Christopher Elliott, The Travel Troubleshooter, May 28, 2013
When Jeff Williams' pre-paid Priceline reservation number is "invalid" he's forced to rent a car at a higher price. Should Priceline refund the difference?
Q: I recently pre-paid for a rental car using Priceline's "name your own price" option. I was given a car through Avis -- or at least that's what I thought.
When we landed in Raleigh-Durham International Airport, I went to the Avis counter and showed them my reservation. But the agent said my number was "invalid." He said it had already been used in Chicago in 2007, and that the reservation number couldn't be used again.
I called Priceline, and a representative apologized, but said he couldn't help us.
So I made a new reservation with Avis, paying $265 more than the original price of the car through Priceline. I'd like Priceline to refund the difference. Do you think I have a chance? - Jeff Williams, Newark, Del.
A: Yes, I think you do. You paid for a rental car that you didn't get. Obviously, Priceline and Avis shouldn't be able to keep your money, and they need to cover the extra expenses you incurred as a result of their error.
But whose error was it? The difference between your "name your price" confirmation number and the Avis confirmation number, which were both on your reservation, is slight. Both are 11-digit numbers. Your Avis confirmation had three letters attached to the end.
It appears the counter agent read the wrong one, matching it to an existing reservation from 2007.
Could you have handled this differently? Maybe. You phoned Priceline and it couldn't help you. You might have also asked to speak with an Avis manager in Raleigh, and if that didn't work, called the Avis reservation number for help. But you made a good-faith effort to resolve this before accepting the new, more expensive reservation.
I contacted Priceline on your behalf, and it worked with Avis to credit you the difference between your original, pre-paid reservation and the second one.
(Christopher Elliott is the author of "Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals" (Wiley). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at [email protected]. Christopher Elliott receives a great deal of reader mail, and though he answers them as quickly as possible, your story may not be published for several months because of a backlog of cases.)