Back in December 1999, I wrote about my frustrations with Priceline.com and another travel web site, both of which which proved completely useless. Today, I confirmed that PriceLine has upgraded from a useless service to a “bait-and-switch” operation.
After several frustrating attempts to book a hotel room using PriceLine’s most famous option (Name Your Own Price) and their secondary option (Express Deals), I found that both were merely bait-and-switch scams designed to redirect customers to the “book a hotel by name” operation.
In order to be fair, I’ll use only “local” examples (the familiar local area where I live), since my views about other regions might be mistaken or outdated.
First, I asked PriceLine to provide me with an “Express Deal” for Pleasanton, California. It presented me with an offer for a hotel for $41 per night (already a huge red flag) in the “Pleasanton Area.”
PriceLine even displayed a Bing map with a shaded area and a solid-line boundary around the cities of Dublin and Pleasanton. Below this map, it says, “Your hotel is guaranteed to be in this area.”
The only reasonable interpretation of that map and “guarantee” language is that the hotel will be located inside the boundary area shown. But that’s not how PriceLine sees it. Instead, PriceLine discloses, just once, in the text area, that the hotel is actually located in Oakland, California (a far more dangerous city 20 miles away from affluent, suburban Pleasanton). So “Pleasanton Area” doesn’t mean the area around Pleasanton pictured in the map, but some other undisclosed boundary area that’s much larger.
Second, I tried to use PriceLine’s “name your own price” system, but found that its maps were even worse: the first area suggested was Antioch-Oakley-Pittsburgh (from Pleasanton, a 30-mile drive around a mountain), while Fremont (adjacent to Pleasanton) isn’t even listed.
I strongly suspect that if I selected several of the “areas” identified (excluding Oakland and Antioch) and submitted an offer with my credit card, I’d end up booked into a hotel in Oakland or Antioch (or another location far outside the “areas” I’d specified). Maybe I’m wrong — but my uncertainty is probably what PriceLine wants. By refusing to explain what I’m really getting, and showing me that its maps are grossly inaccurate and its promises are dishonest, PriceLine convinces me that I’d be foolish to submit any offer at all.
Third, I didn’t want to believe what I’d discovered, so I next tried using the online chat system to ask for help. The first time, I was placed in a queue and told I was in position #7, but 15 minutes later I was still in that same position. The second time, I was quickly connected to an “agent,” but I got nothing but boilerplate responses — I’m honestly not sure whether this was an automated system or just someone using pre-written responses, but either way, the responses didn’t address my questions.
Finally, I tried calling the toll-free number shown, and finally figured out what’s going on: the telephone agent simply refused to discuss the online system, but said that service over the phone is limited exclusively to placing phone reservations for named hotels. He would be happy to sell me a different service, at a different price, than what I’d called about.
More than a dozen years after my first encounter with PriceLine, they still don’t offer the service they advertise (name-your-own-price travel according to your terms).
Instead, they offer a pair of “bait and switch” options:
- Some customers, who don’t read every word or who aren’t familiar with the area they’re visiting, will be tricked by the defective and deceptive system into paying for a hotel room far outside the area specified.
- Others will waste time using the system, recognize that it’s absurdly inaccurate, and finally surrender and place a traditional reservation for a named hotel, paying the hotel’s standard rate plus a surcharge.
Either way, PriceLine profits from its unethical and deceptive conduct.
PriceLine is a scam, folks. Don’t use it.