When I go on vacation, I usually use Priceline’s Name Your Price™ service for a hotel room. You specify an area in the city, a quality level (3-star, 4-star, etc.), the dates, and the price you want to pay. Priceline tries to find a hotel for you at that price. If it accepts your bid, your reservation becomes final and non-refundable. You have to use the hotel Priceline picks for you. I usually bid for 3-star hotels and I get good deals at Marriott or Hilton. I don’t necessarily save absolute dollars because I otherwise would stay at a Comfort Inn or Best Western for the same amount of money. For the same price, I stay at a better quality hotel through Priceline. I just have to wait until the last minute making sure that my plans won’t change, and then enter my bid.
It has worked well, except this last trip. I bid for a 3-star hotel and paid more than what I usually pay. When I got to the hotel, the quality was not as I expected at all. Everything was at least 30 years old, from desk lamps to bathroom sink, from furniture to air conditioner, you name it. For a 3-star hotel, I got a 13-inch TV. The hallway smelled worse than a cheap motel. Because I already paid and it was not refundable (sunk cost), I had to stay there. Fortunately it was just one night.
Priceline let me down. It didn’t honor its end of the bargain. I bid for a 3-star but the hotel it gave me was clearly not a 3-star. I called them and asked for a refund but they didn’t listen. Now I will have to see if my credit card really protects me against a bad transaction. I filed a dispute with my credit card. Too bad I didn’t use an American Express card for my charge. I heard American Express is more friendly to their cardholders (not sure if it’s true). I will have to see how Visa and MBNA, now Bank of America, work for me. Maybe the so called consumer protection is just perception, something the credit card companies advertise but don’t really stand behind. I will see if it’s real. If I have to venture a guess now, I’d say I probably won’t win.
Have you ever filed a dispute with your credit card company for product quality issues? Did you win?
[Update on August 10, 2007]: My dispute was denied. See Credit Card Dispute Against Priceline.