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 Â½ 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.
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]