Travel Troubleshooter: Resolve disputes via email, not by phone

Published: Sunday, Mar. 23, 2014 - 12:00 am

I recently booked a vacation package in Cozumel, Mexico, through Priceline. I called the hotel’s customer service line yesterday to ask a question, at which point I was informed that the hotel was closed for construction and would remain closed until next year.

I called Priceline today to get a full refund for the package. They said they couldn’t confirm the hotel closure because no one was answering the hotel telephone – because, well, they’re closed – and even so, Priceline would be able to offer a refund for only the hotel. The best they could do was maybe a credit with the airline for the ticket cost.

I tried to politely tell them that I booked a package, not a flight and hotel separately, and that there would be no point in my going there if I could not stay where I needed. I am a young woman traveling alone and on a budget, and only felt comfortable at that hotel because I have stayed there in the past.

Please help me.

– Amber Sharma, Washington

Priceline should have contacted you when the hotel announced it was closing for renovations and offered you a comparable package. But ultimately, since Priceline sold you the package, it’s responsible for ensuring you can actually use all the components of the trip as advertised.

It’s not clear why that didn’t happen, but to be fair to Priceline, it has to track tens of thousands of hotels in its system and then match each hotel to a reservation. Maybe your hotel didn’t notify Priceline about the temporary closure. Maybe it did, but Priceline failed to find your reservation and then contact you.

As I review your file, I notice that you tried to resolve this problem by phone. That would have been the right way to fix this if you’d landed in Cozumel and found yourself hotel-less (thank goodness it didn’t come to that) but when you still have a little time before your vacation, sending an email works best. Also, Priceline’s records suggest you gave the company only two hours between contacting it and writing to me. I might have given the company a little more time.

Remember, there’s no record of a phone conversation, but you can keep an email thread and forward it to a supervisor – or to me. Priceline’s email addresses follow the format firstname.lastname@priceline.com and you can find a list of its managers online at http://ir.priceline.com/management.cfm.

Fortunately, that wasn’t necessary. In fact, apparently neither was I. By the time I contacted the company on your behalf, it had already agreed to process a full refund.


Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. You can read more tips on his blog, elliott.org, or email him at chris@elliott.org.

Read more articles by Christopher Elliott



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