP until they played the single parent, seeing a dying relative card, fixed income, and this was a trip of a lifetime card.” Who are we to judge circumstances? I can see if the person were scamming the system, but many times that isn’t the case.

  • Bill___A

    I believe that everyone should be fair and reasonable in their dealings in all cases. This is a perfect instance where it should be waived. Thank you for getting that done, Chris.

    Surely one can see the difference between this and the obvious whiners.

  • Bill___A

    Priceline obviously wouldn’t help her until Chris intervened. Whether he shamed/pressured/convinced, etc. – it is of no matter. She exhausted all avenues, she called Chris, he got it fixed. Good job.

  • $16635417

    Priceline refunded? You had me for a minute. Happy April Fools Day!!! ;)

  • sunshipballoons

    I think I fall in the middle. I think it’s great what Priceline did for this customer. I’m all for it. On the other hand, if Priceline had enforced it’s (clearly disclosed) terms, I wouldn’t really have had a problem with that. I suspect, though, that Chris would identify me as one of the bad guys on this issue because I do tend to think that, when a company enforces clearly disclosed rules, that you kind of have to let it go.

  • S363

    Hey Chris,

    What do you mean by “churning the balance on their credit cards to generate more miles”? I put all my monthly expenses on a mileage credit card and then pay it off every month. (Whether that’s a worthwhile thing to do is a separate discussion, but I’ve found that it is.) I’ve also cancelled cards after a year and taken out new ones to get another 25000 bonus miles. I also call when the annual fee is going to be due and request to cancel because of the fee, and they usually credit it back to keep my business. Are these things somehow wrong in your view?

    My feeling is that it never hurts and is never wrong to ask (nicely) for special consideration when circumstances warrant. However, I don’t use and wouldn’t recommend Priceline.

  • S363

    “if she couldn’t afford to lose the nonrefundable hotel stay, she shouldn’t have booked it, period!”

    Did you miss the part about how her life and financial situation changed radically after she booked it?

  • emanon256

    I would also be willing to bet that there are many cases where someone is wronged and Chris does help and they are never written about. Perhaps because they would make boring stories, perhaps due to timeliness, perhaps because Chris likes the debate.

    I may be a “Rule Monger” :) But I am very glad we have Chris, and very glad he helps people including this OP and want him to keep doing what he is doing.

  • emanon256

    Chris tried to help me with a Hilton a few years ago as well and he never got any response. About a year later the hotel had a new GM who was going through files and found mine and called me and made good. I am not sure if Chris’s communications were in my file or not, but I was glad to have it resolved and would like to think Chris did help.

  • bodega3

    Yes, I read that. When you buy a nonrefundable travel component, you are taking a risk. Don’t take it if you can’t afford to lose it. I sell travel and know that there are other options that allow for flexibility.

  • http://www.facebook.com/judyserie.nagy Judy Serie Nagy

    Of course she should have been gouged for the charges, everyone knows what non-ref means. YAAAAAY for Chris to get this situation handled compassionately. The idea of suddenly becoming parent(s) to your sister’s 3 children is so traumatic that I’d like to send her money! What a lovely story to start the week with.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Easy answer: Because one sale isn’t a big thing to a large business (meanwhile it can be a huge thing to a single consumer) and goodwill is a proven and effective business tool. Do you really believe Priceline would come out ahead financially in this case if these comments were filled with “wow, what jerks they are for not cutting this poor lady a break” as opposed to all the “glad they made an exception for her” comments that are here now?

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Huh? I could lay out a scenario where Bill Gates himself ended up penniless. Does that mean even he should live as a hermit? She was supposed to guess she’d suddenly get her sister’s three kids? What a bizarre statement.

  • AgentSteve

    While Priceline advocated for the consumer, let’s not forget that it was the hotel that approved the refund. Secondly, I’m surprised that neither the hotel nor Priceline, in their moment of compassion, didn’t offer a future credit, which too, would have been a positive move. Third, while the amount she would have lost may not break the bank for many of us, for her, it was significant. Not only the added expense was compounding her worries, her compassion to accept the responsibility of parenthood for her three neices/nephews, was enormous.

    Compassion comes in many forms and from many avenues; it isn’t always so clear and sometimes, not even appreciated. But compassion comes from giving and doing the right thing; it isn’t about placing oneself upon a pedestel.

    No matter what Chris does or doesn’t do, he’ll never be 100% to 100% of the people. Critics are necessary to help all of us stay on the straight path; however, constructive criticism is where the value is at. Negativity, while possibly warranted, should always be conveyed in a positive manner.

    Regardless of whether or not I agree with Chris, it isn’t about him or me; it’s all about honesty, dignity, integrity, compassion, caring, etc. Think about it folks: these simple values have been adulterated and continue to wane, from our mere existence and moral compass. Our nation is under grave moral and ethical attack; I for one will not add fuel to that fire.
    If only a handful of Congress had the courage that Chris exhibits, our nation would be a much better country and we, as its people, better children and leaders.
    So long as I still have the freedom to express my opinion, I’ll continue to do so. No further comment or reply is necessary.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    You seem to have misread my post. I know it’s her sister’s kids and I’m not questioning her taking them in. What I’m questioning is your contention that there is some sort of lesson that could be taught to others in this case. What would you have had the OP do differently?

  • TonyA_says

    Sorry I must have misread it. My point is that PREPAY = FULL LOSS.
    So if one cannot afford to lose all that money (regardless of the risks in the future like in Cyprus for example), then please do not prepay.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    So, which is it? Either it doesn’t hurt to ask–which would mean you should be happy at this outcome–or the bottom line is nobody should ever make nonrefundable bookings. From your posts, it sounds like you’re irked she asked and/or that she was granted an exception. I honestly don’t understand that. I would agree with you in general about nonrefundable, but this was an event that nobody could ever have foreseen. It is the very definition of “exception to the rule.” If Priceline was okay with this outcome why debate it?

  • Joe_D_Messina

    You also just posted that “it never hurts to ask.” Yet, it sounds like you’re not happy that her asking ended up with Priceline cutting her a break. What exactly do you have against the OP?

  • TonyA_says

    Rules are rules except for me.Bwahahaha!
    But then again the rules are special when it comes to politicians and too-big-to-fail institutions. Who ever thought big banks needed the mercy of taxpayers? Didn’t car companies, airlines, and private, rich individuals also get a line from the Fed?
    So why not this poor mother with 3 new kids?
    Ask and thou shall receive …

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Totally agree…in general. But there’s exceptions to every rule and I’m happy she got one in this case. I like your original post about it being a perfect story for Easter. I’m simply not getting some the mean-spirited comments/lectures on here. The business is obviously happy enough with this outcome and the OP is definitely happy. Yet reading some of these other comments you’d think something bad happened here.

  • wageslave

    Just a thought – Chris doesn’t have to use the threat of bad publicity to influence the outcome of a case such as this. He could have offered the possibility of good publicity if Priceline played ball. I’m not saying that is necessarily a negative thing, and I’m not saying the outcome wasn’t a good one, but when there is a carrot there need not always be a stick.

  • pauletteb

    There are times when I might think the OP is undeserving of Chris’s assistance; this is NOT one of those times! Talk about extenuating circumstances! Kudos to both Chris AND Priceline.

  • pauletteb

    And you know darned well that these “rules are rules” sticklers would be first in line for special consideration should something — anything — far less life-changing happened to them.

  • pauletteb

    But they only “follow the rules” until something bad happens to THEM!

  • Ian Parrish

    Gosh, Chris…I normally love reading your blog. I’ve even contemplated subscribing as a supporter recently. Usually, I find myself agreeing with your help and advice, and sometimes I find myself falling in with the “rules are rules” crowd. It’s fine we disagree sometimes, and you’re trying to help people, so I never get upset about it or attack you personally. However, this article crosses the line in going after some of your readers and is really a turn-off for me. Some of your latest articles have been pretty snarky as well towards readers who use frequent flyer programs. What’s the point of having a comments feature unless you’re prepared for some dissension in the ranks? Even though I agree with you most of the time, I feel a bit tarred and feathered here, and I even was happy to see you mediated the case.

    Stick to the travel issues, and I’ll happily continue to follow you. Start attacking your readers in every post, and it may be time to move on.

  • Puzzled

    “Alloway couldn’t take the kids out of school, so she had to cancel her reservation.”

    Does this mean that she would have gone on the trip had she been able to take the kids out of school? If this is the case, then she could, if fact, afford the $772 hotel charge. Sounds like she just couldn’t afford it if she was getting nothing in return.

  • bodega3

    Sorry, but if you have options, which she did at the time of booking, don’t buy the most restrictive if you think you can’t afford it should something get in you way of making the trip. Stuff happens to all of us and we have to take some responsiblity on covering ourselves when we make a decision on something that is nonrefundable.

  • bodega3

    I am not irked at anything. I am just commenting that when you buy something that is nonrefundable when you had options, take responsibility for your decision. We are all faced with times that we shouldn’t have done something yesterday because today something comes up. She took the step to ask the company and was told no, but that still wasn’t good enough.

  • bodega3

    I have nothing against her. I have a problem with people not following rules which is a huge problem in our society. She asked the company to bend their rules and they said no, so she went in a back door to get what she wanted. It is happening all the time that nobody pays attention to rules anymore as someone will help them get around them. I get that it was a fair amount of money, but she had an option at the time of her resevation to pay a bit more and not get stuck if something happened. But why bother with that minor detail as someone will get you out of it these days.

  • MyOpinion4You

    Thank you, Chris, for all your efforts. Those that chastise you are just showing their ignorance and lack of compassion. Definitely not a person to respect, follow, listen to, agree with or validate!

  • http://www.facebook.com/ElisaTammela Elisa Tammela

    Actually, it feels to me like there used to be a lot of cases where the customer was in the right and the company needed to be prodded to do the (legally) correct thing. Nowadays most seem to be about bending rules for compassionate reasons. I hope that’s because companies usually follow the rules these days, but maybe it’s because people think it’s the only point of an advocate? Fine, but not that interesting if every week’s the same case with different illnesses involved. Unfortunately people don’t seem to know how to agree to disagree here and we get labelled trolls just for disagreeing. It’s no longer a welcoming column to post on and will just send people away.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ElisaTammela Elisa Tammela

    I agree with you of late. It’s like he has developed a snarl as he types, and there are only two types of articles – Jane Smith had something unfortunate happen and wants a refund on a non-refundable purchase, and The TSA Sucks Real Bad.

    It’s not the first time in this column that I’ve felt like it’s better not to comment. Except this time he was more blunt about it and that’s where I draw the line, being directly insulted. It’s fine to speak our minds as long as we agree… if we don’t agree, we’re trolls. I doubt he’ll cry over losing me as a reader, but for every person who says something another ten will say nothing and just quietly unfollow the blogs.

  • TonyA_says

    Are Priceline Deals Any Good?

    I decided to make a test using a one week (7 night) stay at HAWTHORN SUITE N CHARLESTON SC. Priceline has a special rate that requires full prepay. Let us see how “special” it really is compared to the hotel’s own rate (visible in GDS), The 7 night stay is from 01NOV to 08NOV.

    ============== PRICELINE ================
    Check-In: Fri, Nov 1, 2013
    Check-Out: Fri, Nov 8, 2013
    Nights: 7 Nights
    Rooms: 1
    On Sale Now -> Save 15% on this stay — Free Breakfast
    Summary of Charges
    Room Cost: (details) avg. per room, per night $103.58
    Rooms: 1
    Nights: 7
    Room Subtotal: $725.06
    Taxes & Fees : $97.93
    We’ve chopped fees on this hotel.
    Total Charges: prices are in US dollars $822.99
    Cancel Policy: For the room type and rate that you’ve selected, you are not allowed to change or cancel your reservation. If you cancel your room, you will still be charged for the full reservation amount.

    ======= HOTEL’S PUBLISHED RATE in GDS =============




    Now you see it. The hotel’s (direct) rate is even cheaper for the same room $808.50 vs $822.99.

    Note you only need to put a deposit of ONE NIGHT with the hotel. With Priceline you prepay the whole amount $822.99
    Plus if you cancel, you only lose one day’s rate ($109.65 max) if you book with the hotel. With Priceline you lose your whole $822.99.

    Can someone please tell me why you find it better to use Priceline rather than a human travel agent or the hotel’s own site.

  • TonyA_says

    Re:”or they figured that $772 was a cheap price to pay for an endorsement on Elliott.org“.

    Hmmm… do not assume it really cost them anything close to that amount.

    Here is their standard cancellation clause in their contract with hotels (Travelweb is a Priceline Comp.)

    Merchant Rate reservations are subject to cancellation penalties and are non-transferable/non-changeable. Hotel shall not change dates or cancel any Merchant Rate reservation unless directed otherwise by Travelweb. Requests by Merchant Customers to change or cancel a Merchant Rate reservation shall be directed to Travelweb or the website through which such Merchant Rate reservation was booked. Individual reservation cancellations must be received a minimum of twenty-four (24) hours prior to the arrival date in order to avoid cancellation penalty. Cancellations received within 24 hours prior to 12:00 pm local hotel time on day of arrival are subject to the first night’s room and tax charge, which shall be charged to the Travelweb credit card on which the reservation was billed. In the event that a Merchant Rate reservation is cancelled due to extraordinary circumstances defined by Travelweb (such as family death or natural disaster), Travelweb may elect to refund the Merchant Customer in full and Hotel shall not be entitled to payment for such Merchant Rate reservation. Hotel shall ensure that its cancellation policies applicable to Travelweb (including time periods and fees) shall be at least as favorable to Merchant Customers as its cancellation policies which are applicable to any Competitive Site. Hotel shall not charge any penalty for system errors.

    Therefore, if Priceline cancels on time, there is no cancellation penalty for Priceline to the hotel. Also, Priceline can always invoke the extraordinary clause and not pay the hotel anything.
    I assume the OP contacted Priceline about her problem a lot earlier than her intended stay. Priceline could have exercised MERCY a lot, lot earlier.

  • emanon256

    I have been wondering that for years!!! Even after telling my MIL over a dozen times not to use it she still does, and them expects me to fix it. After telling my cousin many times, she still does. These are smart people with good jobs! I think they must be brainwashed by all the commercials.

  • TonyA_says

    I cant’ stop laughing at this -“expects me to fix it“. That’s all too familiar :-)

  • emanon256

    I looked at each airline told her what flight numbers to get and to get and told her to get them directly from the airline. CMH-DEN, direct, mid $200s, great flight times, direct flights (On WN). What does she do? Goes to price line, gets US CMH-CLT-DEN returning DEN-PHX-CMH, seats will be assigned at the gate. She paid the same price, and was stuck in a middle seat on all 4 segments, had bad flight times, and spent twice as much time on the plane. And the worst part? She did it again next time!!!!!

  • Dutchess

    Right, so what this comes down to is Priceline is being forced to break the rules because they’re being threatened with bad press because some sob story. That seems very fair, I hope you feel proud that you can extort a refund out a company with the threat of bad press. I think that’s kind of vile.

  • Dutchess

    My problem is I see this as extort and thou shalt receive. Priceline knows that once Chris does a piece on it, if they decline a refund for ‘a tragic story of three little orphans’ (DO IT FOR THE CHILDREN!) they will get bad press so they’re forced to make an exception or look like the heartless corporation.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    I guess I’d beg to differ with calling this “vile.” I’m trying to help when no one else will.

    Priceline knows that I would have gone back to the customer with bad news, if it had decided it didn’t want to advocate for her with the hotel. And it also knows, after years of working together, that it doesn’t necessarily mean I would write something about it.

  • Cam

    I have to say you sound a bit paranoid Chris.

    Are there really “haters just hating” you out there? Or is the whole pitch a little self-promotion?

    Anyway, on this issue, I have no problem with a customer asking for a refund due to unexpected circumstances. I also have no problem if companies give a justified “no”.

    It is interesting that this case isn’t a death or serious illness, as most of these cases are. I guess reasons that a discounted rate that doesnt include the option to cancel without penalty are growing.

  • TonyA_says

    Well Dutchess, I personally (right or wrong) think some very large travel entities are heartless in a way that they do not add anything (of real value) to society. If a bully organization takes 25+ % off the hotel’s (which is the one that provides you a bed) revenue and essentially sells it to you for the same price the hotel is willing to sell you, then what good is it? Most of the money is spent in advertising and executive pay. What good does that do for you? The money does not go to improve the hotel itself.

  • TonyA_says

    Carver, why doesn’t anyone even question the point that losing ALL 7 nights prepay is quite punitive. What does it cost Priceline to cancel its booking with the hotel? It seems that if they do it by 12 noon the previous day, it may cost them no penalties. Also parts of their contract allows them to cancel due to extraordinary circumstances. Even if Priceline had to pay a day’s penalty then what about the rest of the 6 days rent. Is that pure profit? It looks to me that Priceline keeping ALL of her money is more than a little bit over the top.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CarverFarrow Carver Clark Farrow

    Oh. I quite agree. I figure that’s a different issue and we have limited space.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CarverFarrow Carver Clark Farrow

    I have to disagree. Plans change but if the discount is substantial then overtime it maybe worth it; depends on individual. It’s not worth it for my travel plans but for someone else it may make good sense.

    For example, I have occasionally booked a prepaid, non-refundable hotel for the same night while waiting at the gate in the airport terminal.

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    Is this an April fools joke ?

    Get with the programme !!!

    Is something is nonrefundable, it’s nonrefundable.

    You Americans are so far behind the times.

  • conservativescifi

    Duchess is also wrong about businesses not getting mercy. I’m sure everyone has received poor treatment from one business or another, but given them a second (sometimes more) chances to get it right. Today, the cashier at Home Depot told me my credit card was declined, then said “April Fools”. I didn’t find it particularly funny, but I’m not going to stop patronizing them or even ask for the clerk to be punished. I did tell him it was a bad idea to scare customers and moved on.

  • Cam

    Wow. How big of you.

  • Cam

    I thought this too. One night would be more resonable.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CarverFarrow Carver Clark Farrow

    That’s why it’s called compassion.

  • Bettina

    One thing people like you do not understand is this:

    A hotel room that gets cancelled, even if it is under “nonrefundable” will then not be held and is open, even though the person pays for it. It will go back on sale, and if it is sold, then the hotel gets paid twice… so stop being so sanctimonious about this damaging business.

    Yes, it is part of the fact that hotels do not want to end up empty with people not cancelling.

    But in this case, the traveller wasn’t cancelling on the arrival date, or not even bothering, but doing so well in advance of the arrival date, which means the hotel has plenty of time to rebook the room.

    So please tell me whom this goodwill gesture hurt? The hotel? Certainly not. Priceline – neither. But I bet if the traveller ever gets financially to the point they can rebook a holiday, maybe even with her children, she will think of this hotel if it is suitable for a family vacation – and if not, she will look at the hotel chain. And that, in itself is priceless advertising! Which is something you do not seem to understand.

  • BobChi

    I am glad things worked out for this person. I think from the point of view of the company, the difficult thing is that almost anyone who wants to change a reservation could come up with a story – legitimately or not. These companies do not have sizable investigative wings to determine the veracity of each such claim, as I assume Chris Elliot tries to do when he handles things on a case by case basis. I am certain that if word got out that “nonrefundable means nonrefundable unless you can come up with a good story”, the companies would very quickly become inundated with unverifiable appeals for mercy.

    Unless I’m missing something, I’m not sure why Chris feels that if people sometimes disagree with him, they are engaging in personal attacks and want to shut down his blog. Maybe there has been some inappropriate hostility I haven’t read, but I think any blogger, especially one that sometimes tries to be provocative, should expect some disagreement with his ideas and develop a bit of a thicker skin.

  • BobChi

    I’m confused about his choice of wording too. I think he means getting a credit card, getting the bonus, canceling the card, getting the card again, get the bonus again, cancel again, which is what you sometimes do. I wouldn’t call that “churning the balance” The fact is that the credit card companies actually advertise heavily on the very blogs that tell readers how to do this and they offer the bloggers substantial referral fees. Why would they do that if they thought they were being cheated by the blog and its readers? I think Chris is tilting at nonexistent windmills here.

  • Guest

    A company shouldn’t be expected to offer refunds on non-refundable reservations every time, but people like you who support a business methodology of “rules are rules” really irritate me. I fail to understand why a business would ever benefit from this sort of cutthroat behaviour, when occasionally bending their rules for exceptional cases makes for positive customer relations and press, positive moral behaviour, and overall good business.

    The businesses that are slave to their rules are the same ones that whine and complain when they get bad press and negative customer attitude, and find excuse after excuse to explain to their shareholders why their annual profits didn’t meet expectations.

  • calbff

    A company shouldn’t be expected to offer refunds on non-refundable reservations every time, but people who support a business methodology of “rules are rules” really irritate me. I fail to understand why a business would ever benefit from this sort of cutthroat behaviour, when occasionally bending their rules for exceptional cases makes for positive customer relations and press, positive moral behaviour, and overall good business.

    The businesses that are slave to their rules are the same ones that whine and complain when they get bad press and negative customer attitude, and find excuse after excuse to explain to their shareholders why their annual profits didn’t meet expectations.

  • Mundane Lustrator

    If you view contacting a consumer advocate as going through the back door, then why do you come to a consumer advocacy website? (Not an attack. A legit question.)

    The purpose of a consumer advocate is to assist consumers who are having a problem with a company that they personally haven’t been able to resolve. That isn’t going through a back door. That’s getting help.

  • Julie Northrop

    Compassion is something Dutchess knows nothing about after reading her posts. Someday Dutchess may be in the position where she may need a company to show her some compassion. I believe in karma, and what goes around comes around.

  • TonyA_says

    Carver, pls check out this link on the latest court ruling re Priceline.


    It is about the Name Your Price lawsuits.

  • ChBot

    I don’t agree with you : when unforeseen circumstances arise (like fog delaying a cruise ship, or weather delaying a plane), the business is the one asking for understanding, and, from probably aprox 97,5% of its customers, getting it.
    And we don’t know if they have taken a loss : seems she knew about the situation early enough for them to (at least try to) resell the room !

  • pplaresilly

    Here here! touche! And well said! And furthermore, I enjoy Chris’s columns no matter the forum.

    People, don’t be so silly!

  • bodega3

    I come here because it is entertaining and to contribute from the travel side of things. DIY’ers live in a bubble a lot of the time, thinking they know how things should be done, but don’t know the true ways things operate.
    IMHO, the OP shouldn’t have contacted Chris. She went to what she thought/thinks is a budget site, made a nonrefundable purchase and then wants help getting her money back because she won’t be able to utilize her reservation. This isn’t helping by making a call to someone you know when there really isn’t a reason to get her money back. She took a risk and lost. But in today’s world, nobody wants to take responsibility for their actions and use whatever means they can to go around the rules. Chris played into this and IMHO he shouldn’t have. There have only been a handful of time where I think he has done what an advocate should do. Most of the time, he is assisting those who make mistakes because all they see is price and they can whine about it later if there is a problem. I am all for helping people when they really need it. Making a stupid decision to buy a nonrefundable room reservation months out from the date of travel when for a few dollars more a cancelable rate was offered isn’t worthy of bothering someone about it.

  • 18Yr Vet

    Didn’t even finish reading your article. Don’t need to.
    What is the difference between “…troll the comments” and reading your article? Oh, I get it. If I agree with you, I’m a reader. If I don’t agree with you, I’m a troll. Either way, I’m done reading.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I appreciate you offering your perspective in a rational and logical fashion. I enjoy reading different opinions so that I can make my own judgments, both now and in the future. Might not agree with the opinion expressed (I don’t agree with *anyone* 100%!), but when I can see what underlies the opinion. I respect it. Thank you.

  • eileen

    Ok. The tone of this article is a bit patronizing, in that it is a lot of, “My work is tireless and thankless and you all are being big meanies about it.”

    That being said.

    I don’t see anything wrong with at least farming Ms. Alloway’s conundrum out to a third party to see if there was anything that could be done. Circumstances got out of her control and she needed an advocate. Chris was her advocate. He didn’t go on and on about how injust Priceline is, or the cruel nature of the travel industry. He simply reached out to them and said the equivalent of: “Hey, can you do this lady a favor and work with her?” Everyone involved knew they didn’ thave to, but they chose to.

    And you know what? For people like me who have avoided Priceline like the plague since I got hosed on a flight with them ten years ago? It makes me think about using them again.

  • Mundane Lustrator

    Although I really disagree with your POV, I appreciate your response.

  • Laura Giles

    Some of the best features I found in my trip to India were horse riding in Jaipur and the forts and monuments there. I bought a package tour for Rajasthan from xclusivevacations.com which turned out great to me.