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BURNED by Priceline’s “name your own p...

BURNED by Priceline’s “name your own price”

This is a bit of an unusual travel post, but having realized I have not written about travel, or business travel, in some time I decided to share something not-so-nice that happened to me a few weeks ago. I basically got scammed by Priceline!

It takes a lot for me to use the word scammed, so I am really not taking this lightly. In fact, it takes a lot for me to write anything negative. Typically people are more likely to leave negative reviews rather than positive, and I’ve always been the opposite. I prefer writing about positive experiences, so when I have a great experience, I shout it from the rooftops, and when it’s a bad experience I usually brush it away and try to just move on from it instead of leaving reviews. Having said that, sometimes things are too serious to ignore. Having £200 of my money taken with what I deem to be false promises does fall into that category!

How “name your own price” works on Priceline.com

To get a good idea of why I feel so slighted by Priceline.com I need to first explain how the concept of their “name your own price” works. Name your own price is a feature on the priceline.com website where you can “bid” on hotel rooms. You name a price you want to pay, select the minimum star rating of the hotel, and the area of the city you want the hotel to be in. Once you agree and the search for a room starts you are committed, there are no refunds and no changing your mind. I can see why now, because what they promise is certainly not always what you get.

For example, here are the criteria I set on “name your own price”:

  • Hotel in London for March 10-12th.
  • Location: the City (tower bridge / st Paul’s area)
  • 4 Star minimum
  • £80 was my bid. Mind you they add some fees to that as well.

The website warned me that the median price in the area is £141 a night, and my bid had a small chance of being accepted. However, priceline.com does say you can save up to 60% through bidding on hotel rooms AND that they have a lowest price guarantee, so I figured especially with hotels wanting to fill rooms last minute (I was doing this days before needing the reservation), there was always a chance of it being accepted and I filled in my details and clicked next. Again, if your bid is accepted, you are committed to the deal and the money is charged right away. This is fine, if the terms outlined were actually followed. So in other words, if Priceline would follow it’s own policies and promises. More on that later.

What came next was not what was promised. Note that Priceline is helpful in explaining what to expect when you select a 4 star minimum rating. They say you can expect hotel brands such as the Hilton, Hyatt Regency, Westin, Sheraton, Marriott and the Intercontinental. As well as independent hotels like it. That is I guess where the fine print wins them the money…, except their own fine print does not support what happened next at all. Stay tuned I will explain more below!

How I got scammed by Priceline.com

With the list of examples included, like the Sheraton and the Marriott, etc, I also agree. These are very good hotels where I have a certain expectation of what the room will look like, what the hotel amenities will be, and what the cleanliness level is like too. I am equally excited about the boutique (non-chain) hotels it includes on the same level, and have stayed at a variety of them over the years. These hotels are often even more luxurious than the chains, and offer a great experience and beautifully designed rooms. Examples that comes to mind are the Redchurch Townhouse and Ace Hotels in Shoreditch (London). So just to be clear, I was not expecting only large chain hotel brands to be included in the deal. In fact, I thought it was a great opportunity to discover a new boutique hotel experience.

Instead, my offer was accepted! Yay, I thought at first. Until I saw what I was getting. With the Priceline fees, my total came to £200 for two nights. I was given a supposed “4 star” hotel, but the pictures of the rooms painted a very different picture. It was a room above a pub, which in and of itself is not the issue. I’ve LOVED staying at the Head of the River hotel in Oxford several times, for example. This is also set above a pub, and the rooms are better designed and better equipped (think Nespresso coffee machine, freshly baked cookies, a complimentary beer and other drinks) than many of the 5 star chains are. So no judgement on the pub aspect. However, the pictures of the rooms showed outdated, not-so-clean looking furniture. On top of that the rooms looked crammed, and not at all what you’d expect from a 4 star experience (nor what is described for 4 stars by Priceline.com themselves!). And I am not even talking about what the beds and bedding looked like from the pictures. To top things off and make it EVEN better, booking directly with said hotel through priceline.com (so not even another website) would have cost me only £66 a night! At this point… I was furious and felt really cheated. See below, I took a screenshot of the price on the same day I booked the “deal”.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am sure that in principle the Old Ship Inn can be lovely, especially for the low price of £66 a night. Is it a 4 star… in my opinion it doesn’t seem to be. Should I pay £200 for two nights stay through aa bidding system when the same website offers the same thing for £132, no. I think that is basically stealing. What’s even more entertaining is that the “lowest price guarantee” also applies to the “name your own price feature”. At first I figured that it likely didn’t, and that’s how they cover themselves. But see here, it does actually apply:

Even digging deeper into small print, I cannot find anywhere where this is excluded. So while the name your own price feature forces you to take the deal once it is offered, I figured at least I’d get the difference back. I contacted Priceline.com’s customer support, through 2 different avenues (one social media and one traditional), and I was shot down both times. I first requested a full refund on the basis that the rooms did not at all look like the 4 stars I had paid for. Importantly too, I needed the assurance of the 4 stars to feel confident about cleanliness, given that I am in active cancer treatment and my environment needs to be extra clean. I explained all this, but no dice. I then figured, ok, I lost £132, surely they will give me back the difference between the price I paid and what their own website offers when just booking the place directly. However, for this too I was shot down. Now that goes against their own policy and promises of the lowest price guarantee. This is also possibly what made me most angry and write this post. It is one thing to refuse my request because Priceline.com’s customer support assured me that the place was rated 4 stars by their customers, and they are far more picky than the regular star system. A statement I find VERY hard to believe and frankly then constitutes of false advertising, given that when you promise a 4 star experience, customers are not too crazy to then expect the hotel to actually have been awarded 4 stars in the regular star system. Whatever that is called. To then also be refused their own “lowest price guarantee” based on pricing offered on their own website, that I thought was just plain rude and needed to be mentioned. Whatever Priceline.com promises or guarantees, don’t believe it because they are happy to just ignore their own policies.

So, I am out £200 because I could not stay at the given hotel, and had to book myself something else. In other times, I would have been pissed off and felt cheated and just sucked it up. This time, I simply cannot afford it given my cancer diagnosis and treatment side effects. Priceline.com however was unrelenting, and simply would not even honour their own promise of refunding the difference if you find a lower price for the same hotel. It’s nuts. I am at a loss for words and still really quite upset about this. Life is expensive as it is, cancer treatment is expensive enough as it is, and then you try to go away for a couple of nights and get some much needed R&R and you get cheated out of £200 by a big corporation that doesn’t even honour it’s own policies. For me, this was the end of ever using priceline.com again.

They say you get what you pay for, well in this case that was not the case and in a really negative way. 🙁

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Christine Buske is a former academic who left science at the bench, and now considers herself a woman in tech. She is a frequently invited speaker, and enjoys talking about career transformation (particularly leaving academia for the business world), tech, issues around women in tech, product management, agile, and outreach. She is a proud Canadian resident, and qualifies as a "serial expat".

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