Travel Web site Priceline.com
offers “name you own price” airline tickets, hotel
reservations, car rentals, cruises and package deals. Sounds
great! Name your own price! Tempting to a student traveler
on a budget. How can you go wrong?
Well, lots of ways, it turns out. Before booking a travel reservation
on this Website be sure to read the fine print carefully.
After you input travel details, such as departure days or hotel
class, an offer price, and of course a credit card number, Priceline.com
will either accept your
offer or deny it. If accepted, your credit card is billed automatically and only
after the credit card is billed do you get to view the details of the reservation.
But wait. Before clicking the mouse to put in an offer, know
there is a catch: No refunds or changes allowed. I learned
this the hard way.
While visiting Washington, D.C. this past summer I wanted to
extend my airline ticket, bought on Priceline.com, by an
extra week. The Priceline.com representative
I called assured me that changes can be made to my ticket, and I should call
back on day of my flight. Since my flight was in the morning, and I was an hour
away from the airport, I was hesitant to take the chance.
However, the Priceline
representative assured me again that there wouldn’t be any problem since
I had a “changeable fare.” I decided to ignore my bad feeling and
call in the morning.
The next morning when I called Priceline I was transferred
to three different people, all of whom said it was possible
to change my flight since I was traveling
on a “changeable fare.” All I would have to pay was the change fee,
which I expected.
After three hours of being on the phone, a Priceline.com representative,
the fourth one I had spoken to, gave me a different story
about my “changeable
fare.” The representative informed me that yes, my fare was changeable,
but unfortunately there were no seats available within the 30-day change window.
I looked at my watch to see if I could make my scheduled flight, but it was taking
off in 10 minutes. I had missed it.
After talking to supervisor after supervisor, I was informed
to go to www.lowestfare.com, a sister company to Priceline
and book a one-way fare back to Hawai‘i since
Priceline.com didn’t offer one.
That’s when my eyes opened to what this was all about. I don’t think
Priceline ever intended to change my ticket because they only offer round-trip
tickets. One way tickets can’t be bought using this Web site. If they did
change it, they would lose the cost of a round-trip ticket, since no one would
occupy the seat on the way from Hawai‘i to Washington D.C.
I felt scammed. I had been on the phone all morning being assured
that it wouldn’t
be a problem. Now, as my plane was leaving, all they would do was give me a Web
site where I could book another $1,200 ticket.
I decided to take matters into my own hands and call Delta,
the carrier I was supposed to fly on, and ask if there were
seats available. Lo and behold there
was an abundance of open seats. Unfortunately, they have a special deal with
Priceline and refused to change my ticket. They told me “only a Priceline
representative could change the ticket.”
I was stuck in Washington with no way home. I didn’t have the $1,200 to
spend on a one-way fare back.
My family lives in Toronto, Canada, so finally I booked a ticket
on Southwest Airlines to Buffalo, an hour and a half away,
and called them to pick me up.
I could fly out of Toronto back to Hawai‘i using my frequent flyer miles
on Air Canada.
Little did I know that cashing in those air miles would be
an even bigger headache. My “vacation” was extended an extra two weeks in Canada because only
a very limited number of seats are reserved for frequent flyer use, and these
are usually booked months in advance. Two weeks was the soonest a seat would
be available without paying the regular fare.
My original “10-day” vacation turned into almost a month, because
I was naive about sleazy airline practices.
When you book a ticket on Priceline.com you have to initial
that you understand that the flights are basically set in
stone. No changes or refunds. I took
the word of their employees that I could change my flight, and I learned the
way a valuable lesson: the only thing that counts is what is in writing.
If you are considering booking travel arrangements online,
I suggest Web sites such as Hotwire.comor Orbitz.com. These
websites allow changes to flights and
other reservations with the regular change fee. You don’t get to name your
own price, as on Priceline.com, but they offer great deals and if you do miss
your flight, you have until the end of that day, depending on the carrier, to
book a new one. And they put that in writing.