The Travel Troubleshooter: Priceline promised to refund my package

By | October 21st, 2011

Question: I booked a vacation package for three people to Hawaii through Priceline. The package cost $3,208 and included my flight, hotel and car. After making the reservation, I noticed a typographical error on one of the passengers names and seeing that I couldn’t change this online, I called a customer representative.

I was told that the ticket would be canceled and I was asked if I preferred to recreate the whole order or just part of it. I responded that it would probably be better for me to just recreate the whole order online, which I did.

This time, the total came to $3,213.

I now see that they only refunded the flights ($1,531) and after calling customer services and then complaining, they are saying that I was told I was only getting a refund for the flights.

If I had known this, I obviously would not have gone ahead and rebooked the flights with the hotel and car on top. I asked Priceline if their calls were recorded and was told they were but that this particular recording was not available to me at that time. — Ian Dennis, San Francisco


Answer: This could have been avoided if Priceline had just played back the call, in which it allegedly says that you were only getting a refund for the airline tickets. Wouldn’t it be great if a corporation automatically emailed you an MP3 file of your conversation after you hung up? Maybe there ought to be a law.

But I digress. This is why you want to create a paper trail when you’re dealing with any company. Priceline couldn’t deny something that a representative wrote, so if you could show them an email in which they agree to refund the entire package (and by the way, $3,208 for a Hawaii package is a great deal) then you’d have a much stronger case.

Related story:   Airline math for dummies

When a company digs its heels in, your options are limited. You can dispute the charges on your credit card or appeal to someone at the executive level. But you had exhausted at least one of those (the appeal) and disputing the charge was complicated, because you still wanted to use the rest of the package.

I asked Priceline to look into this, and it sent me the same answer: no. It said you were told that only airfare would be refunded. I found this disappointing. I also concluded that Priceline had reviewed its phone conversation and determined everything happened exactly the way it says it happened.

But a few hours later, I received a call from Priceline. It had reviewed its records on your incident and now agreed with you. Priceline refunded your entire package.

(Photo: Joel/Flickr)



  • sirwired

    Chris, I’m curious, why is this a poll?  You said that Priceline issued the full refund after reviewing its records (which we would assume is the phone call, and something it didn’t bother to do before), so how is anybody going to answer “No” to this survey unless they are making a mistake?

    If they had not yet done the review (which is something they SHOULD have done from the start), it might make for an interesting poll topic since we would be trying to judge the word of one vs. the other.  But that’s not the case here.

  • @sirwired:disqus because people are constantly second-guessing the decisions made by companies (even in this column). I thought I’d give them an opportunity to express their opinions.

  • $16635417

    Just curious…how bad was the “typographical” error? What would have happened if they just showed up for the fights? Is this one of those cases where it would have been easier to seek forgiveness than seek permission?

  • BillC

    I am a little confused. Did she end up with two hotel and car reservations or did she have one reservation but paid for two? I don’t see why Priceline would cancel the first hotel/car, not refund the money and then rebook the exact same items and charge for them again.

  • Instead of refund one package, Priceline only refunded part of it. So he ended up with one package and half of another one.

  • Chris in NC

    Ugh! I’m stunned by Priceline’s actions on this one…

    Why didn’t the CSR agent fix the error when Dennis called initially? What good is a CSR agent if its response is, “we’ll cancel the package, you go and rebook it?” Are you serious?

    Once Dennis rebooked the entire package, why is Priceline playing hardball and sticking him with a duplicate land package? Its ridiculous for Priceline to take its hard line stance, its obvious what happened.

    What I like to see is someone from Priceline actually apologize and to see some manager come up with a BS response about “oops, we made a mistake”

  • ChrisY

    I said no because it’s frustrating to hear so many he said/she said cases, and in this case, Priceline presumably has the “she said” recorded.  It should be case closed in theory.  The fact that Priceline refunded her money either means that Priceline lied about what was on the recording, or its policy is squishy.  I prefer a company to have a clear policy and enforce it equally and fairly.  Short story, let’s hear the recording :)

  • My question is, does the OP regularly read this site? If she does, she should’ve known she’s not the type of person to be booking through Priceline. (Really? You couldn’t spend 30 seconds to check all your info before you clicked “buy”?). Then again, when she had the choice of only changing the portion that mattered (the air), she chose to cancel and change the whole package. Really? After all the nightmare stories we’ve read about re: cancellation policies? Perhaps the OP should stick to real live people TAs… But I digress. Glad it all worked out in the end. The Internet is a scary place…

  • Tony A.

    Well, the robotic response from Priceline makes sense. The wrong passenger name only affects the airline reservations and nothing else (hotel and car reservations couldn’t care less if your kids’s name is misspelled). So the booking agent voided the airline tickets and refunded the cost of ONLY the airline tickets. What the agent did not realize is when s/he repriced the flights alone, s/he couldn’t put humpty dumpty (the package deal) together again. Strange that the difference is only $5 and that broke a $3200 deal. Pretty idiotic!
    Not worth voting for this one.

  • Mbods2002

    What is wrong with Priceline?  I will NEVER use them.

  • Tony A.

    If the pax is a minor, then it would not matter since s/he does not even need an ID.
    Some airlines will accept an OSI message indicating the correct name.
    IMO, passengers over-react to typos because they are scared of a possibility of being stopped by an overzealous TSA agent.

  • Rosered7033

    Can’t add much except that name “changes”/corrections/amplifications/whatever you want to call them seem to also be an income source for airlines.  I understand triple-checking your order before you submit, but is the flying public getting too hung-up about a name misspelling/typo?  How different does it have to be before it needs to be changed?  Just asking.

  • Vacaygirl

    All it takes is one wrong letter for you to be denied boarding, is that a chance you really want to take?

  • Tony A.

    Vacaygirl, why would an airline do that FOR ONE LETTER? They will have to refund the whole ticket. Don’t they care about revenues?

  • RobynJacqueline

    I’m undecided. It sounds like they refunded the money because they were contacted by you. If they actually reviewed the audio recording and found fault in what was said by the CSR, everything should have been refunded to begin with. However from their first conversation with you, it sounds like the OP was in the wrong and then they decided to do the refund because of the threat of bad press from a consumer advocate.

  • Tony A.

    Rosered, if you read the airlines’ contract of carriage, they all say something like this —
    REFUSAL TO TRANSPORT.
    Proof of Identity. *Refusal* to produce positive identification upon request.

    IMO that means the passenger REFUSES to even show an ID.
    The airline really just cares if you are the passenger who bought the ticket and that the ticket is not being used by someone else. Why? Because the ticket is NON TRANSFERABLE.

  • Rosered7033

    I think the operative word is “if” – IF they reviewed the audio rec. & found fault w/the CSR, it would seem to be an open & shut case, and the answer to the above question would be “Of course!”  I am cynical, and I believe they may not have reviewed it in the first place, or, if they did, they would rather try to put it on the customer, hoping they won’t challenge it, than do the right thing.  We’ll never know, as I’m sure the recording will never be released.

  • $16635417

    TSA’s website indicates they accept some leeway, presumably a true typo, such as your example of “one wrong letter” would fall into this category.

    I know someone whos gender is incorrect on their ID, yet they put their actual gender in the TSA secure flight info when booking and have never had a problem.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    I agree…why do people deal with these booking sites???

  • $16635417

    Is it possible the OP did not use the “name your own price” side of Priceline? I assume this is what you meant by the “type of person”, someone who is not savvy enough to use the bidding side of Priceline to their advantage?

  • $16635417

    One reason: I use the “name your own price” side of Priceline regularly and have saved thousands of dollars over the years.

    I got the impression that this was not a “name your own price” booking, otherwise how could it be re-created with the same results?

  • Bodega

    That is not correct Vacaygirl.  A letter or two isn’t a problem.  Now if you put Bob in the name field and the actual name is Robert, or Izzy and the name is actually Isabel that can be an issue based on the ID you are using for your travel. 

  • Bodega

    Yeah, I don’t get it.  All that was needed was to correct one ticket, the rest of the package remains intact.  Once you cancel and rebook, all sorts of issues can come up, as it obviously did.  Also, how much of a screwup was the name?  Did the ticket really need to be reissued?  How well trained are these agents you speak with at these online places?

  • Tony A.

    I think Priceline has 3 pricing/ service levels:
    a.) typical travel agency published fares and rates
    b.) Vacation Package
    c.) Name Your Own Price®The first 2 (a & b) don’t require any bidding. IMO the OP bought a Vacation Package – Air + Hotel + Car.

  • Careful traveller

    Every on line reservation system I have ever used reminds you, loud and clear, when you enter the name and personal details of the passenger(s) to be sure that the name(s) are identical to those on the ID you are using to prove your identity at the airport.   

    So, just check and re-check, and make sure if you can that you see the ID of each person travelling … this is not impossible, and is the intelligent thing to do.  So, if the passport says ‘Brian Robert Jones’ but we always call him “Bobby” then put Brian Jones (the middle name is optional) on the reservation document.  

    My wife uses her middle name in daily life, but we always buy airline tickets using her first name as written on her passport, and I usually add the middle name as well.   And I check twice before hitting the buy button, and I check the passport number each time on an overseas trip.   It may all be over the top nonsense, but do it.

    And, by the way, we always travel domestically now with our passports … the counter agents seem to prefer them to our alternative, a state driver;s license – never a second look at a passport.

  • Michael K

    I agree, but we’re dealing with human beings, so there will always be an error rate.  Even if it’s in 1 in 10,0000.

    The proof that it’s not 100% avoidable is the travel providers who publish fat finger fares, even though they have paid proofreaders and sophisticated content management systems.

  • $16635417

    I agree…in my mind I combined the published air/car/hotel with the packages. (They are both based on knowing your price and actual components up front.)

  • $16635417

    Correct, you SHOULD put the name as it appears on the ID you are planning to use. In my case, when my passport was renewed, my middle name was left off. (Even though my renewal application had it.)

    My driver’s license had my middle initial, but now has my middle name.

    However…..I have used all three naming options with various ID’s/Passports and never had an issue.

    I have had international tickets with a misspelled name purchased on my behalf….and then I HAVE had problems checking in online or at a kiosk with my passport not matching the name on the ticket exactly. I have never had a problem with the airline correcting the information at the ticket counter in this case.

    Now…I was picking a package up at FedEx once (note left at my door). The poor guy ahead of me had an ID that read first name “William”…the package was addressed to “Bill” (last name and address on shipping label matched the ID). FedEx agent refused to give the package to him because the names were “different”.

  • Geoff

    Until the public learns that they are not travel agents, that they cannot think like travel agents, and that they should use real live travel agents to book these packages, they will continue to make errors and beg constantly for your help. But that will keep you in business.

  • Rebecca

    I was stopped by an overzealous TSA agent “FOR ONE LETTER.” The airline said it was no problem, as I told them about it at check in. My last name is 13 letters, so the airline employee told me it would be no big deal. Sure enough, the TSA agent told me I had to go get a new ticket with my last name spelled correctly. By the time I went back to get a reprinted ticket and back  through security, I almost missed my flight.

  • Rebecca

    It’s not overreacting. I was actually stopped by one of those overzealous TSA agents for my 13 letter last name being misspelled by one letter. The agent that booked for my company put a “t” instead of a “y” – letters right next to each other on the keyboard. I told the airline at check in and was assured security would be fine with it, not to worry. Sure enough, I had to go back and get a new boarding pass printed. At first, the airline employee almost wouldn’t give it to me because she thought, like you, that I was overreacting. I had to explain several times that I had already been denied entry through security by a TSA agent and wasn’t just concerned it would happen. The airline employee kept telling me security would be fine with it. They weren’t!

  • $16635417

    TSA agent was wrong. Plain and simple.

    As you stated, the airline had no problem. While I would prefer to have everything go smoothly, I would rather be faced with your scenario than the OP’s.

  • $16635417

    TSA agent was wrong. Plain and simple.

    As you stated, the airline had no problem. While I would prefer to have everything go smoothly, I would rather be faced with your scenario than the OP’s.     

  • Michael K

    Travel agents never make mistakes?  I could have sworn I’ve seen accounts of a few examples on this very web site.

  • Sadie Cee

    This is the only scenario that I’ve read so far that makes sense to me.  The OP seems to have been inexperienced about using online booking services and chose the wrong option to correct the error made.  The agent somehow did not have a full grasp of the situation. Am happy to hear that Priceline did the right thing.

  • $16635417

    I see your point, but in this case, a travel agent would have corrected it and not told you to fix it yourself.

  • Rosered7033

    “TSA agent was wrong. Plain and simple.”
    Try telling that one to a TSA agent & see how far you get.

  • Sershev

    I had my name misspelled (2 letters) just past weeks and didn’t have any issues with TSA or the airline. According to airline employee it is ok to have up to 3 letters misspelled. Although I wonder what if someone’s name is just 3 letters? Also some people travel and have their IDs lost and show up at the airport without ID, still allowed to travel after additional questionning and name verification and additional search (from TSA website).

  • Sershev

    Often packages are priced differently from buying separately. So, priceline should have refunded the whole package right away.

  • $16635417

    I have, for other reasons, and have had the procedure corrected on the spot.

  • Tony A.

    Careful traveller, do I have a perfect story for you.
    Last month, I booked a passenger from LAX to Asia for Xmas. The lowest fare was from China Air. When the passenger told me his long and complex sounding name (over the phone), I chuckled and politely asked him to fax me his passport because I did not want to make a mistake keying it in. China Airlines is one of those airlines that does not allow any name change on a reservation. He did fax his passport and I entered his name EXACTLY AS IT APPEARED ON HIS U.S. PASSPORT.

    The long name was accepted by my GDS. I even entered his TSA Secure Flight Passenger Data. I sent him a copy of the reservation before issuing tickets, just to make sure. He checked it. No errors. So I told the staff in the office to just go ahead and issue tickets for this PNR.

    Surprise, surprise. China Airlines rejected the booking! The reason – his name was too long  (32 characters total) for their own RES (reservation system). Problem was that I got the LAST SEAT of the cheapest booking class, and if created a new reservation (with a shorter name) it would price higher. I just could not edit his name since that wasn’t allowed. Anyway, the nice folks in China Air just allowed me to make a new WAITLISTED booking on the cheap class and using a SHORTER NAME (dropping his middle name). Then they CONFIRMED the PNR from the waitlist.

    Morale of the story, China Airlines (and Emirates, too) is one of the few airlines that allows NO MORE THAN 29 CHARACTERS TOTAL for the passenger’s name.

    Okay so if he gets an overzealous TSA Agent, then he will be barred from entering the secure area since his name in the passport will never match his reservation nor boarding pass. Amazing, huh?

  • $16635417

    That is an interesting observation. Many people think they are buying a “package” but are buying published fares and rates combined into one total. If this was truly a “package”, the components could not have been booked seperately.

  • guest

    If they’ve already ticketed in the GDS, there are NO NAME CHANGES allowed.  So they would have had to cancel and rebook (at least the airline portion – the other segments could have just had a note about the correct name sent over OSI) 

  • guest

    Again, you can’t just “correct” a name in a GDS.  They don’t allow the function once ticketed.  So the airline tickets would have needed to be redone, but the balance of the package need not be – they don’t follow the same strict measures as the air tickets do.

  • $16635417

    I like how the airline had a workaround involving waitlist management but could not just change the name field.

  • y_p_w

    Full Chinese names are typically no more than three syllables. It would be ususual to go over 15 characters.

    Not sure about Emirates.  Some Arabic names can be pretty long.  I just looked up some random long name on the Dubai government website and found that the absolute monarch of Dubai (and Prime Minister of the UAE) is Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, which would be 30 characters long including spaces.  So UAE’s Prime Minister and Dubai’s absolute monarch can’t have his full name used on the reservation system of his own country’s flag carrier?  On the other, hand, I’d guess that he has his own private jets.

  • $16635417

    But, typos and misspellings ARE allowed, per the TSA website and my own experience. Even then, I have had my name changed in GDS’s when it was misspelled. If this was a “typographical” error (aka. “typo”) as stated in the post, what was the concern?

    I would not be surprised if this more than a “typo”.

  • y_p_w

    I have a hyphen in my name.  Some of my IDs have it in its entirety.  Some replace the hyphen with a space.  Others make my two-part name one word.  Similar things have happened with my credit cards.

    I’ve never had a problem with TSA accepting my IDs even if it was slightly different than the name on my boarding pass.  Your mileage may vary.

  • y_p_w

    I think it’s all up to the mood and the interpretation of the agent.  I’m not sure how much guidance there is from the top.

  • $16635417

    This is covered on the TSA website, they do allow for minor typos etc.

  • Tony A.

    The passenger was going to the Philippines. I sold him LAX-TPE-MNL on China Airlines. Filipinos usually have Spanish names. He had a compound surname and “double” compound given name. I thought he was joking so I asked for his passport. Sure enough it was 32 chars. long. BTW Emirates counts the dots (.) in between the compound names.

  • Tony A.

    Maybe they did not want to take ownership of the PNR since the departure date is more than 3 months away. So they would rather we create a new PNR and deal with the passenger till departure.

  • Tony A.

    I suspect Priceline just subtracts $5 from the total package price when you buy an airline ticket + hotel + car. That’s why the OP could not get the same total price when he tried to add a new flight to the existing (remaining) hotel + car package.

  • Bodega

     You send an OSI message through the GDS. You don’t need to reissue for a letter or two off.  Same with the air through a TO package for the same type of error.  The TO puts the OSI message in, but if they won’t and will charge for this, I have called the carrier and had it taken care of that way. In fact, I just had to do this for a honeymoon couple and it was for an international itinerary.  No problem at all with their travel.

  • MichelleLV

    Unfortunately TSA makes up the rules as the they go.  No airport is the same and no TSA agent is the same.    The same TSA agent probably acts different day to do to depending on how their day is going.   

  • MichelleLV

    It wasn’t name your own price.     They don’t do that with vacation packages.   

  • I asked Priceline to look into this, and it sent me the same answer: no. It said you were told that only airfare would be refunded. I found this disappointing. I also concluded that Priceline had reviewed its phone conversation and determined everything happened exactly the way it says it happened.