Travel Troubheslooter: Oops! Wrong dates on my Priceline reservation!

Christopher Elliott, the Charlotte-born Travel Troubleshooter columnist, is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine
Christopher Elliott, the Charlotte-born Travel Troubleshooter columnist, is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine Christopher Elliott

When Eric Childs books the wrong dates for a trip using Priceline, he thinks his entire vacation is lost. But maybe it isn’t.

Q. I’m reaching out to you as a last resort. I’m a former wrestler and had the opportunity to be part of the coaching staff at Penn State for 10 years. After losing that position six years ago, I have made it a priority to attend the college wrestling nationals every year.

Money is always a challenge, so I try to be a good consumer and really shop around for deals. This year was no different. After looking for a number of days, I thought I had found a nice deal with Priceline.

I booked a package leaving on what I thought was March 17 from Philadelphia to St. Louis and returning March 22. The cost of the trip, which included a flight and five nights in a hotel, was $862.

On Feb. 18, I received an email from Priceline informing me that my trip was canceled. I realized then that I had mistakenly booked my trip from Feb. 17 to Feb. 22 – a month early.

I called Priceline a number of times, trying to get in contact with someone able to help, but was told there was nothing anyone could do. I called the Hyatt Regency St. Louis at the Arch, and an employee said I had been charged for only one night, but without receiving anything directly from Priceline, there was nothing the hotel could do to refund my money. I realize it was my mistake, and Priceline tells you upfront: no changes or cancellations.

Could you help me get back the money from my four remaining hotel nights? Eric Childs, State College, Pa.

A. You’re right. Priceline’s terms are clear – no changes and no refunds. But everyone makes mistakes. If your hotel is willing to refund part of your stay, shouldn’t Priceline consider it?

Before I get to the answer, let’s go over a few important facts. You have to pay close attention when you’re making a reservation. Priceline displays your dates twice before it even asks for your name and credit card information. To miss that, you would have to be in a pretty big hurry. Slow down. You have plenty of time.

The reason Priceline’s rates are so low is that it imposes significant restrictions on its products. Often, hotels and airlines are willing to lower their rates because they know no one will be able to ask for a refund or a credit. But if a hotel is willing to refund Priceline, then I think it’s reasonable for Priceline to at least consider refunding the rest of your hotel payment. It’s under no obligation to do so, but it can’t hurt to ask.

I list the names, numbers and emails of Priceline’s customer-service managers on my site. It looked as if you’d been back and forth with Priceline a few times, so I thought I’d try to help.

At the risk of repeating myself, Priceline didn’t have to do anything for you. You made a mistake, and it could have pocketed every penny of your $862. I asked it to take another look at your case. Priceline contacted the Hyatt Regency and confirmed that the hotel would refund all except the first night of your stay.

“Nothing we could do about the airfare, unfortunately,” a Priceline representative told me. Fair enough. You should be getting a refund for your hotel. And next time you book online, please pay attention to your dates and review your confirmation.

Charlotte-born Christopher Elliott is the author of “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money and Hassle)” (National Geographic). He’s also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips or contact him at his website: