I used to have a very different opinion on companies that found the 'best' deals for their customers. The Expedias, Kayaks and Pricelines of the world. I thought they were fantastic! A travel agent right at your fingertips. Until most recently I thought Priceline really got you the best deals. Here's why I will NEVER use them again and why you shouldn't either.
Planning a trip overseas is tough. You're on foreign soil and want to make sure that your trip is planned and goes smoothly. You're nervous about every purchase, hotel reservation, tour and tickets...You want to make sure it's perfect. My perfect trip was a trip to Peru to see the beautiful scenery, Machu Picchu and eat delicious food. Sounds like a dream doesn't it? Totally! How does it sound go get all of your flights via a deal on Priceline? Even better! Now how does it sound to get charged approximately $1200 for foreigners fees because Priceline presented you with tickets that were at a cost for Peruvian residents and you bought them without unknowingly? Like someone punched you in your gut, huh? Imagine my surprise when I called Avianca airline (one of the flights booked through Priceline) to confirm flights and ask them about a forum conversation I happened to of read online about fees and different flight tickets and fares for residents and non-residents. I started to panic a little, but thought Priceline wouldn't sell me a Peruvian ticket...
On my phone call, Avianca stated that the third party (Priceline) booked a residents ticket as evidenced by the economy status (there's a code on your ticket - see image below). Economy and super economy tickets are for Peruvians only. This is stated on Avianca's website but it's nowhere to be found on Priceline's website. Now, I'm doing well for myself. By well, I mean decent enough to save for a budget vacation trip. I'm a teacher. $1200 is a lot of money to me. Actually, it's as much as I spent on my first car when I was 16. Yeah, mucho dinero $$$.
I think I'm reasonable... would you be upset when a ticket that you paid around 58 dollars now costs and 240 each because of a fee for wrong booking, for an hour flight? Every one of my 6 flights has that 178 dollar fee now because Priceline sold me a residents flight tickets just to make it appear they are selling "deals".
So, being the reasonable person that I am, I thought, "Well, I'll just call Priceline and have them fix this error. No big deal." I also had my friend traveling with me call because I know the queue can be long on support calls. I thought it would be easy. A large company like Priceline would easily fix their mistake. Boy was I wrong!
Just in case you didn't fully get the problem...Here's the breakdown...
Priceline sold me economy tickets. Six to be exact. These tickets are for Peruvian citizens only. There was no message or indication that additional fees would be tacked onto this purchase. There was no mention that these were tickets for Peruvian residents only. Avianca's policy is to charge foreigners a fee for buying cheaper Peruvian resident airfare. It's a weird practice but whatever, it's their practice.
I don't even fault Avianca Airlines, even though Priceline claims its their fault. While I don't agree with this foreigner fee policy, they clearly state on their website even before you start looking for flights that super econo and econo tickets are for Peruvian residents only (see image below). When I told Priceline this they continued to tell me the fee is an airline issue. But then it was my fault. Then it was a Peruvian government's fault. I can't quite remember all the faults because they kept changing their story every other minute. The only thing I know for sure is that it wasn't Pricelines fault. I think in this story there is only one party engaging in shady practices like selling misleading plane fare to Non-Peruvians...
We spent around 5+ hours total talking to Priceline. First, no one has ever heard of such fees. Yet when doing a simple Google search the world seems to know, but not Priceline. Second, they said they are not liable because ALL of their customers should know ALL of the policies of ALL of the airlines that they book through Priceline. However Priceline themselves do not have to know any of the policies, which was crystal clear to me after talking with 5 different people. I'm sorry, but is this really the customers "job"? Not when booking through a company like Priceline.
I attempted to discuss and educate Priceline on the different level of tickets and fares for multiple hours and their repeated response was there is "no such thing as a residents fare". They accused me of trying to get cheaper tickets and at the end of my 5 or so hours on the phone with the representatives arguing with me, saying that it's not their fault they sold me a residents ticket and I should know better, they disconnected my call. No surprise they didn't try to call back. Not very professional at all. At one point a representative told me I couldn't talk to a supervisor and then made a snarky comment about me trying to get free tickets. I feel like I'm a pretty level headed person. I am always willing to talk out a disagreement but I guess one can only be accused of wanting free tickets, blamed for not knowing all of the various airline policies and told that there is no such thing as different level fare of residents and non-residents (even though the airline confirmed there was) so many times before getting upset.
I walked back through the process on Priceline.com to triple check that there was no alerts, fine print, warnings of indication of any additional fees associated with the tickets I bought. I found no messages or disclaimers or fine print. If they would have had a message that said, "You are purchasing an economy ticket designated for Peruvian residents and will be subject to a fee of $178 a ticket..." Do you think I would have bought the ticket? I mean, I do love paying a over a thousand dollars in fees... Said no one ever.
Actually the Priceline website only details the following when booking flights. Example below is for Lima to Cusco...
"Prices are per person and inclusive of taxes and fees with the exception of baggage" I don't think this is a baggage fee issue, but I'm sure if I call again they may try to convince me it is. I could be blind so help me out do you see anything about a differentiation of resident and nonresident tickets on Priceline's website?
Google Flights seems to have a designation for Priceline but Priceline themselves do not... I found this online. I've never used Google Flights. At least they specify for travelers.
I'm completely frustrated with representatives telling me over and over again that it's Avianca Airlines fault. The Peruvian Governments fault. My fault. My friends fault. That I should have read the fine print that doesn't exist since the representives themselves couldn't cite this "fine print". And in general the overall rudeness and unprofessioanlism of their staff (multiple people). I filed a complaint and they said I could call them... Why would I call when I spent over five hours being accused of trying to get free tickets talking to a woman with a condescending tone and ultimately hung up on? I requested they reach out to me directly. Still no word. I won't hold my breath.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, my friend was echoing the same message to another Priceline representative. She was berated and put on a "forever hold". Eventually she had to hang up because after about 3 hours of wait ... She realized they were never picking up... Wow.
If you have a lot of $$$ and want to take a chance go ahead a book through them or their sister companies. However if you're like me and budget your vacations in your year and value good customer service and companies/people that treat you like an individual, I would go elsewhere. It feels unjust. They hope to steal people's money and not have any repercussion. This all seems like a David and Goliath situation and the only thing I can do is warn other travelers. So I have spent hours on the phone, talking via online chats, searching the Internet for policies that don't exists, time talking to airlines, my friend has spent time talking to reps, time worrying about the trip and how I'll pay for it and time invested in writing this review... They have wasted hours of my life and ruined part of my vacation. Don't let them waste hours of yours. Don't let them continue to steal people's hard earned money. Be smart. Pay the extra dollars and go elsewhere. Go through a company that has integrity.
UPDATE (JULY 20, 2018):
I ended up making one last phone call to Priceline while I was in Lima the night before my flight to Cusco. At 20 cents a minute I was less than thrilled. They continued to tell me the same message I have heard over and over again and then tried to send me to a supervisor. Seriously how many supervisors do I need to talk to? I refused to talk with a supervisor and kept repeating my message about false advertisement. Finally after over an hour they agreed to refund me my 2 tickets. I decided to take chance on my LATAM tickets since I read an article about how LATAM lifted this foreigner tax. It's really quite sad because it wasn't that much money to refund and it was clear Priceline was at fault. At one point the representative slipped and said that Priceline's website doesn't detail anything about them selling Peruvian tickets to foreigners... She stopped herself and I asked her to please continue what she was saying...
Yes. Exactly. It does not say anything...That's the point.
I ended up paying more for tickets through Avianca because it was the night before the flight. We were lucky to even get tickets. Had I purchased days/weeks before (like I did with the others) I would have spent less than 100 USD. Again, wasted money. Wasted time.
Each ticket has a designation of what type of ticket it is. I ended up buying straight from Avianca's website. Check the designation of the ticket. See image below.
[H] is a FLEXI ticket. Priceline sold me an economy class ECONO ticket NOT a FLEXI like I bought from Avianca's website directly. See image below
Avianca's policy from Lima to Cusco states...
"Please note that the Super Promo and Econo fare options only apply for Peru residents with a DNI or Foreign Resident Card on the following routes..." Therefore... those who have ECONO tickets like the ones sold by Priceline have to incur a 178$ per ticket fee because they are the wrong tickets. Seems pretty clear to me. This is also verified and confirmed by Avianca Airlines themselves.
UPDATE (AUGUST 7, 2018)
Priceline reached out to me in order for me again to educate them on the issue and send ticket information. Here is what I sent them to make it crystal clear to them. I also found my original ticket they sold me (ECONO L) in my Apple Wallet. Gotta love Apple. :) IF you purchase through Avianca's website you won't have an issue. They automatically put you to a Flexi ticket. I just spoke to a representative online about the SUPER ECONO and ECONO tickets and they said they are for Peruvian residents and that if you are booking from outside of Peru Avianca's website will make sure you have the right fare, which is FLEXI, BUSINESS PROMO, BUSINESS. They won't speak to what third party sites like Expedia, Orbitz and Priceline sell. If you book through them then the fees will not be incurred.
Original ticket that Priceline sold me. Note the CLASS - ECONO L:
>> Finally got Priceline to reimburse me for the tickets above and went through Avianca. Note the CLASS - ECONO H - FLEXI
>> Let me remind you of the class air fare separations...
>> ECONO L = Econo & ECONO H = Flex... Here is a message from Avianca on their website detailing out the separation between airfare for Peruvian residents and non-Peruvian residents. Again, if you book through Avianca you will not have a problem. I recommend going straight through the airline on Lima to Cusco. Also note, Priceline repeatedly told me there were different airfare levels...
>> I'm pretty sure Avianca would know if there were different fare levels. Actually, they post them and tell you that ECONO and SUPER ECONO are for residents only. /Shrug
Get with it Priceline.
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