Priceline Restores Insanity, Moves Hotel Reservation To Different City

Priceline has a very different understanding of what a “hotel reservation” is than Shane does. He and his wife and children planned to take a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Washington, D.C. to attend this past weekend’s Rally To Restore Sanity And/or Fear put on by comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. They reserved a hotel room in a close suburb, near a Metro station, correctly assuming that traffic would make driving into the city a bad idea.

Then, the night before their trip, Priceline sent Shane an e-mail: oops, the hotel was overbooked, but Priceline was nice enough to find them a lower-quality room in the suburbs of Baltimore!

On Sept. 21, I used Priceline.com to book a hotel in Silver Spring, MD, in order to take my family to the John Stewart/Stephen Colbert rally in Washington, DC. I normally wouldn’t travel to DC for a political rally, but I am a strong supporter of bold comedy. I chose Silver Spring because it’s on the Metro line, and because there’s a crepe restaurant we like there, and because it would hopefully be less hectic than staying in the heart of the city. The hotel was rated 3 ½ stars, which meant that my kids would think they were staying in a palace.

As the month wore on, I learned from friends who wanted to go to the rally that it was getting really hard to find a hotel anywhere near DC, which made me feel good that I had booked early.

Fast forward to Oct. 28, at 3:32 p.m: My wife and kids have been excited about this trip for a month. We always try to take a short family vacation in the fall, and this is going to be an especially fun one. Perhaps it will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We’re all packed. Then I get this e-mail from Priceline:

Dear priceline customer,

Thank you for using priceline.com for your recent hotel reservation.

Our records indicate that your reservation for request number xxxxxxxx was booked at the Crowne Plaza Silver Spring. The [hotel chain] Silver Spring has informed us that they will be unable to accommodate your reservation. We can, however re-accommodate your reservation in the Doubletree Hotel Columbia. The Doubletree Hotel Columbia is located at 5485 Twin Knolls Rd. Columbia, MD. The phone number is blah blah blah and the fax number is blah. Your new confirmation number is xxxxxxxx. The Doubletree Hotel Columbia is a 3 star level hotel, in the Columbia North area.

If you would prefer to cancel your hotel reservation you may do so as long as you contact us us prior to 6pm day of arrival which is on Friday, Oct 29, 2010.

We do apologize for any inconvenience this change may cause you, and we would like to send you an e-mail that contains a link, which can save you $10 per night, up to $50, on your next Name Your Own Price hotel request through priceline.com. You can expect to receive this link in a separate e-mail message.

If you have any questions, please contact our customer service department at 1-800-340-0575.

We do appreciate that you can choose from a number of services while planning your travel, and we hope that you choose to come back to priceline for your future travel needs.

Sincerely,

The priceline.com Customer Relations team

I’m a calm person. So before freaking out, I think, “I’ll call Priceline. Surely they can work something out.”

If you’re not familiar with the geography, Silver Spring is a suburb of Washington, DC. It’s on the Metro line, and the beauty of staying there is that you can walk to the Metro station, hop on a train and be in the heart of the city in 10 minutes. Columbia, on the other hand, is a suburb of Baltimore. It is 21 miles from Silver Spring, or about 30 minutes, unless there’s heavy traffic. I think it was safe to predict heavy traffic before the rally. That’s why I wanted to stay overnight in a hotel within walking distance of the Metro, and I didn’t want to drive into downtown DC.

So I called Priceline, and they explained… NOTHING. And they offered me… NOTHING. The customer service person robotically said “I’m sorry, would you like me to refund your reservation” over and over and over again. When I asked if they could provide me with another reservation of equal value somewhere in Washington, DC, the answer was no, I’m sorry, would you like me to refund your reservation? When I asked if he understood that their alternative reservation was in an entirely different city and was an inferior hotel to the one I had already paid for, the answer was, I’m sorry, would you like me to refund your reservation?

And when I asked if there was a supervisor I could talk to, the answer was, “No, unfortunately I am not able to elevate this to anyone else.”

I got off the phone to collect myself–at no time did I raise my voice or say anything disrespectful, but I did make clear that I was absolutely livid, and that if this is how they treat their customers, I would be sure to tell everyone I could about this horrible experience.

After calling my wife to discuss it, I called Priceline back. I was able to explain the situation to a new customer service representative, who parroted the same lines, but then he asked me to hold while he transferred my call to a customer relations specialist. Thank goodness, I thought, finally someone will help me.

But no, the customer relations specialist only wanted to process my cancellation. She offered no more help than anyone else I had spoken to. She said that there was no one else I could speak to. There was nobody I could e-mail. I could, however, write a letter and mail it to an address that she provided me.

So through no fault of mine, and less than 24 hours before I was scheduled to check in, my reservation that I had made a month earlier no longer existed. And the few hotels that are available in Washington, DC, for the weekend were upwards of $250 per night.

Thanks, Priceline. You erased my family’s vacation. And the $10 voucher that you sent me as compensation? The one that I would be a fool to use, now that I understand how meaningless a paid reservation is when booked through your service? I can get that exact same voucher just by doing a simple Google search. You bastards.

True to my word, I am telling everyone I can about this absolutely horrendous experience. And if official Priceline Negotiator William Shatner ever reads this, I hope he has a sad. Yes, it was just a hotel reservation, but the experience that I, my wife and my kids missed because of it can’t be replaced.

Fine print sucks. It sounds like the hotel in Maryland had a sudden surge of customers willing to pay more than Shane’s family did. Did anyone else out there have a similar experience in DC last weekend?

I admit that I’m cynical enough that I was afraid Priceline wouldn’t issue a refund, but this is an odd case where they were suspiciously eager to do so. If no one ends up reading that snail mail letter, you can also try e-mailing this address that actual humans sometimes read. Maybe you’ll luck out and a human who likes fake news will be on duty that day.

How Priceline screwed me out of a family vacation [Americanwhale]

Comments

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  1. benbell says:

    This is why I book my rooms directly with the hotels. I have not had issues like this.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:
      • thrlsekr says:

        Yes, but this was an extreme case of 128 Students that had a reservation not a single family! I too, reserve directly from the hotel and have never had an issue.

        • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

          Doesn’t that make it worse?

        • MMD says:

          And I have reserved directly with a hotel and been turned away.
          Evidently, no method is foolproof.

        • sleze69 says:

          My father in law was recently booted from a Marriott that overbooked. In turn, they booked him at a JW Marriott about 10 minutes away at the same rate and gave him a free night during that stay and a 3 day voucher for another stay.

          Of course, he is Platinum. I have never had a problem booking with Marriott.

    • larrymac thinks testing should have occurred says:

      I make my own reservations at home.

    • Black Bellamy says:

      As someone who has worked the hotel front office for many years, I can assure you that overbooking in busy locations is the norm, and determining who gets “walked” to the other hotel is not a matter of how much they paid for the room or how they made their reservation – it’s just a matter of timing. The hotels list of arrivals that the clerk/manager uses to decide who is going to get walked is not sorted by how their reservation was made.

      • common_sense84 says:

        That is a flat out lie. They will absolutely bump third party reservations first because they don’t have to accommodate these people at all.

        And they will always bump a lower paying guest over a walk-in that will pay the full rate.

        That is how they operate.

        • Black Bellamy says:

          I’m sorry what’s your hospitality experience? I’ve worked six different properties over 15 years. In most cases we would walk whoever arrived last. We never told someone to get lost because they were paying a lower rate or because their reservation was made through one party vs another. And we never sold a room if inventory was gone, regardless of how much money you were willing to pay. “Third-party” reservations don’t have to be accommodated? WTF are you talking about? If it’s guaranteed by a credit card number it’s just as good as any other booking.

          • MMD says:

            Then why was the OP booted?

            • Trireme32 says:

              When you go through 3rd party sites, the site may not often have the most up-to-date hotel inventory loaded. So, you might book a room through Priceline AFTER the hotel is already considerably overbooked. In these situations, one of the hotel managers will contact the 3rd party site directly and inform them that they cannot accept the reservation.

          • kennedar says:

            I have worked in hotels throughout Canada and Europe and you are absolutely correct. It was always simply a matter of who walked in last. The only exception in my experience has been that huge corporate accounts did not usually get walked – meaning if you are in town on business for a company that uses the hotel regularly, you will probably not be walked. This sounds like a case where they were horribly overbooked and so took pro-active measurements to make life easier for the front dest staff. In my experience, when this happens it is usually customers who booked with the hotel and paid the least who got walked, unless you were a VIP. We never walked third party sites because we did not want to risk the massive contracts and customers that they bring. It sounds like the contracts have changed since I stopped working in hospitatilty 4 years ago though if they can now walk those guests.

          • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

            i’ve only worked in one hotel, for about 3 years, but in my experience, the final decision always rested on which manager was on duty. if it was the regular front desk evening manager or the night clerk it came down to who arrived last. if the guest service/rooms manager [supervisor of the front desk manager] was around at the time, she made it about the money.

  2. moderndemagogue says:

    A once-in-a-lifetime trip to Washington DC? To stay at a hotel that they know has a nice crepe place next to it?

    Come off it with the hyperbole guys — they used a bargain-basement name-your-own-price service to make a reservation for a hotel room surrounding an event that they know will draw hundreds of thousands of people. Of course the chances of getting bumped are high.

    Make a real set-in-stone booking if the trip is such a big deal.

    This is not worthy of your guys blog,

    • MMD says:

      This is the OP’s fault for trying to save money?

      Priceline advertises itself as a legitimate way of booking a room. They – and the hotel – should be called out when reality contradicts that claim.

    • uberbitter says:

      That rally was most likely a once-in-a-lifetime event, not going to DC.

      • DH405 says:

        I think that’s also evident by the fact that the OP has been there before. Even has a favorite crepe restaurant in the suburb he prefers to stay in.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      I always thought a reservation guaranteed patronage. Wierd, right?

    • dragonvpm says:

      It’s not hyperbole if they’re going to an event that’s likely to draw “hundreds of thousands of people”

      Seriously, that comment was the best you could do to advance the discussion about this situation? Just blithely criticize the OP with a “I’m better than you” attitude and then you sign off “your guys blog.” I hadn’t seen anyone mangle the English language that bad in quite some time.

      I’m grateful that the OP did share this with us because it’s re-affirmed my decision to avoid Priceline like the plague. I was always suspicious of their fine print so I have never used them, but after reading this post I’m not going to risk ruining any of my trips thanks to their useless reservation system.

      PS To the editors, maybe I’m reading this wrong, but redacting the hotel name usually works best when you redact both instances of it in the letter ;-)

    • Tim says:

      This is not worthy of your guys blog,

      You’re referring to your comment, right?

    • allknowingtomato says:

      I think the issue that IS worth this blog is that many people still erroneously feel that booking online through these e-travel agencies is a “real set-in-stone” reservation.

      I think i it’s ridiculous that when I book directly through a hotel, I am not charged until I arrive for my room (or fail to timely release my reservation). I have never had my reservation “destroyed” by the hotel giving my room away to a late-coming higher bidder.

      However, when I book through priceline etc, my money is immediately taken from me and, as demonstrated here, there is actually no guarantee that my money secures anything for me. By inserting priceline as the middleman, consumers are provided with a far inferior experience, and the hotel can jerk around its customers to pick up those last minute profits by “hiding” behind the priceline contract.

      It is not priceline, but the hotel that screwed the customer for $. Priceline just had no way to improve the situation, and thus highlighted how utterly useless services like priceline are and how they protect hotels from the “bad consumer karma” they incurr . The hotel knows that priceline will be seen as the bad guys, when the hotel is the one yanking the reservation for extra money. OP is doing himself a favor by avoiding priceline, but “punishing the bad guy” would be outing the hotel that yanked his reservation and not patronizing their business, because they are the ones that actually ruined OP’s vacation.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:
        • allknowingtomato says:

          I’m not saying it never happens to anyone. I’m saying that, from an anecdotal perspective, I have only read about hotels yanking reservations made directly once here on consumerist (and remember that story was a large student group and thus the hotel was likely bumping for more than financial reasons).

          In contrast, I personally have had hotels yank reservations from me after booking thru Priceline, Expedia, and Travelocity, and I do not consider myself a frequent traveler. It has happened to my father, my mother, my brother, and my roommate. Anecdotal yes, but I believe it is more common for the hotel to take away your reservation thru e-booking services, because of the decreased accountability (see OP’s misplaced rage with Priceline).

          • jessjj347 says:

            While I think that your anecdotal evidence is not the best way to argue how hotels bump reservations, I agree with one of your major points. I agree that by using services such as Priceline, that hotels can find loopholes in the contracts with these services that allow them to bump the budget reservations without consequence.

            And this is different from bumping a reservation made directly through the hotel, because the customer has actually already paid. That major difference should be considered, because it’s then not a matter of inconvenience, but rather, an issue of receiving a refund. I’m not sure whether the hotel has already received the money, or if Priceless is sitting on it as a “deposit”, which they will later take their fees out of. That would be a good thing to know as well when deciding if the situation is more unfair to those booking through Priceline. The issue there is that if Priceline has the money the whole time, then they may have more incentive to NOT honor your reservation, since they’ve already made money off of investing it (during that time period between booking and arriving at hotel – several months in this case).

      • Gulliver says:

        Hotels commonly do this. It is called “walking” a customer. If you have the reservation they are required to find you new accomadations. Priceline did that. Hotels do it all the time. If you had the reservation with the hotel itself and they saw a large increase in upper level rewards customers you will be walked.

    • Fineous K. Douchenstein says:

      Yeah, I have to agree here. The importance of the trip kinda trumps saving a few bucks. I believe I’ve read before that these discount websites for hotels commonly get bumped, particularly when the hotel can book people at their usual price.

      Book through the hotel. Use a discount website when you don’t really care.

    • Gandalf the Grey says:

      Yes, because anyone that didn’t get to go to Woodstock because of some lame ass bus ticket reservation where the bus oversold should just shut up because they can just go the next time right?

      There was an event they were looking forward to going to. Priceline screwed them.

      Don’t blame the OP for making a reservation and expecting it to be honored.

      • moderndemagogue says:

        Your analogy is incorrect. The bus did not oversell. It’s like you went to a friend who had told the bus company he’ll try and fill extra seats and said you wanted to get on, but only pay $20. He says, okay, I’ll take your $20, but if people want to pay $50, I’ll have to put you on this other bus thats going to leave from 20 miles away.

        That’s not unreasonable — and if it happens, you say screw it, and go meet the bus 20 miles away because its motherf’in woodstock, and you really want to go. Hell, you’re probably pissed you just didn’t go straight to the Bus and pay $50 in the first place, but you didn’t.

        There was an event they were looking forward to going to; Priceline offered to rebook them 18 miles down the road. Priceline had nothing to do with screwing them out of going entirely. That’s a choice they decided to make, the same way they made a choice when they went with a bargain no guarrantees online booker, rather than direct to hotel, where at least a reservation pretty much guarrantees they must rebook you nearby (I’d love to see a hotel walk you without doing that, and not have to cough up in court).

        Consumerist is using hyperbole to support an untenable position taken by a consumer, which is not what we want. The OP is basically saying “well, I signed up for this, but I really wanted guaranteed service which is this other thing, and now I’m mad that I got screwed, despite acknowledging that possibility by originally signing up for it.”

        Its like someone going to McDonalds, ordering a Big Mac, and then being annoyed that they didn’t get Steak Au Poivre. Its ridiculous; if you’re not willing to take the risk, don’t use those sites. If its that important to you, pony up and vote with your wallet and get the service you want.

        • Gandalf the Grey says:

          It doesn’t matter if you book directly with the hotel or through a third party. The hotel contracts with priceline to sell rooms.

          It’s NOT like someone going to McDonalds, ordering a Big Mac, and then being annoyed that they didn’t get Steak Au Poivre. This is like someone going in, ordering a Big Mac, and being upset they didn’t get their Big Mac. There is extra costs associated with staying further away. Taxis and rental cars are not cheap, and for anyone traveling on a budget those are not small considerations.

          There also stands the fact that Priceline sold a specific quality of room, and then tried to substitue a lower quality of room for the same price. That is bait and switch (or to put it in your terms, ordering Steak Au Poivre, and getting served a Big Mac) and that is illegal.

    • daemonaquila says:

      Elitism showing, much? Yes, this IS a once-in-a-lifetime trip for MANY people. Going to DC is expensive no matter where you stay. Going to DC for a special event that means something to the person going is irreplaceable. When you carefully book a hotel to take care of both travel problems and are in a neighborhood with great memories, that means something. What, a person has to book a 5 star hotel for a month in the Alps for that to be special enough for you?

    • TBGBoodler says:

      The “once in a lifetime” part referred to taking part in the awesome rally. I live in DC and it was a once-in-a-lifetime event for me.

      • moderndemagogue says:

        If it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event, you don’t use bargain basement online middlemen — and if its a once-in-a-lifetime event, you don’t mind driving 18 miles down one road to get to the other hotel. That is a mild inconvenience, and a risk one accepts when attempting to save a few dollars.

        Additionally, the million man march was less than a lifetime ago. There will be similar if not more significant rallies in the next 40 years, and have been in the past 40. It’s a great event, but it is by no means once in a lifetime, and if it were, then it also stands to reason that one would be willing to drop at least a few grand on travel and accommodations.

  3. Turcicus says:

    It ended up being easier to actually drive in to the city that day.

  4. seth_lerman says:

    I’m not seeing what Priceline did wrong here. It’s the hotel that canceled the reservation. Priceline, in the case of the cancellation, is just the messenger. Don’t shoot the messenger. It’s not their fault the hotel you booked canceled your reservation (probably in favor of a non-Priceline customer paying more) and it’s not Priceline’s fault everyone else at your price point is already booked.

    • obits3 says:

      Do you think it’s ironic that they want to irrationally blame Priceline while they go to the “Rally To Restore Sanity And/or Fear”

      Maybe they are on the side of fear…

      • Oh4Sh0 says:

        Irrationally blame priceline? They made their deal with priceline. They did not make their deal with the hotel. If priceline cancels their reservation, it’s pricelines fault. It doesn’t matter what the hotel does, the reservation is priceline’s responsibility.

        If priceline is making a promise to a consumer for a “X-star room for x-nights in x location”, and back out on it, it is their fault, period. What deals they have with the hotel are between priceline and the hotel, and do not involve the customer directly.

    • MMD says:

      Both are to blame.

      Priceline and the hotel have an agreement. Priceline sends them business, and the hotel should therefore hold up its end of the deal. However, Priceline should not be sending business to hotels that do not honor their commitments.

      If they do not sever their relationship with the hotel, they are complicit in the problem.

    • s73v3r says:

      I would say that it is Priceline’s fault. They are the ones responsible for making the reservation, and the ones responsible for keeping it.

    • coren says:

      If he had booked directly with the hotel, 99/100 times, the hotel would find him a reasonable alternative (in terms of quality and distance). Since there were reservations available for 250 less than 20 miles away, priceline should have swallowed the cost and done that instead.

  5. zachrtw says:

    I think I read somewhere they had to close to take care of a bedbug situation, maybe that is what happened. Can’t blame them for cancelling if they are dealing with a bug infestation.

  6. ThinkerTDM says:

    This sounds like a lot of work, but he could have driven to the Metro station, parked, and then taken the Metro in. In fact, the place I used to live- Summit Hills in Silver Spring, has a huge parking lot that basically is free parking for the Metro, which is two blocks away.

    So- erased his families vacation? I guess, but if wanted to have a vacation with his family, he should have worked around the difficulties, instead of leaving it up to priceline.

    • Tightlines says:

      Yeah, I was wondering the same thing—why not just drive to a Metro station if you don’t want to drive directly into the city? I guess his other complaint was that the other hotel wasn’t as nice, but still, I don’t think he needed to cancel the whole trip.

    • Tim says:

      A lot of stations do, but the parking lots and garages near or at stations filled up quite early.

    • zzyzzx says:

      Tell me more about the free parking near the Metro.

    • Red Cat Linux says:

      I will agree that if I was hell bent on the trip, I would have rented a car, and argued with Priceline about the difference.

      And still, this is something I would want to know about Priceline. It’s a helluva thing to try and get reservations at the last minute.

      The whole idea behind reservations is that you have a room reserved. I would have been surprised too to book well in advance and be told when it was too late to seek alternate accommodations that ‘reservations’ are only a suggestion.

  7. BuyerOfGoods3 says:

    Wow…Less than 24 hours before check-in. Now that’s pretty bad. Must be why I never use Priceline. I call the hotel and make my reservations myself, so i’ve never had this issue (yet). They’re always willing to match the prices I can find online (if they are REAL prices, not ‘bait and switch’ ads).

  8. Megalomania says:

    Priceline et al give you good prices because they help hotels fill EXCESS capacity. When the hotel can fill up every room without their help, they do it.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:
      • MrEvil says:

        That case is unique. You have a large group getting bumped. That happens quite often with Hotels when you have two groups vying for the same hotel. Hell, it happened to QuakeCon a couple years ago. Generally speaking booking an individual room with a hotel won’t get you bumped. Groups on the other hand generally won’t accept being split up between two different properties even if they happen to be next door to each other.

        • MMD says:

          I went to a wedding where half of the individuals who booked in the couple’s chosen hotel were bumped. Probably because they booked under the wedding rate. I found a cheaper rate than the wedding rate advertised online and booked that way…I think the only reason I didn’t get bumped is that we stayed Friday and Saturday night instead of just Saturday.

          The point? Hotels bounce people all the time for different reasons, regardless of how the reservation gets booked. The only solution to this is to put an end to the practice of overbooking.

          • njack says:

            Agreed, overbooking sucks, regardless of whether it is a hotel or an airline doing it. It really shouldn’t be complex, a hotel has X number of rooms, accept X number of reservations. If a person no shows on a reservation, they already guaranteed it with their card, so charge them for the room.

    • MMD says:

      Then the hotel shouldn’t accept a reservation on a busy weekend.

      Lack of foresight on their part should not be the OP’s concern.

  9. shufflemoomin says:

    It sucks, but there’s little you can do but put it down to a learning experience and move on. Maybe book direct next time to avoid these hassle. FYI, someone who writes a phrase like ‘…at no time did I raise my voice or say anything disrespectful,’ usually did just that. Just my opinion.

  10. dolemite says:

    Surge of customers willing to pay more? A reservation is a reservation, I’d think. First come, first serve.

    • Gulliver says:

      Nope, not the case at all. Like airlines, hotels overbook based on the history. Imagine this scenario. People reserve rooms in three hotels. Do not cancel the other two until day of. Now what? Its not as easy as first come first served

      • njack says:

        24 hour cancellation process, if they don’t meet that, then charge them anyway. I wouldn’t have any sympathy for someone who cancelled day of and get stuck with the charges anyway. A hotel has 300 rooms, they should book up to 300 reservations, not 301+.

    • Beeker26 says:

      Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. When faced with an overbooking situation the hotel is much more likely to cancel reservations based upon the rate they’re paying. Sucks, but it’s the way things are done these days.

      When you know that there’s a convention or rally of some kind and hotels are going to be fully booked it’s just not wise to use a discounter for your reservation. Reserve your room directly thru the hotel and pay their standard rate.

  11. MMD says:

    While I’m not defending Priceline here, I think that the Crowne Plaza Silver Spring deserves more of the blame. They entered into a contract with Priceline and should honor that contract rather than have the option to be “unable to accommodate the reservation”.

    In my book, the only acceptable reason for being “unable to accommodate” a reservation would be a legitimate, physical problem in the hotel that caused rooms to be unavailable (maybe some burst plumbing flooding some rooms, etc.). I suspect plain old overbooking here.

    Cynicism demands that I mention that hotels were likely busier than usual because of the rally and Crowne Plaza Silver Spring knew they could book reservations at full price due to their convenient location. They may be technically within their rights to do this, but if that’s their plan they should never have accepted the OP’s reservation in the first place.

    • moderndemagogue says:

      You don’t know the terms of that contract, and in all likelihood it allows them to do exactly what they just did. I don’t use priceline, but I’m fairly certain it makes such disclaimers in its fine print. This is 100% on the complainants, and Consumerist really shouldn’t be posting things where a consumer makes a mistake and doesn’t read their agreements.

      • MMD says:

        Neither do you. And this is why I said “they may be technically within their rights to do that”.

        However, my argument is that such a technicality is inherently problematic. Don’t call it a reservation if it’s not, and, barring legitimate hardship, don’t accept a reservation if you can’t – or won’t – accommodate it.

  12. KLETCO says:

    To be fair, Columbia can be claimed by both Baltimore and Washington DC as a suburb. The fact that it is so close to the middle is why so many people live there.

    • kathygnome says:

      The real key for me here is that it’s not in the same geographical area. Priceline lets you “name your price” for a random hotel, but they divide up the city into some fairly restricted geographical areas. It could be all over the place within that geographical area and sometimes with a downtown reservation, you can get something that’s a little on the edges of the area. But Columbia isn’t in the Priceline defined Silver Spring area. It’s not even close to it.

    • Red Cat Linux says:

      Time to downtown B’more from Columbia: 30 minutes.
      Time to downtown/Mall area of DC from Columbia: 1 hour.

      It’s geographically slightly closer to B’more, but in terms of driving it, it’s a big difference. It’s an even bigger difference since that hotel in Columbia is not convenient to the commuter trains, not connected to DC mass transit, and just plain isn’t convenient. If I were on a business trip, I’d be hot over it. I would also require a rental car at that point.

  13. Cameraman says:

    Look. The hotel dicked you over, not Priceline. Priceline tried to do the right thing by refunding your money, because they understood that there was a dicking-over. Sometimes there’s no way to fix an error, and all the company can do is offer you a refund. Sometimes, there’s no good answer.

    On occasion, I try to sell a customer something, and a vendor blows it. Sometimes I can offer an equivalent from another manufacturer. Sometimes I can’t. In those cases, there’s literally nothing I can do beyond offering the customer a refund and then trying (and often failing) to take it out of the vendor’s ass. Sometimes I have to eat it, but that’s the cost of doing business.

    Did you want Priceline to build a new hotel in Silver Spring in time for the rally?

    • MMD says:

      No, but I do want to see Priceline do business with hotels that can be trusted to honor reservations. I would think this would also be in Priceline’s best interest.

      • Cameraman says:

        Sure, sure. It would be awesome if I could predict which vendor wouldn’t screw me over in advance, too. But how to tell until it actually happens?

        • MMD says:

          The test is to see whether Priceline continues to do business with this hotel. If they do, they are part of the problem.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      In the end, I believe it’s the fault of the person to whome you gave your money.

      As a business, you most likely deal with sub contractors and third-party businesses to provide your product. But you customer doesn’t care about that, they care about the end product.

      Your job as a business owner is to make your customer have a good experience, and weed out bad third-party businesses.

      The correct action here is for Priceline to privide as good an experience as possible to the customer, and then take actions on the back end to either get compensated by the hotel, or to remove the hotel from their listings.

      • Gulliver says:

        Hotels do this directly EVERY DAY. It is common. It is what has to be dealt with in life. Priceline tried to fix it the best they could. Lets imagine a scenario where there was a power outage at the hotel. Should priceline be crucified for not checking the possibilities of storms in an area?
        The HOTEL reneged on the reservation. Priceline was willing to either cancel, or provide you with future discounts and another hotel.
        If you want guarantees in life, you will never be able to afford another hotel room again.

      • Cameraman says:

        Sure, but what if they can’t? If every comparable hotel room in or near DC was sold out, what could Priceline do *other* than issue a refund? Again, building a new hotel in Silver Spring wasn’t an option. Rebooking them in a hotel that met the OP’s criteria wasn’t an option. What other way could Priceline make it right?

        As others have pointed out, this is not Priceline’s fault, this is the hotel’s fault.

        • njack says:

          Agreed, Priceline did what it could and there really was no good solution that would have made the OP satisfied. In that case you cut your losses and move forward as a business. It sucks.

          The bigger problem here is the accepted practice of overbooking by the travel industry. Yes it is common practice, but that doesn’t make it right.

          If I book an airline ticket and fail to show up for my flight or even try to cancel it 24 hours in advance, I am highly unlikely to get a refund (refundable tickets which cost significantly more are a possible exception). However it is perfectly acceptable for the airline (and apparently a hotel) to bump my reservation, even if there are no more flights for the day. I’ve been in situations where the airline is willing to bus you to a nearby airport to catch another flight, but in many cases this isn’t even an option and you are screwed until the next day. If a hotel does this and there is no availability, a family could be legitimately stuck on the street for the night…or have to travel 50 miles just to find a room.

          The practice of overbooking provides no benefit to the consumer, only the business, and it should be illegal.

          • RvLeshrac says:

            So, then, what everyone is saying is that Priceline can’t offer you hotel reservations, they can only offer you vague assurances that you *MIGHT* have a hotel room when you arrive at your destination?

            Good to know, but perhaps they should put that on the website. Because from what I can tell, Priceline is advertising themselves as a way to reserve hotel rooms for less than one would from the hotel itself.

            I mean, hell, *I* could run a business taking money from people and guaranteeing nothing in return.

  14. brit2380 says:

    As I live in Silver Spring, MD, I can see Shane’s point. The Red line metro is easy to use to get into DC. Columbia, is a good 30 minutes away, and you need a car to get anywhere else. Although the rally was big event, I’m sure there must have been hotel in the metro area and not just in Silver Spring that would have similar access to the metro available. As for the Silver Spring metro itself on the day of the rally: it took 45 minutes to get into the station (the line stretched down the block because the station closed several access point for exit only, or they were broke, and people buying access cards), the rail cars were packed worse then sardines, and the red line itself was going through maintenance that day (of all days) which delayed trains. In other words what would have normally taken 15-20 minutes tops to get into DC took almost 2 hours.

  15. deadandy says:

    It’s pretty low-class to criticize Priceline or call them out in the tagline for this article.

    Hotels make an agreement to sell blocks of rooms to Priceline at a certain price using a pretty complicated matrix. If the hotel reneges on the offer, Priceline offers a refund OR a different hotel? What in the world else did you expect them to do?

    You definitely should complain to Priceline any time a hotel misrepresents itself or treats you badly because you are a Priceline customer; if they get enough such complaints, they will drop the hotel as a vendor. But it’s still not their fault if the hotel doesn’t follow their terms of service.

    • daemonaquila says:

      If it took paying full price and their taking a loss, it was Priceline’s duty to do so. Once you set a reservation for a customer, you make sure it’s honored. They are essentially the travel agent here. If the hotel bailed, and they can’t get a room at that hotel for love or money for the customer, it’s their job to get the best hotel room in the same area, period. And no matter what, canceling 24 hours before a person gets to their destination, when the reservation has been made for a month, is not acceptable.

      Businesses like Priceline who leave customers with their butts hanging out should be boycotted, slammed by the media, and destroyed. People who accept that Priceline and similar companies doing something like this are part of the problem.

      • deadandy says:

        I think you have a gross misunderstanding of Priceline’s business model.

        They are a reseller of unsold blocks of hotel rooms–that is it. If for some reason they are unable to deliver what you paid them for, they offer a refund. The offer of an alternate room was above and beyond, as far as I’m concerned. If the hotel situation was as described, that was likely the best and closest alternative available. Did you want them to rent a room at the White House for the OP, perhaps?

        They are not a travel agent by any means–just a reseller of the unwanted.

        • c152driver says:

          Priceline is indeed a travel agent. They just happen to have contracted rates with select hotels, just like many other travel agents do.They just happen to have much worse customer service then most travel agents.

    • asten77 says:

      Not at all.. you made a deal with priceline, not with the hotel. You agreed to pay $x for a room, and they agreed to get you a room, in the area you specified, for $x. You, as the consumer, aren’t dealing with the hotel. They are. If their hotel partners screw up, it’s up to priceline to honor their end of the agreement.

      You think they’d let you out of the agreement if you didn’t like the hotel? Pshaaww..

    • MMD says:

      But it will be their fault if they continue to offer that hotel as an option and it happens again.

      And how do we know it hasn’t happened with this hotel already?

  16. seanjustinpenn says:

    So if you want to cancel the reservation, you lose your money.
    If they want to cancel the reservation, they lose … a coupon.

  17. jiarby says:

    The OP was the cheap bastard and COULD HAVE called the hotel, booked directly, and secured his reservation. Unfortunately his greed to save $20 motivated him to book with Priceline and now he is reaping the rewards of seed he has sown.

    The Hotel can look at the books and see that there is an excess supply of guests willing to pay $250 so they dump all their “excess capacity wholesaler” (priceline) reservations.

    The OP rolled the dice to try and save a few bucks. He lost.

    • kathygnome says:

      I disagree. Yes, you book with Priceline because you’re cheap, but once the reservation is made, you should get what you agree to. There are lots of restrictions on the Priceline reservations. You can’t cancel. You don’t get to pick your hotel. That’s what you put up with for the cheap price. Having your room sold out from under you isn’t one of those things. Or it shouldn’t be.

      If they’d moved him to another hotel in the Silver Spring area, now that would be something different. One of those things you put up with is they choose the hotel, but you do get to pick what geographical region you’re in.

    • MMD says:

      A confirmed reservation is “rolling the dice”? How can you possibly defend that logic?

      If the hotel accepts the reservation they should honor it, regardless of where it comes from.

      It’s not the OP’s problem that the hotel didn’t think ahead and realize that they could sell out that weekend because of the rally.

      • DeepHurting says:

        Don’t you get it? The OP was taking a risk by exchanging money for a service! Any time you exchange money for services, you should just assume that you’re not going to get anything in return, especially if you don’t pay the maximum market value for it.

        Maybe if Priceline can’t deliver the services it offers, it shouldn’t be in the service offering business.

        • MMD says:

          I agree with the last sentence of your statement.

          But what you’re not acknowledging is that the OP had a confirmed reservation. It’s seriously problematic when Priceline and/or the hotel start redefining the terms “confirmed” and “reservation”.

          The hotel has the option to accept or not accept a Priceline reservation. They accepted it. They should honor it. Why is that difficult to understand?

    • SolidSquid says:

      As others have pointed out, hotels do this even with people who book directly

  18. c152driver says:

    I experienced the same robotic customer service agents at Priceline 9 years ago. It took me several months to get a refund in my situation, and that was only after enlisting a U.S. Senator for help. In retrospect, I’m not proud for using a senator’s time for an issue like this, but I was extremely frustrated to not find anyone at Priceline with a functioning brain. I’ll never do business with them again.

    • DH405 says:

      The Senator themself likely never heard a word about your situation. That sort of thing is generally 100% handled by staff.

  19. wackydan says:

    I can think of a million other places to take a family vacation than D.C. for a stinking rally – of any type.

  20. sirwired says:

    Priceline absolutely should have stepped up to the plate here. If the hotel that was booked couldn’t accomodate the OP, than it is both the travel agent’s job to find an acceptable replacement. That is what you are paying the agent for. If that happened to be $250 a night, tough $hit for Priceline. It can then go chase after the hotel for the money on their own time.

  21. Gulliver says:

    I am not sure where people get the idea that booking direct provides them with more security. Paying more will usually provide it. The hotel makes an educated guess on the number of no-shows etc. There are many ways you would still get walked (hotel equivalent of bumping). The higher up on a rewards program reduces the chance, the higher room rate reduces chances, but nothing guarantees anything. The only legal thing a hotel must do is provide you similar accommodations for the same price.
    It sucks, but it is the real world. There is no sure fire way to avoid it. If you are willing to pay rack rate, you will lower the risk, but I would rather pay $50-$100 less at priceline than pay full rack rate all the time. Over the course of time, the savings will more than make up the one time out of how many room nights a year there is an issue.

  22. dush says:

    The poster hopes the great Bill Shatner “has a sad.” That’s awful.

  23. Geekybiker says:

    One thing I’ve long suspected about some of the discount hotel reservation sites is that they don’t make actual reservation for you if you book far in advance. Instead they give you a confirmation, and then put your info into a computer that watches prices and books when they are statistically the lowest. They then pocket the extra cash. Most of the time it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve been bumped from a hotel with suspicious circumstances before.

  24. Clogtowner says:

    Because of the hassle of paying up front, not knowing the hotel and the subject of this thread, I only use Priceline if they are 25% cheaper than any other source, and that is a very rare event!

  25. junip says:

    I’ve come to the conclusion that these middleman travel sites are just plain evil. They leave you with little to no protection, they skim off the top of everything, and if I am to believe the loophole pointed out by recent ballot measures in my city, they also collect more taxes from customers than they actually pay to the municipalities.
    Always book directly with the hotel/airline/car rental. Sometime’s I’ll use the travel sites to get an idea of the prices, and if I find a booking I like, I go to that company’s home page and book it directly with them.

  26. ElizabethD says:

    Amtrak from Baltimore to DC. Simple solution. So much drama!

  27. DanKelley98 says:

    Hey Shatner, what’s going on?

  28. matukonyc says:

    I agree that Priceline is not really to blame here – it was the hotel. I have never used Priceline because the idea of not knowing what hotel I will be sleeping in in advance of a trip makes no sense to me. Given that there are a limited number of hotels in this suburb, one would think that the OP would have booked directly, especially since there are children involved! Did the OP think he was really going to get a bargain during one of the most attended events of the year??

    • MMD says:

      The OP was *actually sold* a discounted room. So, yeah, I’d say it’s reasonable to assume that a reservation that was *already booked* would be honored.

      The hotel should have planned ahead and blacked out Priceline reservations for that weekend. That they didn’t should not have been the OP’s problem.

  29. NotEd says:

    Too be fair Columbia is right between Baltimore and DC, so saying that it is a Baltimore suburb is only half right.
    Plus there are other, admitedly not as nice DC suburbs in both Maryland and Virginia where they might have still found a room near the end of one of the Metro lines.

    Too bad this wasn’t posted last week. I could’ve hooked up the OP with by brother to stay in his basement in Silver Spring. ;)

  30. Not Given says:
  31. Purr says:

    I see no fault on the part of Priceline here. The fault is the common practice of overbooking.
    21 miles down the road is not much to worry about. If the OP canceled his plans simply because of 21 miles, he circulates in a very small world. It is ALWAYS a better plan to stay farther out from a major once-in-a-lifetime event.

    I’ve booked hundreds of hotel nights with Priceline over the years, and I’ve always been treated fairly. The hotels, on the other hand, DO try to downgrade Priceline customers to crappy rooms or walk them when possible. (Again, read HUNDREDS of hotel nights as data). I would have accepted the walk to the other hotel and enjoyed the weekend, even though their $10 certificate would mean nothing to me.

  32. Taylor@HiKarma.com says:

    Columbia may be nowhere near Silver Spring, but it is certainly not a suburb of Baltimore. Columbia is in Howard County. Baltimore City is in an entirely different county. Furthermore, as far away as Columbia is from Silver Spring, it is even further away from Baltimore.

    Finally, Howard County is one of the top three wealthiest counties in America. Calling Columbia a suburb of Baltimore is like calling Manhattan a suburb of the Bronx.

    My source? I live in Columbia and travel to Silver Spring multiple times a week.

  33. CreekDog says:

    All the Priceline defenders…okay, I’ll grant you your argument.

    The rest of us *get* it that you don’t use Priceline if where you’re going and what you’re doing is important to you.

    I’m sure Priceline appreciates your defense of them.

  34. Difdi says:

    Get the phone rep’s name, then ask the phone rep for the contact details for Priceline’s agent for service of process, then ask to be transferred to the legal department. If the rep balks, ask him if he’s sure he can’t help, then insist on the transfer.

  35. bben says:

    I travel for a living and I would never use Priceline or any other aggregateor to book anything. My small company uses a local travel agency to make our travel reservations. When I call to make a reservation, I will talk to one of 4 people who all know me and my preferences. In over 40 years of travel I have never been bumped from a hotel reservation.

  36. Myotheralt says:

    Greenbelt Park had at least 40 camp sites available. Starting at $16 a day, and pretty near to the metro line.

  37. redline says:

    Thanks for the heads up. I won’t be using Priceline!

  38. Farleyboy007 says:

    These sites never really seem to save a lot of money and the amount of people they screw over is amazing. Usually i’ll look on orbitz/travelocity/whatever to see what airline has the best price, and then book directly through the exact same price or lower. Orbitz bent me over last year after a flight change (I had to pay for a flight out of pocket, b/c they never booked the change, and they reimbursed me the cost of that flight less a $150 change fee) and i will NEVER use one of these sites again. People need to stop patronizing them so they will go away, or change their business practices.

  39. Evyw says:

    I had a somewhat similar experience a few years ago with an online booking service. Since it was several years ago I can’t remember which one it was, Priceline or Travelocity. I’d booked a room in a hotel so my daughter and I could visit a college she was interested in attending in Georgia. I arrived at the hotel and the person at the desk said there were no rooms available. I told him that I’d reserved a room through Priceline (or Travelocity) and had the confirmation number. He said that those companies don’t check with them on availability and that there were no rooms available. I asked what I was supposed to do now and he told me to call the online reservation service company I’d used to get another room or a refund. They (the reservation company) told me that they would be refunding my money within a certain amount of time (I think it was a week or so) instead of just putting the money back on my debit card. I was worried about not being able to find a vacancy since it was the visitors day of the college in this college town. Fortunately I did find a vacancy (at a hotel that was much more costly). I have since vowed NEVER to use an online reservation service again.