There's a mystery charge on Jerry Wilson's credit card. Priceline has charged him $472 by Priceline for an airline ticket from Washington to Colorado. But Wilson never meant to buy the tickets and he has an alibi: the aftereffects of viral encephalitis, which can cause confusion and memory loss. Is that enough for Priceline to refund his ticket? Plus, when should you not consider using Priceline's name-your- price Web site - and what are the alternatives?
Q: My credit card was recently charged $472 by Priceline for an airline ticket from Washington to Colorado. But I never meant to buy it.
At the time, I was just searching for fares for a trip to my 40th class reunion. I didn't mean to make a purchase because I couldn't afford it.
I know Priceline's tickets are nonrefundable, but there are special circumstances. I have brain damage caused be viral encephalitis. As a result, I have several mental problems, one of which is a problem with comprehension.
For example, I have to stop and really think about something before I understand the message. Where it used to take me a few days to read a novel, it now takes me a few weeks.
I feel that Priceline should have compassion for the handicapped. I am on a fixed income and the loss of the money has seriously taken a toll on my budget. Can you help me get my money back?
-- Jerry Wilson
A: I'm sorry about your condition and agree with you that Priceline should be compassionate to the handicapped.
Obviously, I am not a doctor and don't have access to your medical records. But as best I can tell, viral encephalitis - the inflammation of the brain from a virus - can cause confusion and memory loss. In subsequent e-mail exchanges, you indicated your willingness to have a doctor certify your condition to Priceline.
If your MD came through with the paperwork and if your story checked out on Priceline's side, I thought you would stand an excellent chance of getting a refund.
But before I share the results of your case, I want to point out a few major errors that you made.
Shopping for a good fare on Priceline is a dreadful idea. Remember, once a bid goes through, the tickets belong to you. And they're nonrefundable.
If you aren't sure about your travel plans, you should consider fare-searching at Priceline's sister site, Lowestfare.com. You can compare ticket prices without having to make a bid or buy anything.
If your memory and comprehension has been affected more severely - to the point where you can't tell the difference between one Web site and another - then it's imperative that you not shop for airline tickets by yourself. Hire a good travel agent who understands your disability and your financial condition.
Priceline agreed to review your case. Its records reveal that your wife had also contacted the company and told a representative you were "price shopping" when you made the purchases.
A closer look at your file revealed that you had made six separate name-your-price offers before you booked your ticket to Denver. "Each time, he signified that he understood the terms and conditions and instructed Priceline.com to go ahead and 'buy my tickets now'," said spokesman Brian Ek.
Priceline denied your refund request.
I think your medical condition warranted a second look at your case. But the fact that you made repeated bids, and acknowledging each one, made it impossible for Priceline to give you your money back. I agree with its decision.