When Lefteris Michailidis didn’t get a confirmation email from Priceline for a recent three-night hotel stay in London, he thought his bid wasn’t accepted.
“I assumed that there was no transaction and I booked a hotel with Hotwire instead,” he says.
He assumed wrong.
“A few days later, I received an email from Priceline saying that I should get ready for the trip to London,” he recalls. “I was confused and I called Priceline to find out that they had charged me for a hotel room, although I thought that the transaction I originally tried to make with them did not go through because I never received a confirmation email.”
As it turns out, Priceline had charged him for his room after all. Now he would pay for two sets of hotel rooms during his visit. (Priceline’s “name-your-own-price” rooms are completely nonrefundable and can’t be changed.)
Michailidis’ experience raises a question that comes up often in my consumer advocacy practice: When is a confirmation confirmed? Is it when you press the “enter” button on your PC? When you get an email with a confirmation number? Or is it when you actually board the plane, open the door to your hotel room, or turn the ignition on your rental car?
In 99 out of 100 cases, an email with a confirmation number is reason enough to believe you have an actual reservation. But Michailidis was that 1 percent where the email — or more precisely, the lack of an email — wasn’t enough.
“Email as a means of confirming a reservation isn’t always reliable,” Priceline spokesman Brian Ek told me. “That’s why we recommend checking the website or calling.”
(Take a minute to let that sink in. Here’s Priceline, an online travel agency, saying email can be unreliable.)
Michailidis didn’t think it was fair to pay for a hotel twice, so he disputed the charge with his American Express card. But Amex sided with Priceline.
“The merchant has advised that the customer has the option of visiting the ‘Check Your Request’ section of the website or by calling 1-800-priceline to check the status of an accepted offer,” it said, by way of explanation. “The merchant sends a courtesy e-mail to the customer to visit the ‘Check Your Request’ section of the website, however, e-mail is not always reliable and the customer should not rely on it as method of determining the status of their offer.”
In other words, don’t count on an email from Priceline.
I asked Priceline to take another look at Michailidis’ complaint. I mean, if you never send a customer an email, then expecting him to pay seems a little unreasonable, doesn’t it?
Priceline’s response: But we did tell him.
“The bid was accepted at 2:51 a.m. on 5/31, which means the confirmation would have been available online at that time,” Ek told me by email. “An e-mail was sent at 2:52 a.m. on the 31st to the e-mail address provided. Someone did go online to view the reservation details at 12:16 p.m. on the 31st.”