Hotels.com Succeeds Where Priceline Fails

Jim traveled to Miami to pick up a car he was importing from abroad. He booked stays at several hotels through Priceline and Hotels.com for the drive home, but when customs wouldn’t clear his car on schedule, Jim needed to change his plans. Priceline didn’t help, but Hotels.com did.

Ginger from customer care took my call. I explained my situation and let her know that I was aware that these cancellations were last minute, but asked if there was any way to cancel or get a voucher or possibly reschedule. Right away she told me that booking for the Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel had a no cancellation policy, but offered to see what she could do. *Bonus* Before putting me on hold she let me know that it may take a long time, but reassured me that if I hung on she would be back. She was back about 5 minutes and told me that she was able to cancel the Sheraton and give me a full refund. She put me on hold again to look into the booking for today. A few minutes later she came back to let me know that she was able to cancel and refund that booking as well.

Jim’s full story, after the jump…

(Photo: CanadaPenguin)


Background:

My fianc

and I were importing a car into the US through the port of Miami. We had planned to pick the car up in Miami and drive it to Connecticut, stopping along the way for over night stays in Jacksonville, Fayetteville and Baltimore. We used Priceline to book our room at the Clarion Hotel Airport Conference Center in Jacksonville and Hotels.com to book our rooms at the Days Inn Fayetteville and the Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel.

Unfortunately, US Customs was not on the same time frame as everybody else. The car arrived in Miami on Monday and was expected to be released by Wednesday or Thursday (a timeline we used to plan our trip). It wasn’t until we flew into Miami on Thursday that we were informed that customs put the car on hold for inspection Wednesday and decided not to do any inspections on Thursday. This obviously threw our whole trip out of whack.

The Story:
I called the Clarion Hotel Airport Conference Center in Jacksonville on Thursday (the day of check-in) to cancel – realizing full well that canceling on the day of check-in was a sure fire way to rack up extra charges. The woman at the front desk informed me that since it was booked trough an online travel site I would have to cancel through them (Priceline) directly. She also stressed that though the online sites are often cheaper, they are infamous for their poor service and cancellation policies and further urged me to call the hotels directly for future bookings.

So, I rang Priceline’s customer support number (which by the way is near impossible to find on line). After explaining my dilemma I was told read to from a script that it is against company policy to offer a refund for same day cancellations. I very nicely pleaded my case again and asked if there was any protection for circumstances clearly out of the customer’s control. Again, reading from a script, she restated that same day cancellations are against policy. She also added that she could transfer me to her manager who would tell me the same thing. I was put on hold and subsequently disconnected 5 minutes later. I gave up at that point.

I knew I should have called Hotels.com right away to cancel, but I was exhausted after a day of dealing with customs, the freight company and Priceline, so I slept on it.

This morning I called Hotels.com (on their easy to find 800 number) to cancel my bookings, again with full expectations of being hit with anti-customer cancellation policies and charges. Ginger from customer care took my call. I explained my situation and let her know that I was aware that these cancellations were last minute, but asked if there was any way to cancel or get a voucher or possibly reschedule. Right away she told me that booking for the Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel had a no cancellation policy, but offered to see what she could do. *Bonus* Before putting me on hold she let me know that it may take a long time, but reassured me that if I hung on she would be back. She was back about 5 minutes and told me that she was able to cancel the Sheraton and give me a full refund. She put me on hold again to look into the booking for today. A few minutes later she came back to let me know that she was able to cancel and refund that booking as well.

Wow both reservations were cancelled and refunded! I didn’t have to plead my case to endless reps and managers, I didn’t have to beg for forgiveness or detail my incompetence. The call was no more than 15 minutes and I only dealt with one person (who was not the slightest bit rude). My expectations were blown away with Hotels.com. Ginger earned Hotels.com a loyal customer today. If only she worked at Customs we probably would not even be in this situation.

— CAREY GREENBERG-BERGER

Comments

Edit Your Comment

  1. J.T Dabbagian says:

    On Priceline: What do you expect from a service that says “Name your own price?”

  2. hypnotik_jello says:

    too bad hotels.com is being sued for discrimination over ada compliance.

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/

  3. homerjay says:

    An empowered rep makes for a happy customer.

  4. firefoxx66 says:

    This is what I love about consumerist.com. I hope someone from both Hotels.com and Priceline.com end up reading this through some round-about way, so I can say that I’ll be booking future hotels through Hotels.com.

  5. d0x says:

    hotels.com screwed me out of $400 once because THEY made the wrong reservation.

    I had proof that the info that I had entered was correct (print out of receipt with dates). When I got to the Hotel they said i was suppose to check in the day before so I lost $400 for the night (expensive hotel).

    We ended up with 1 night in the nice hotel and 1 night in a crap fairfield inn…

    I called hotels.com and argued with them, they wouldnt give me any money back. I mailed a copy of my print out along with a complaint to the BBB, a few weeks later I was contacted by hotels.com and they credited my bank account a whopping $30 and thats all I could ever get back.

  6. Dont Know Me? You Are Me. says:

    I used hotels.com to reserve a room at a hotel in Anaheim. When I arrived, the hotel was not at all what I had been led to expect. It was horrible. After a few minutes in the room unsuccessfully trying to talk myself into staying, I carried my bags back to my car and then checked out. I figured that there was no chance of a refund, but I called hotels.com anyway to let them know. They called the hotel’s front desk to confirm that I had checked out and then called me back and said a full refund had been issued.

  7. stevekal says:

    priceline is extraodinarily clear, both pre and post bid, that there are NO refunds or changes, no nothing other than staying in the room you booked the nights you booked it.

    The delay wasn’t Jim’s fault, but it wasn’t Priceline’s fault either. Should they have to eat the room just because they are a big company?

  8. humphrmi says:

    This is a great Consumerist story. It isn’t about Priceline screwing him (he did get what he agreed to) but it’s about hotels.com doing a better job of customer service than priceline. And it helps me form an opinion about who I’ll deal with next time I need a hotel.

  9. FishingCrue says:

    More importantly, what kind of car were you picking up?

  10. Buran says:

    @d0x: I would have filed a chargeback at that point and I’m sure I would have won.

  11. Buran says:

    @stevekal: It’s their fault that they didn’t even try to help him. He’s not complaining about whether or not he got the refund — he’s complaining that all they did was read off a script and then hang up on him.

  12. Buran says:

    @FishingCrue: How exactly is that important?

  13. k8supergrover says:

    Just be really really carefull, the hotel that I work at has an “only for an act of god” policy on expeida reservations.

  14. Bay State Darren says:

    But Hotels.com doesn’t have Jim T. Kirk in its ads. therefore, Priceline wins.

  15. sixsnowflakes says:

    @knave77: I had a similar experience with hotels.com when I booked a hotel in Toronto for a busy weekend. I discovered after checking-in that the room was not the right # of beds, smoking when I wanted non, and the hotel was just a disgusting place overall. I found a new room at a decent place on my own (that was even cheaper. Toronto is not a good place for online booking. I did have to call about 20 hotels before I found one with a room available.) I figured my reservation was a sunk cost, but the hotels.com phone staff were friendly and explained that the # of beds is only a request, not guaranteed, but the woman said they would call me back. Someone did call me back and gave me a complete refund. Even though the reservation didn’t work out, I would use hotels.com with confidence just because they have great and convenient customer service, I know they will refund my money, and they stand behind their service.

  16. Devisissy says:

    I work for a hotel, and I have to say both Priceline and Hotels.com are utter crap. You, in 95% of the situations, pay more than you would if you called the hotel directly. On that same note, the employees of the hotel can do nothing to help you. We are told to have the guest call, or we get the old, “Sorry I can’t give any booking information without the guest’s…”

    Most hotels will hear out your reasons and allow you to cancel. I know I do. One last note, when booking online you get a standard room and any “room type” is only a suggestion not a promise. Read the fine print. Wanted non-smoking? Too bad. You should have called the hotel direct.

  17. joeblevins says:

    How much cheaper are the rooms thru these two sites compared to the AAA and AARP rates? I have always been afraid to use those site since it seems to reduce any travel agility you may need.

  18. iMike says:

    Next time I import a car from overseas, I’ll be sure to use hotels.com and not Priceline.

  19. tripdog says:

    I spent about 170 nights last year in hotels. I use both Priceline and Hotels.com. Priceline is the eBay of travel, you can get great deals but you have to be aware of limits of their service. As mentioned, Priceline is VERY clear about the no cancellation policy. If there is any chance I could have a problem with schedule or need to be specific about my needs, I use Hotels.com. Hotels.com is generally quite a bit more expensive but much more flexible. I have found that you can often get the same or better rate by calling the hotel directly. I am sorry Jim had a problem and can understand the frustration but the things you have to agree to even to purchase on Priceline are explicit. If you want a really low price, however, Priceline is hard to beat (with the appropriate caveats)

  20. dip_cone says:

    This has been pointed out numerous times, but this is a silly comparison. Priceline has no cancellations because they have a “name your own price and we’ll find an empty room” policy that DESTROYS the price Hotels.com (or Expedia, Travelocity/whatever) can get.

    I booked the Renaissance in Pittsburgh for $62 and night vs about $225 on Hotel.com and the Hyatt in San Fran for $85 vs about $250 for Hotels.com. I’ve never been able to get any real “deal” from any of those hotel booking sites until pricline. I would usually just check the price and then book on the hotel’s website.

    Point is, you know there’s a reason the prices are that cheap, and don’t cry about it after the fact. I’ve saved enough money the 3 times I’ve used it to make up for any problem.

  21. humphrmi says:

    @crycry: You make a very good point, and one that I think most people on this thread understand.

    OK priceline is cheaper. OK no cancellations is their policy. Whatever. Do they also have a policy that reads “When you call us with a question, we will read you a script and then hang up”?

    Bad customer service isn’t worth any price.

  22. nullset says:

    Three strikes and you’re out. I never recommend hotels.com to anyone. I had a VERY bad experience. They offered gift cards for future use. Fine. Guess what? It was even worse!

    Fool me twice, shame on me, fool me three times and I felt like an idiot for trusting them.

    Friends don’t let friends use hotels.com.

  23. nucleotide says:

    @joeblevins

    I’ve been doing a lot of business travel in the last 4 years. Most of the time expedia(wwte) & hotels.com weren’t cheaper than making the reservation directly with the hotel. And, when you make a reservation directly with the hotel you can easily cancel or change it. Usually until 6pm on the arrival date. I’ve also found booking directly with airlines to be a lot easier and sometimes cheaper too.

    Another thing. Expedia will want 60 days to issue a refund for a prepaid reservation. I’ve gotten out of this by pitching a major fit, showing my travel history and saying I’ll never use their service again.

  24. Ass_Cobra says:

    @humphrmi:

    I’ll agree that hanging up on a customer shouldn’t be in the CSR manual, but the script thing, that’s kind of how a company ends up with consistent customer service. If it’s a clear cut case there’s really not much point in getting creative. The fact that they couldn’t be where they had their reservation is a pretty clear cut case. What would you suggest the rep do?

    If you are using Priceline, I’d recommend checking out http://www.biddingfortravel.com. It’s a community message forum where users post their wins on priceline. It can really help you target in on what you should be bidding. There is also a manual for becoming a priceline bidding ninja which will definitely help you save a ton.

  25. harumph says:

    @zirkus: i had the same experience. i just booked 2 nights in boston and compared priceline to booking straght thru the hotel. it was $5 cheaper straight thru the hotel so i would caution people to at least try the chain’s own website. $5 is of little consequence but you probably can squawk higher up the chain of command if you booked straight through the hotel if there are any troubles.

  26. Buran says:

    @iMike: You do get a deal on the price of the car so that the cost of the vacation and then the pickup later is often lower than just picking it up from a US dealer. In Europe buying cars direct from the manufacturer is apparently legal … unlike the US which has for some reason decided that it is better to force us to go through a third party when direct-from-mfr. would be cheaper.

    Some makes do offer European delivery — e.g. BMW, Mercedes, Volvo (I think). VW does not unfortunately which is a shame because their Autostadt museum is AMAZING and I want to see it.

    Anyway. All the hassle is worth it in the end, but personally I book hotel stays directly through the hotel’s website.

  27. Buran says:

    @RowdyRoddyPiper: Simple: not read from the script and show some compassion. It wasn’t the OP’s fault and he got the “we got your money, we don’t care” treatment. It’s one thing if you do something stupid, it’s another if it was out of your control.

    And what was with the hanging up? THAT is inexcusable. If you say you’re giving someone a supervisor, DO IT.

  28. d0x says:

    @Buran:

    I had used my bank card to pay. Last time i used a chargeback with them I had to pay double. I dont use that bank anymore…

    The story was Valentines day, I had $140 in the bank. Went to a florist and picked out $100 in flowers. The guy in front of me’s card was declined..he said it shouldnt have been and left. Then my card was declined. I went to the ATM and i now only had $40. Something was wrong.

    I called my bank, went through the steps, told them what happened. They put $100 back into my account.

    3 Weeks later they said the chargeback was declined and I got hit with over $80 in overdraft fee’s.

    How it was declined I’ll never know…They didnt have a piece of paper with my signature, i never entered my pin.

    I called the florist many times and the owner said she would refund me, yet everytime she told me to meet her there she was nowhere to be found.

    I know this is offtopic but it fits with your reply to my comment.

  29. @Buran: actually, my question was on the car being imported also. It means a lot! but then again, i’ve bought several cars off of ebay, and I find the journey to be part of the experience.

  30. humphrmi says:

    @RowdyRoddyPiper: Scripts aren’t about consistent customer service. Scripts are about hiring the cheapest labor you can get and not having to teach them to take ownership of a customer’s issue. Well trained CSRs provide consistent customer service and still have the ability to step outside the box and put themselves in a customer’s shoes for a moment and figure out how to make something happen. Or, at least, be a little bit empathetic if there is nothing they can do.

  31. Buran says:

    @d0x: That’s pathetic. That sort of thing is also why I charge everything and pay it off in full every time I get the bill — and still have my $50 liability limit.

    Seems to me like they lost your reservation, gave away your room, and were too stuck up to admit it.

    Or something.

  32. sonichghog says:

    I can not stand the priceline customer service. My Wfie mad e simple mistake on airline tickets. We wanted to leave on the 20th and return on the 30th. She accidently put in 10th – 20th. She called them RIGHT after it she clicked, because thats when she saw the mistake. Oh Well, No refunds.

    We will never use them again. Sure it was her error, but human beings make errors, and she caught it not even 1 minute after she clicked, and the CS rep did not help at all.

  33. GiselleBeardchen says:

    “You’re sh*t out of luck” in a cheery tone is still “you’re sh*t out of luck.” As others have pointed out—you’ll pay about 1/3 of Hotels.com with Priceline. Priceline has revolutionized the travel industry (to the consumers benefit) and I feel it is unfair to rip them for this circumstance. Trip insurance is available at a reasonable cost prior to commitment to buy (not sure they’d cover custome delay though).

  34. alterboy says:

    @Devisissy: This is for the most part true. What I do is search every discount hotel booking site on the web and then call the hotel to match it. I go to Vegas a lot and most of those hotels have price match guarantees. If you go through a website to book you don’t get comps either. At least not on your room. (not that I’ve ever gotten one, but it’s nice to dream) Only once was I told they could not match the price and that one time i had issues. Travelocity booked us in 2 different hotels and our hotel tried to kick us out and charge us the full rate for the room. It took over a half an hour for the hotel to call travelocity and sort things out. Not the way you wanna wake up to and deal with after getting to your room at 5am after drinking and bowling all night.

  35. beinblondie01 says:

    When you use Priceline, you have to initials a contract page. On that page it specifically tells you ” By putting your initials on this contract you agree not to ask for this reservation to be canceled, changed or refunded. You get a great rate cheap and you expect there not to a guideline? Priceline is an excellent service. I use it often, and I haven’t had a problem. Those who use priceline often, rave about it until one thing does not go their way. If you do not agree to the policy of no canceling, no changes, no refunds, or no transferring, then do not select the buy my hotel room button. You weren’t forced to buy it, and you agreed upon those terms.

  36. hounddoggie says:

    I’ve used Priceline many, many times and found the service to very good. As mentioned, their rules are very explicit… But they will bend in certain instances:
    My wife priceline 3 nights in Chicago for a girls weekend to the tune of $500+ several months before the scheduled trip. Sadly, the weekend before the trip, her father passed away. Knowing the Priceline policy but not wanting to lose the money for hotel rooms that were no longer going to be used, she called and explained the situation. The rep said that they normally never refund, but in this situation it would be no problem. We appreciated it.