Travel

Travel Troubleshooter

No room at the hotel, so why won’t Priceline refund the stay?

Q. I’m a professional photographer, and I was working in New York City recently. I had a double shift and was scheduled to work again in New York the next morning. Because I live a bit outside the city, I decided to book a hotel for the night. I did so through Priceline at a cost of $170. I went to check in at the Hotel Pennsylvania after my second shift was done, around 1:30 a.m.

When I arrived at the hotel, I found a line of people waiting to check in, despite the late hour. As we waited, a hotel employee came from behind the desk and informed us that there were no rooms available. They were still being cleaned and would not be ready for another three hours. He said if we had booked a room through an agency like Priceline, then we should call them and have them find us another room.

I called Priceline twice and talked to their robotic voice thing, but I was not able to get through to a real person, despite their website saying customer service is available 24/7. I tried using the chat function through their website but again was not able to message with a real person.

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It was almost 2 a.m. at this point and I needed to get some sleep before going to work at 9:30 a.m. the next day. I was able to book a room through Hotel Tonight, but it cost me $365.

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Here’s my problem: Priceline won’t refund the $170 I prepaid for the Hotel Pennsylvania because they say I never checked in and was a “no show.” I talked to three different customer service people who all said the same thing. I’ve also e-mailed their “Executive Services” e-mail and received the same response. Can you help me get a refund from Priceline?

LIAM GOODMAN,
Beacon, N.Y.

A. The Hotel Pennsylvania should have found a room for you. In the hotel industry, there’s a standard rule that says if a hotel can’t accommodate you, it will “walk” you to a comparable property and cover your first night. If you’d asked a representative to “walk” you to another hotel, you might have been able to avoid paying an extra $365.

Priceline’s refusal to refund the money sounds absurd, but it makes sense. The online travel agency doesn’t know any more than what’s in your record. And your record says you didn’t check in (which is true, but not the entire truth).

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If you’ve prepaid for a room through Priceline or Hotwire, and the hotel can’t accommodate you, make sure you get a confirmation of your cancellation in writing. In other words, some proof on hotel letterhead that the hotel turned you away or a cancellation number. Otherwise, you’ll be a “no show” and lose your money.

I’m unhappy that the Executive Services e-mail offered the same canned response as everyone else. I list the names, numbers, and e-mail addresses of Priceline’s customer service executives on my nonprofit consumer-advocacy website. The company should have researched your claim, which would have proved you were correct.

I contacted Priceline on your behalf. It refunded the $170 you spent for the room you never got at the Hotel Pennsylvania.

Christopher Elliott can be reached at chris@elliott.org.