Naming Own Price Doesn't Mean Hotel Can't Change

The Tampa Tribune
April 30, 2006

Anna Marie Hutchinson wanted to surprise her husband with a Valentine's Day getaway to Mexico. But instead, the surprise was on her.
Hutchinson, from Wesley Chapel, bought a vacation package to Cancun on in February. She paid $1,379.34 for two roundtrip airline tickets and four nights in the three-star, all-inclusive resort Oasis Playa.
The surprise came later that month when their taxi pulled up to Oasis Playa.
"There was a big huge spotlight, a huge sinkhole and it was completely destroyed by the hurricane," Hutchinson said.
She and her husband Jim went to the neighboring hotel, the Grand Oasis, to regroup. That resort had their reservation.
They originally booked an ocean view room with a king size bed and a balcony. The room they received had twin beds, overlooking construction with a bathroom that didn't work and a stench that Hutchinson described as being from sewage.
"That put a damper on the vacation," she said.
After their persistent requests, the resort moved the couple to a nicer room for their last two nights. But Hutchinson wasn't satisfied. She said she contacted Priceline when she returned. The Web site offered a one-night credit for the hotel.
"I think it's an insult and...unacceptable," she said.
Priceline spokesman Brian Ek blames Oasis Playa, which he said planned to re-open the day the Hutchinson's began their vacation. He said the hotel arranged for the Grand Oasis to take the reservation but didn't notify Priceline till it was too late. The Hutchinsons received an e-mail from Priceline about the change - but it was sent after the couple had already arrived in Cancun.
Nowhere on Priceline's Web site does it explain that your reservations for a particular hotel can change without prior customer approval. Ek said that's because it's not unusual.
"Hotels commonly reserve the right to accommodate guests at other properties in the event of weather events or overbooking," Ek said. "It is not listed in Priceline's terms and conditions because it's such a longstanding industry practice."
Meaning, the decision-making and notification process differs depending on the hotel brand.
Calling your destination to confirm your arrangements can help you avoid surprises. But even that isn't a guarantee. Hutchinson said she called Priceline several times before their departure date. It assured her the reservations were solid.
You may also want to avoid traveling to areas recently ravaged by natural disasters, such as Hurricane Wilma, just a few months earlier, a point Hutchinson says she will consider more next time.
Priceline agreed to refund the Hutchinsons for their first two nights at the resort. Ek also notes that it also provided some compensation to the couple by upgrading their original three-star resort to a four-star resort stay.
While Hutchinson appreciates the fact that "we had a chance to stay at the Grand Oasis and didn't [have to] stay at the airport" during their first trip to Cancun, she said she will never use Priceline again.
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