Priceline.com Bait and Switch..or System Glitch? Internet
I had used Priceline many many times in the past without incident. Yes, the discount seemed to get smaller and smaller over the years, but I always enjoyed the thrill of bidding well below the advertised prices for rental cars and for hotel rooms.
Unfortunately, my experience took a terrible turn for the worse last week. I had named my own price for a rental car, choosing a number I knew to be well below current market. I quickly received the usual Gosh, wouldn't it be great to rent a car at that price, but it's unlikely to be accepted by any of our partners, wouldn't you like to try such and such price and we can book it immediately?
As usual, I refused, and re-entered my own price. Then, it became complicated.
I recall the site then asking me if I wanted to use my profile to choose a credit card. I said yes, and was brought to a profile screen and I chose the top credit card in my profile. There was a delay... and finally a message came back saying to the effect there seems to be a delay in processing your credit card, please enter your billing address. Which I then did... after which it brought me to a screen inviting me to enter new credit card information. (At this point, I realized that the credit card I had selected was old and out of date, so I entered a new cc's information.) It then asked me to confirm by including my initials in the box that I had read the terms and conditions, so I did. Then Shatner's mug appeared saying We're ready to close this deal! or some such rot, while the clock showed something was processing...
And then, the coup de grace: I was presented with a screen saying Congratulations, your price of SUCH AND SUCH [the higher price they presented as a counteroffer!] has been accepted!
I immediately called customer service (sic) and after the usual very long hold, told them there must have been some sort of mistake; that I did not offer SUCH AND SUCH, but a much lower price.
The first rep said nothing I can do, sorry. The next rep (a specialist - ha!) said, hmmm, here's what we can do... you can pay $20 and we'll cancel the reservation (!)
I explained, again and again and again, that I cannot cancel a contract that I did not form, and by paying the cancellation fee, I was admitting to forming the contract, so no way. We were on the line for 20 minutes, with him repeating do you agree to pay the $20 to cancel and me saying I can't agree to cancel something I didn't contract for... finally, he said, I will ask our research team to find out if there is anything we can do to allow you to not pay the cancellation fee. I said, Fine and hung up. I immediately called my bank.
I explained the situation to my bank (who, btw, seemed familiar with this or similar problems with priceline...). They told me that my only recourse was to cancel the card SINCE THEY ALREADY SAW A CHARGE SUBMITTED FOR THE FULL RENTAL PRICE OF THE CAR (not just the cancellation fee). I canceled the credit card, and had to provide a fraud report to the bank's fraud office who is investigating both sides.
I wrote a long letter of complaint to the email address for complaints and to the SVP in charge of investor and customer relations (customer service complaints in writing have to go to a fairly hidden address on the website under investor relations), and the next day received an email reply from customer service.
They said that the offer to cancel was in error, but since the rep you spoke to made it, we will honor it, if you pay $20. (Same old song...) I explained that I cannot agree to cancel a contract I did not form, as I did not have the requisite intention to book at the price indicated and that the whole affair is the result of a mistake - their system's mistake, in my view.
They then replied saying, we have your initials on a page indicating that you accepted our counteroffer of SUCH AND SUCH, and I explained that I did not have any such copy of a page and that I had acted all along with only my lower offer on my screens.
They of course did not and will not admit that any error may have occurred in their system, nor will they withdraw the assertion that I made a reservation at the higher price. Neither did they at any time offer anything other than their regrets when they said they could not waive what they were now suddenly calling a $20 penalty fee.
Apparently, they employ an entire staff to handle and deter refund requests; given all the fine print, this is a classic case of asymmetrical bargaining. By the time you've named your own price and passed through however many screens they present, it is next to impossible and certainly impractical for the customer to preserve an accurate record of what they saw on their computer screen, and meanwhile it seems priceline is free to assert an agreement is formed when it suits them... that is, there is no concept of mistake as the basis for rescission.
I have learned my lesson: no more priceline, or other opaque consolidators/auction sites where I am vulnerable to whatever record they want to produce/claim. And given the risk to their business model if too many people did advertise either their system glitches, or refunds upon complaining, I can see they aren't about to change their hardline attitude, regardless of the loss of those customers who, like me and the poster to which I'm agreeing, may actually have been victims of a priceline system glitch.
Priceline july 2009 victim
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