Q: My mother-in-law had a very bad encounter with Priceline, and needs your help. She booked a package deal to San Diego that included round-trip airfare, rental car and a hotel stay. She found out literally right after she booked it that the hotel was in a bad part of town.
We called Priceline and went through several people to see if we could have the entire trip credited back and then we explained we planned on re-booking a more expensive package. Her sister had died recently, and after much arguing, a Priceline representative agreed to credit everything even though their policy was to only credit hotel and rental, as long as a death certificate was sent.
Priceline eventually credited back all but the airline tickets. The company refuses to honor a manager's word. Is there anything we can do?
— Paul Cantrell, Albuquerque, N.M.
A: If a Priceline representative promised your mother-in-law a full refund for her vacation, she should have received one.
But did the representative speak out of turn? Priceline's vacation packages are highly restrictive. Each component — air, car rental and hotel — has its own refund rules, so unless the manager researched each one while you were on the phone, he wouldn't have been able to offer a blanket refund.
Then again, this could have turned out far worse. If you mother-in-law had used Priceline's "name-your-own-price" service, which allows you to bid for an airline ticket, car, or hotel room, she probably wouldn't have been able to get any refund.
Still, I have to wonder about a thing or two. Priceline's vacation package site lists the name of the hotel — unlike "name-your-own-price" where you don't get to find out the name of the resort until you pay for it. Why not investigate the neighborhood of your hotel before you book?
You say that your mother-in-law's sister had died recently. As it turns out, she had passed away before this booking was made. In effect, the Priceline representative was offering a way to cancel this package by showing a death certificate, even though this isn't the intent of the rule that allows someone to cancel when there's been a death in the family. He probably shouldn't have done that.
I'm not surprised Priceline backed away from its original verbal agreement. The representative shouldn't have promised you a full refund and shouldn't have offered the death-certificate waiver. Instead, your mother-in-law should have reviewed Priceline's terms and done her due diligence on the hotel before she clicked the "buy" button.
Still, a promise is a promise. I contacted Priceline on your behalf. "Good news," a representative responded a few days later. "We were able to obtain a refund from the airline for the air portion of this package."