Priceline Really Doesn't Want This Guy's $244 Back

Andrew tells Consumerist that he received a refund of $244.16 from Priceline.com after canceling a hotel reservation. That part isn’t the problem. The problem, from Andrew’s point of view, is that Priceline never charged him for the now-canceled hotel rooms in the first place. He doesn’t hate free money, but wonders whether Priceline will finally notice their mistake and sic a collection agency on him sometime in 2012.

Several weeks ago, I booked a couple hotel rooms through priceline.com for a road trip I was taking with some friends. I booked the rooms with a refundable option, because a few people on the trip were still a bit shaky on their commitment to going, and sure enough, a couple more dropped out a few days before. The reservation was still within the deadline to cancel without any penalty, and since we didn’t need two rooms any more, I just canceled both of them and made other arrangement. After putting in the cancel request on the priceline.com website, it confirmed the cancellation and said the refund would be issued to my credit card in a few days. That’s where things got weird.

After about a week had passed, I noticed that the refund of $244.16 had posted to my amex card, but there was no corresponding original charge. I assumed it just hadn’t posted yet, but several more weeks passed and still nothing. Today I called priceline, asking them what was up and if they wanted their free money back. The woman checked their payment system, and claimed they had charged me on the day they made the reservation, then refunded it the day after I canceled. I explained to her that I saw the refund, but there was no charge on the day she said from them, or at all. She told me there was nothing more she could do, and suggested I call my card issuer, and gave me her name and a ticket number.

So I called Amex, and after digging through their phone menu, I got a service rep and explained it to her. She looked through my account, and quickyl figured out what happened. Apparently Priceline had made the authorization when I booked, but then never actually posted (or captured) the transaction. Basically what happens when you check into a hotel or rent a car, but without the final step. After a while the authorization was canceled, but priceline went one step further and issued a refund on top of that. So they basically paid me $244.16. The Amex rep said they no longer have any authorizations pending, and I checked their new “Pending tranasactions” feature on the website for my card and saw the same thing. Then she tried to up-sell me on getting a third credit card from them. I declined.

Not wanting to dig through the priceline phone tree again, I went to the contact form on their website, referenced my case number and original confirmation number, and then explained what I had learned from calling Amex. I asked them if they wanted their money back, and if not, to at least verify that they weren’t going to start making random charges or send me to collections or something. A couple hours later I get this back:

Dear Andrew,

Thank you for taking the time to send us an e-mail. We understand that
your credit card statement does not show the charges from us for your
cancelled reservation at the Fairfield Inn By Marriott [City]. You
have received the refund from us and you would like to confirm that we
will not make random charges or sending collections agencies after your
sometime in the future.

As advised by one of our phone agent we did charged for your reservation
and authorization was placed. You can call your bank for assistance. We
would like to confirm that there will not make random charges or send
collection agencies after you in future.

We thank you for the opportunity to assist you and hope you find this
information helpful.

Sincerely,

[redacted]
Customer Service Specialist

Now, if they had just written back something to the effect of “Hey we screwed up but don’t worry about it keep the money!” I’d be writing you a letter of praise. But it’s not entirely clear that’s what happened here. As far as I can tell, they are still convinced they charged and then refunded me, and I must be mistaken and if I have questions I should call my bank. Everything I’m get from amex (website, statements, and cs rep) says they never charged me, and apparently don’t understand this.

It’s not that I feel particularly guilty taking their money, but I’ve heard enough horror stories with billing incompetence to not trust this is the last of this. Is there something else I should do? Or should I just take the money, consider it a windfall, and donate it to charity and/or have an epic bender of top shelf booze?

Me, I’d stick it in my highest-interest savings account, but that’s the kind of boring thinking that got me where I am today. (In my living room, with no top-shelf liquor.) Andrew hasn’t done anything wrong, but if he wants an answer from a human who actually read his e-mail, he can try this address.

Comments

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  1. RandomHookup says:

    You’ve done everything that you should ethically be expected to do. Keep the money and, if they decide later they want it back, give it to them. I wouldn’t spend it (or donate it to charity) because there is a period of time that they can charge you or ask for it back. Put all your documentation in a file and keep it until it makes sense.

  2. Brunette Bookworm says:

    I’d say don’t spend it but keep the emails in case they finally figure out they didn’t really charge you but gave you money back. I wonder if anyone knows if there is a time limit for them to seek their money back, especially since Andrew has already tried to give it back to them.

  3. Blueskylaw says:

    “I’d stick it in my highest-interest savings account”
    We now know that this story is fake with that statement.

    But all kidding aside, RandomHookup put it well, document the steps you took to return the money and put it in a savings account for safe keeping and to earn interest.

  4. Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

    I’ve been in this situation before and have always…

    Kept all emails and logs of all communications and then just stuck the money into my emergency fund at ING and then just forget about it.

  5. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    Hee haw. Free money. This is a great. Make a reservation with Priceline then cancel before they post. Thanks Andrew! If you don’t mind me asking… what time of day & day of week did you book and cancel?

  6. ElizabethD says:

    Is there a lawyer in the house? I would not venture an amateur opinion on what to do here.

  7. PanCake BuTT says:

    I would go a step further than the emails. If legal in your state, and if you can figure out a way to call Priceline and record your conversation with a representative. Store the audio on your computer along with the emails, that should more than cover your butt.
    Sounds a bit crazy, but for training and quality purposes, it gets the job done, IMO.

  8. dr_drift says:

    “…and quickyl figured out…” I think you mean QUICKLY! I lost all respect for the OP and stopped reading right there. If he can’t be bothered to SPELL CHECK then I don’t care about his stupid problem! Robble robble robble spelling robble robble!

    • Shouty D says:

      This was an excellent contribution to the topic.

      • LadySiren is murdering her kids with HFCS and processed cheese says:

        Agreed, because it’s not like the OP was maybe pressed for time but wanted to submit this and so didn’t see the typo, or maybe it was sent from a Crackberry, or a myriad of other reasons that prevented him from using the spell checker.

        Seriously, GTFO unless you have something relevant and valuable to add, please. Also, Consumeristas? PLEASE give us the edit button and comment voting system that users have been begging for since the redo!

    • skormos says:

      You’re sew awsome. Can me be just simalir two you when I done grows grander?

  9. AD8BC says:

    Many years ago Verizon Wireless was accidentally crediting my account with someone else’s payment. My monthly bill was about $60, and the incorrect payment credits were about $175 (on top of my real payment). I waited a month figuring that they’d figure it out. My next bill came and they did it again! I called and they told me that the payments were valid and they would not be removing the credit balance from my account. Next month, same thing. I emailed this time, and got the same answer, they were telling me to check and make sure I didn’t have an auto bill pay thing going haywire at my bank. I ended up not making my real payment because this would further cloud the issue. This went on for four more months and my credit balance got really high. In my last desperate email I asked them to cut me a check for the excess credit.

    Then the fit hit the shan.

    I got an email in return telling me that I knew all along that the credits were incorrect and they accused me of fraud. I replied with copies of all of my customer service emails and chats. I received a call that afternoon from somebody higher up apologizing profusely. They removed the credit balance, didn’t make me pay for the four months that I didn’t pay for, and gave me another three months for free.

    Honesty has it’s privileges.

  10. darcmosch says:

    I had that happen to me once as well. I bought some RAM for this Dell laptop I got (don’t worry I didn’t pay for it) to make it run a bit quicker from Newegg. Like usual, Newegg’s service was again, exemplary, getting it in two or three days. Then, about a week later, I got an email apologizing for not delivering the RAM as they said they would and got my $25 back. Nothing like stories like this where the errors are in the consumers favor!

  11. Hoss says:

    He should fly out to priceline headquarters and speak to the CFO directly.

    Come on, if the charge doesn’t show up in the next two billing cycles, problem over. It’s not our job to fix their accounting procedures, and from their prospective it costs more to interrupt the workflow and investigate these things. Every process has an error rate

  12. evnmorlo says:

    Give up and take the money. You’ve already wasted several hundred dollars worth of your time, the CSRs’ time, and the internet’s time. If Priceline wants to correct the charge they will, despite your helpfulness, when the right gear starts moving.

  13. Rocket80 says:

    Book another room and cancel it and see what happens…just to test it out, ya know.

  14. sqeelar says:

    Sometimes it takes 6 months to a year for someone to make the right comparison and detect the problem, even with the very best company. Imagine pleading with a financial institution to take the $5000 owed and not being heard until the Federal Reserve audit told them to do it.

    Luckily we had the discipline to keep the money in a separate account just for that moment.

  15. Rose says:

    Send them a certified letter outlining the time line and your attempts to communicate with them, and give them a deadline to charge you. When the deadline passes, cancel the card and get a new one.

    • SabreDC says:

      Actually, that might ding his credit score/history. I would recommend reporting your card as stolen; they’ll keep the account open and active but just issue a new card with a new number.

      • Difdi says:

        Don’t report it as stolen, that would be a lie. Instead, report that you dropped it, it fell into something, got shredded and you don’t know where the pieces wound up. Then cut it into pieces with scissors, drop it into a few random garbage cans, and make a point of not learning where the local landfill is.

        Truthfulness is not necessarily honest, after all…

  16. partofme says:

    I’m glad that someone else has the same perspective of what makes a good life… how full that top shelf is…

  17. UnicornMaster says:

    step 1: print and frame the email
    step 2: go about your business.

  18. AustinTXProgrammer says:

    Keep the money, don’t spend it. If they ever do send a collection agency make sure you dispute within 30 days of getting the letter (include email, offer to pay with written guarantee they won’t report it). It should never go on your credit report that way.

    In all fairness it’s their money, but they most likely will never come for it (I had a much larger windfall from Sam’s Club years ago, the debit transaction never posted by they refunded me when I returned the item. I couldn’t convince them they didn’t have my money, but to be fair I only tried twice).

  19. AllanG54 says:

    I’d just get William Shatner on the case. He owns about half of the Priceline stock and I’m sure he doesn’t want anyone getting his money.

  20. segfault, registered cat offender says:

    The dye job on that cat is splotchy. When I dye a cat’s fur, I make sure I don’t leave any spots undyed.

  21. penuspenuspenus says:

    Here is a brief intro on how Priceline/booking.com works (not the negotiation portion):

    You book your room for $X on Priceline/booking.com. You aren’t charged directly by the website, but your credit and booking information is sent to the hotel to set up your reservation. Priceline has little to do with the reservation from here on out.

    The hotel has the right to charge your card at this point, and Priceline bills the hotel their fee (~10% of the net transaction) at the end of the month. If you decide not to stay and call Priceline/booking.com (or pretty much any of the sites, Expedia and Orbitz included) you can ask to cancel your reservation. The call center will then send a call to the hotel and basically ask if the hotel is willing to let this reservation go. It’s really up to the hotel, not so much the site.

    (The difference between Priceline and the other sites is Priceline just asks for their cut at the end. Orbitz, Travelocity, and Expedia are paid by you and they shell out the money later).

    YMMV, but I hope this helps someone out.

  22. Mcshonky says:

    spend the $$$$ and reference their email if problems crop up in the future