Former TV-journalist who tends to write when irritable. Lover of hockey, everything bagels, and a good Okinawa boba tea.
Pacer Inn, Delaware, Ohio
When a Gift isn't a Gift
I love giving unexpected gifts to people, and I think most of us do. When my husband decided to go back to his hometown for his high school reunion I decided to do a nice gesture. I booked his entire vacation package and paid for it so all he needed to do was pack, fly, and relax. Or, so I thought. I used Priceline to check for the easiest way to book a car/flight/room deal, and decided that it would make a great surprise to give my husband. So, in May, I found the flights, the rental car, and reserved a 6-night stay at his favorite hotel in Delaware, Ohio, The Pacer Inn & Suites Motel. Before I go on this tirade, let me say that The Pacer Inn is GREAT. They did nothing wrong in this ugly story, but I am mentioning them sort of as a record of what happened.
Paying for the package
When you book travel online you have a few different ways to pay for it. You can use a credit card, use Paypal, use your debit card, or book with a virtual credit card company that allows you to pay your trip over a predetermined length of time. I like Affirm and decided to take advantage of their 12-month plan so I could spread out my payments. I got the total, clicked in the Affirm link, got the virtual card number, and paid for his trip in minutes. Shortly after, I received the receipt, showing that I'd paid in full for the air, hotel, and car. Fantastic! I printed out the paperwork and headed downstairs to give my husband the big news- he was going to visit his friends in Ohio, and all he had to do was get on the plane, drive 30 minutes, and enjoy his trip. He was excited, and as he is not a big fan of technology, I knew that printing out the paperwork would make his life easier.
Time to Fly
I dropped my husband off at the airport and felt really good that I was able to pay for this trip for him. It's wonderful to have all of your travel plans booked together, and I knew this would be easy for a person who still thinks a gallon of gas is $.85. As an added laugh in this story, the rental car place gave him a Prius without explaining anything about the car...Needless to say, he spent 20 min in John Glenn Airport trying to figure out if it was on or off. He hit the road, the 71N to be exact, and arrived at his home-away-from-home shortly after. The people at The Pacer Inn remember him, and he always stays there when he visits. The front desk manager asked him for his credit card for charges, and my husband handed it over to him, thinking it was for incidentals. No big deal. Yet.
Beautiful Downtown Delaware
Check Out Time
After six glorious nights in Delaware, my husband went up to the front desk to check out, because he thinks you still have to do that type of thing in today's day and age. He was given a receipt and headed back to CMH to turn in his electric roller skate of a car. He hopped on his flight and was back home in 5 hours. When he plunked all of the paperwork from his trip on the kitchen counter, I noticed a receipt from The Pacer Inn, so I decided to see if I could throw it away. Then I noticed that he had been charged for 6 nights. Not wanting to poke the bear, I decided to covertly call the hotel and let them know there'd been a mistake with the billing. Cue the can of worms...
Priceline and their List of Excuses
To make a long, miserable story short, here's what happened. For whatever their reason, Priceline booked the room portion of his package through their other company, Booking.com. There is no mention of that on any of my documents, nor should it have been an issue. For reasons explained to no one, Priceline decided to remove the paid portion of the hotel room from my package, and turn it into a Guest-pays-at-check-in without asking or even telling the guest or the purchaser. They changed the amount of the approved virtual credit card by subtracting out the room charge, and again, no one contacted me to let me know. The receipt emailed to me from Priceline shows the room as part of my total price, shows the room as paid in full, and never mentions, anywhere, that this could change without notice. Had I know this, I never would have booked through Priceline. I called their Customer Service Department, was greeted by a script-reading agent whose only response to me was, "Oh sorry!" I contacted Affirm to see if they had anything to do with this, and got an email response that basically said "Well, it wasn't our fault." Don't you love it when big companies simply shrug their shoulders in ignorance?
I'm not one to go down quietly, so I decided to contact the VP of Vacation Packages at Priceline, Brigit Zimmerman. I sent her messages on LinkedIn, and through her email, both of which have been ignored. I posted a rant on LinkedIn and linked the CEO Brett Keller and Brigit Zimmerman, and it was ignored. Today, I emailed Brett directly, as well as the Sr. Manager of Sales & Service Contact Center, Frank Berumen. Additionally, I filed a formal complaint with the Better Business Bureau because I feel like this practice needs to be looked at closely. I'm angry, and I won't let others get pushed around by big companies who choose not to make things right when they're wrong.
About an hour ago, I received a phone call from Joe at Priceline, who was sure to let me know our conversation was recorded. GREAT! I want it to be, thank you very much. He started to explain to me everything that happened with my husband's trip, and I stopped him mid-sentence since I was the one who supplied his company with the info. He told me that he had been asked to contact me by the "Executive Office" to explain things. He let me know that Booking.com had changed my reservation, and that since I wasn't charged by Affirm for the total amount, I should be fine. Well, Joe, you are very wrong. You see, I agreed to one thing, and Priceline saw fit to change the trip and the cost of it without ever consulting me. I have a receipt that shows that I agreed to a package including hotel, flight and car, and that was what we wanted. Not some "oh but the package changed so now it's without the room" agreement that Priceline determined without my consent. I explained to Joe, that if I go buy a red car, and I sign the papers and pay what I agree to, the dealership can't suddenly decide to give me a different car with different options. This is exactly what Priceline did. When I emailed the CEO, I explained it this way...if someone gives you an all-expense paid vacation as a gift, and when you arrive at the hotel to find out YOU have to pay for the room, it isn't much of a gift, is it? What Priceline lacks here, is that I planned to pay this trip off over affordable monthly payments. What I ended up with is paying 5-times the monthly payment I budgeted, just in this month. No one asked me if I could afford this, or if I wanted to pay for the room along with my Affirm payment. No one asked my husband if he could afford to pay the cost of the room when he arrived, and what if he didn't have the money to?
Update #2, July 2021
Received another call from "Joe" after sending the two C-level guys another email telling them they ignored my emails. Joe informed me today that after review, they did see that they, in fact, changed my reservation without notice, and so for my "inconvenience" they would offer me $104. I am taking the money because it is all I can apparently receive from this enormous company, but I told Joe that I don't accept the apology since I know they will continue to operate in this fashion. It's simply not ok to change travel reservations without consulting with the customer. I don't want pickles instead of onions on my burger, I don't want vodka instead of rum in my pina colada, and I don't want my package vacation to be only a partial package. Priceline lied, and they mislead customers by making these changes without their approval. I will update when my BBB situation has been remedied, if ever.
Final words, and what you can do
I worked as a travel agent for many, many years, and I know that you can't adjust someone's vacation without getting permission. Sure, you can upgrade someone to a better room, or better car, but you also have to ask them if they want that upgrade. You can't downgrade anyone. Travel agencies have insurance called Errors & Ommissions to cover these kinds of mistakes. A travel giant like Priceline, has insurance to pay for their errors. I went to Priceline's Facebook page and it is littered with complaints. People can't get help, they're stranded without a reservation, etc. After the Covid-19 crisis the travel industry has faced, how can they so blatantly ignore people who are spending their money to go on vacation again? If you've been wronged by a travel company, file a complaint with the BBB. They contact the company on your behalf, and they will do everything in their power to get your issues resolved. Post loudly on social media. No one likes negative reviews or feedback, and in this case, the squeaky wheel will get the grease. Finally, don't take "no" for an answer when you talk to customer service. Everyone has a boss, and ask to speak to them. The power of the pen and social media is your best weapon. I will update my Priceline saga when I have an ending. Hopefully, it won't take forever. I know I will not use them again to book anything, which is sad, because I used to really love their services.
Lori Orchow (author) from Las Vegas on July 01, 2021:
I strongly suggest not using them ever again!
Sms1064 on June 19, 2021:
Nice article. I used to book with @Priceline a lot, but my last few experiences with them were terrible and customer service was worthless when I tried to resolve it.