Why I don’t use Priceline

I’ve never loved Priceline commercials. Maybe it’s because William Shatner seems much better suited to battling Gorn on a deserted planet than breaking through walls in a suit that seems a little too tight. Maybe it’s because their name doesn’t really sound “fun”. That whole “negotiator” theme seems designed to make you feel safe, kinda like a lawyer’s helping you… lawyers helping… that should be a warning right there.

When I was traveling less often than I do now, I’ll admit that I had little brand loyalty. The cheapest website got my business. However, when you fly around as much as I do, something is bound to go wrong and when it does you might need help. No one can avoid car crashes, tornadoes, sick pets, forgotten documents and flat tires forever. Eventually you’ll be late to the airport and that’s when they get you. There’s a whole lot of rules (that you probably never voted for) of things that the airlines can get away for those pesky passengers who had a problem getting to the terminal 2 hours before departure. In all fairness, most of the counter airline help I’ve encountered is sympathetic to a point. However, when you’ve missed the flight and your ticket is canceled, they will side with their company, not you. One of my favorite excuses they offer  is that the computer did it and your ticket can’t be fixed. It’s the computer’s fault, no one can change it, that’s just how it is. The 2015 version of HAL apparently works for the airlines…”isn’t that right Dave?”

After you’ve screamed and yelled and told them that you will never ever use their airline again, then it’s the walk of shame back to your car with the luggage. What will your Facebook friends think? Is there another flight tomorrow? What will it cost? That’s the big question isn’t it? Everyone knows that if you need something badly in America, the price just went up. We call it capitalism, the airlines call it “Gotcha!”. So your deeply discounted ticket that you got for a steal just quadrupled in price. This article isn’t about how to fix that. If I knew the answer to that I wouldn’t be writing this article. I will tell you though, if you’re going to get screwed over, the least you’d hope for is that the company you booked it through would try to make you feel a little better about it.

This was my first experience booking with Priceline. Firstly, their website is plastered with “Name your own price” as if you actually have a smidgen of control over what you pay. The second claim is that they are “The Negotiators”. Right. So let’s just set this up so we can understand how they “help” their customers. I missed a flight yesterday evening by a few minutes. This was due to me helping crippled children and donating organs to the homeless. The airlines didn’t believe me either for some reason. The real reason wasn’t nearly as exciting. My travel partner was late and the Uber driver got hopelessly lost. I wanted to catch the next possible flight after missing mine but Turkish Airlines told me that the ticket needed to be adjusted with Priceline. Since they sold it to me, then they were going to handle it to the end. I should have been suspicious about Priceline when I got an email immediately after missing my flight letting me know that they were out of the loop and that I needed to deal directly with the airline.

Priceline gives you a booking number when you book with them. If you don’t have it for whatever reason, you’re out of luck. The customer support number will accept nothing else. If you don’t find it fast enough they will hang up on you. Suppose you do have it. That’s a start. I’m not sure where their phone support is based, but all the people I talked to sounded like a weird mix of Indian, Scandinavian and North Dakota accents thrown together in a mumbly sort of way. Don’t get me wrong, people need to make money in  all countries, but if you’re in customer support and you’re serving the American market, you need to be intelligible….as well as the other word that starts with intellig-. After 5 minutes of giving your middle name, the hospital you were born in, your dog’s breed, etc., they finally recognize that maybe you’re really not an impostor and they can talk to you about your ticket. Okay, now we’re getting somewhere! Once I explained my plight to  the kid on the phone, he put me on hold for a ridiculous length of time, only to come back and tell me what I already knew. My ticket is no good if I missed my flight. It doesn’t matter that I was at the airport 45 minutes before the plane closed it’s doors, my ticket is no good. But wait, they CAN help me it turns out! If I’m willing to pay the ticket price difference and $165 processing fee per passenger ( I know these guys in India aren’t getting any of that processing fee; it goes straight to William Shatner) they will adjust my ticket. I I just happened to be on their site and I found the fare for today. It’s exactly what I paid a couple of weeks ago. So, instead of being out for the price of a new ticket, I just have to pay $165. Seems too good to be true. Because it is not true! The customer rep told me to pay no attention to the $700 price for the ticket on their website. My $165 fee would be added on to the price that Turkish airlines charges to change tickets, which according to Priceline is about $24oo each. So, I can book a new ticket on their site for $698 or Priceline can change my old ticket to the same exact thing for almost $2600….  decisions…decisions…

Turkish Airlines is one of my favorite overseas airlines because they offer great service at about half the price of all the other carriers to a lot of European and Asian destinations.They’re not great on the phone though. I tried to contact them to see if Priceline was lying and they didn’t answer. A thorough check of prices revealed that Priceline was offering the lowest prices to book a flight tonight and I thought maybe I could give them one more try since they had all of my information. I filled out their forms, gave my card info and was sent back to the original page. I tried another card, same thing. I called the card companies. Nothing wrong with the cards. I changed browsers. I tried using the customer service number and was forced to put in the number that they’d given me. It said that my payment information was incorrect and that I needed to check the card. I re-entered both cards three times. Hours were passing by. I needed to be on tonight’s flight and was getting nowhere with them on their website.

In desperation, I called the number and used the ID number for my old booking. I was able to get another weird cartoon voiced rep on the phone and I asked to book my ticket with her directly since I couldn’t get my payment information to go through. I was informed that she couldn’t do a booking over the phone. So they can’t negotiate your ticket, they can’t change your ticket for less than the price of a trip to outer space and they can’t book you a new ticket. Do you know what they do? Apologize. They apologize over and over like someone singing happy birthday or reciting the pledge. While I was on hold, even the recording apologized. I asked the rep to stop because it sounded like she had apology tourettes and I was told that they would get a senior representative to speak to me. I can only assume that the senior rep is called that because it corresponds to the grade he’s at in high school. I waited for 20 minutes on hold  listening to apologies about the hold time before I hung up. Priceline customer service couldn’t be any worse. But, they’re very sorry about it.

I was lucky enough on my next call to finally reach Turkish Airlines and they fixed everything fairly quickly for about $400. That’s not what I was hoping for, but I’m leaving tonight and that’s better than not leaving tonight….I won’t be using Priceline ever again. Not only was their website impossible to use and their customer support suicide-inducing, but Priceline wanted $2000 more than Turkish Airlines per ticket AFTER I worked for them all day trying to train their staff! William Shatner must be costing them a lot. 

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