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 son’s name so that he can now make the trip with her.

Personally, I’ve never dealt with Priceline, but I agreed to do the groundwork for my friend’s wife while she is dealing with funeral arrangements and other sad tasks. I would really appreciate any suggestions you could offer.

— Bari Sedar, Washington, D.C.

Answer: I’m so sorry about your friend’s death. What is making a hard situation even harder is that Priceline’s airline tickets are “nonrefundable, nonendorsable and nonchangeable,” according to its terms and conditions, which are published on Priceline’s Web site. So, strictly speaking, only your friend’s husband can use the ticket on that day, on that flight — no exceptions.

But if there’s one thing I’ve discovered in the years I’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 reader’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 can’t assume Priceline will do the same, because Priceline has special agreements with carriers regarding the terms of its tickets (you can’t collect frequent flier miles, for instance).
How do you find out about the exceptions? It’s not easy. Airlines and online travel agencies don’t publicize these waivers, presumably because if they did, more passengers would ask for refunds. Often, the exceptions aren’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.