Question: A very dear friend of mine passed away unexpectedly this week after a brief illness. He had bought tickets through Priceline to fly from Washington to San Francisco. His wife would like to have his tickets reissued in their sonâ€™s name so that he can now make the trip with her.
Personally, Iâ€™ve never dealt with Priceline, but I agreed to do the groundwork for my friendâ€™s wife while she is dealing with funeral arrangements and other sad tasks. I would really appreciate any suggestions you could offer.
â€” Bari Sedar, Washington, D.C.
Answer: Iâ€™m so sorry about your friendâ€™s death. What is making a hard situation even harder is that Pricelineâ€™s airline tickets are â€œnonrefundable, nonendorsable and nonchangeable,â€ according to its terms and conditions, which are published on Pricelineâ€™s Web site. So, strictly speaking, only your friendâ€™s husband can use the ticket on that day, on that flight — no exceptions.
But if thereâ€™s one thing Iâ€™ve discovered in the years Iâ€™ve written this column, it is that there are exceptions for every rule. Even for Priceline tickets.
For example, two years ago I dealt with a case in which a readerâ€™s fiance, who was stationed on a submarine in Japan, had bought a $1,300 airline ticket for her to visit him. Then his submarine was unexpectedly redeployed. Priceline initially denied a refund request, but after some investigation, it turned out that the company had an unofficial policy of bending its refund rule when it came to military orders. The customer got his money back.
Most airlines will refund a nonrefundable ticket if you can show them a death certificate. But you canâ€™t assume Priceline will do the same, because Priceline has special agreements with carriers regarding the terms of its tickets (you canâ€™t collect frequent flier miles, for instance).
How do you find out about the exceptions? Itâ€™s not easy. Airlines and online travel agencies donâ€™t publicize these waivers, presumably because if they did, more passengers would ask for refunds. Often, the exceptions arenâ€™t even spelled out for call-center representatives at the company (although, according to a company spokesman, Priceline tells all its employees about the exceptions). Your best bet is to appeal your case to a manager, who might know under which circumstances the rules can be bent — or broken.
You or your friend should have started this process by calling Priceline. If you had, you probably would have been told that its airline tickets are refundable if you can produce a death certificate. I contacted Priceline on behalf of your friend, and it offered to cancel one or both of the tickets after your friend faxed a copy of the death certificate.
Priceline has refunded the entire amount of the ticket.