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.