Capt. Wilson L. Dos Santos is stationed in Iraq, but last month he clicked on Priceline to buy a ticket for his mother to fly from Boston to Fort Myers, Fla. When he realized he’d booked the wrong airport — he should have sent her to Tampa, instead — he tried to cancel the first ticket and bought a second one.

Ah, the perils of being a do-it-yourself travel agent!

So here’s the the problem: Dos Santos thought he could cancel the first ticket (Priceline allows you to cancel an airline ticket within 24 hours under certain circumstances) and although he notified the site by email, he couldn’t call until more than a day later.

Now Priceline appears to want to keep the money for the first ticket. Can it do that?

Let’s go straight to the fine print:

If, within 24 hours of booking your Priceline airline tickets, you find a better fare, excluding taxes and fees, for the same airline, flights and fare class, call us. We will either allow you to cancel your ticket(s) so that you can rebook at the lower fare or we will refund 100% of the difference.

OK, the way I read this, the rule would apply to only to a cheaper fare found on the same route. But I can see how someone might have a different interpretation. Even if it did apply to Dos Santos’ situation, it says “call us” which he didn’t do within 24 hours, because he couldn’t.

Here’s Dos Santos’ view:

I was not able to call because I am currently located in Baghdad, Iraq, but I was able to email within 24 hours stating that I wanted a full refund for the original ticket to Fort Myers.

I did not receive a reply for a few days, so I emailed once again stating the same concern. I received a reply email exactly one week later, which stated that Priceline was sorry for the delay in responding, that you had received both of my emails, and that I should call as soon as possible to resolve the issue with my refund.

Since then I have called four or five times to inquire about the status of my refund, but each time I have been told that my case had been forwarded to the email department to verify when I sent my original email in order to determine whether or not it was sent within the required 24 hour period.

I called again last week and was told that there was still no status and that I should call back with 24-48 hours to inquire again. I just called again (about 96 hours later) and have been told again by a supervisor named Daisy to try back in 24-48 hours.

Nobody I have talked to seems to genuinely understand that I am currently in Iraq and just how difficult it is to continue to correspond on this issue. It is definitely a disadvantage that I feel is being exploited. I hope that you reply and that you can assist me. Thank you for your assistance.

As I review Dos Santos’ correspondence and the relevant rules, I’m not sure if he has a very strong argument. He appears to have misread Priceline’s rules and he missed the 24-hour window for notifying it, presumably because he was fighting a war.

This case would have been a non-starter, if it weren’t for Priceline’s responses — stringing the captain along, leading him to believe that his refund was imminent, when it probably wasn’t. The company should have given him a straight answer.

I do know that Priceline routinely bends its rules for members of the armed services on active duty, so I thought I’d ask it about Dos Santos’ case. A few days ago, it responded, saying “given the unique circumstances of Capt. Dos Santos’ deployment, we’re going to issue a refund.”

Good call.

(Photo: Talke Photography/Flickr Creative Commons)