Orbitz Misprices Tickets and Holds Your Credit Hostage

Reader Kristin gets the double whammy of poor service from online travel agency Orbitz.com.

First, she tried buying a ticket at the price that Orbitz’s otherwise rather nifty matrix display offered. After clicking all the way through to the “buy” window, she got the ol’ Orbitz bait-and-switch. “We’re sorry, the price we originally quoted you isn’t available any longer. But we’d love to charge you even more if you click here!”

Second, each time she went through the various screens to buy a ticket, her credit card was authorized for a charge in the full amount. So even when Orbitz couldn’t or wouldn’t sell her the ticket, they put a hold on her credit card for that amount. All this added up to a declined charge.

But why even bother putting a hold on the card like this? You’re buying a nonrefundable plane ticket, not borrowing a car. Just charge the card once the terms of the transaction are finalized!

Kristin’s e-mail after the jump…

Here’s a recent problem of mine regarding Orbitz.com:

Everyone knows hotels and gas stations charge you more than you actually spend, and that these “holds” can take up to 14 days to clear. Who knew that the same thing could happen when booking a plane ticket online? I am a student. I had more than enough money to pay for my ticket, and I had a credit card with enough money for the ticket (but not two of them).

I tried to book a ticket on orbitz.com. It was a RT flight from Europe to the US and back for $979. I filled in all of the information and clicked to book, but the ticket was not available. I repeated the steps for a “different” ticket listed with the same price and flights. Unfortunately, orbitz.com informed me that my credit card was declined.

I called my bank immediately, and they told me a bit of useful information. First, that orbitz had charged $1001, and then an additional $979, which had been declined. They told me that the charge could be removed immediately by orbitz calling the bank and giving them the transaction number. Orbitz refused to call, so I ended up having to outwait the fake charge.

So why did orbitz.com charge me $1001 and then a $979 ticket? They call it a “soft charge,” which is almost the same as a hold. However, in my experience, holds are charged and later replaced with the actual amount of the purchase. Orbitz took over $1000 (when the actual price of the ticket was clearly available) and charged the full ticket price additionally. Orbitz told me their “hold” on my money would last “approximately” 24-72 hours. My bank told me that it is possible for these charges to last up to 14 days (including the weekends). The orbitz charge lasted for 8 (including a weekend).

In the end I booked a $950 ticket on expedia.com. Expedia also put a hold on my card–$1. This hold was replaced later with the correct amount of the ticket. I luckily was booking a month in advance and didn’t face increasing fares.

I won’t be using orbitz until this “soft charge” policy is reduced. I would also rate orbitz responses to my emails as inadequate, although I do think they answered the emails in a reasonable amount of time. Maybe this information can provide some consumerist entertainment and also save a few others from a major headache. Just imagine if this “soft hold” left you without money or a ticket when you were booking last minute.

Comments

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  1. dancemonkey says:

    this bullshit happened to me on expedia, except it was after hours on a friday so i couldn’t get the charge cleared (or even get anyone on the phone to discuss getting the charge cleared) until Monday.

    What you need to do is get a conference call going with the vendor, yourself, and your bank in order to clear the authorization… and even then it takes at least a couple of business days.

  2. dancemonkey says:

    wow, site ate my comment. it was appropriate and pithy too, what a shame.

  3. flyover says:

    I remember having a pretty heated conversation with a CSR from one of those sites when trying to buy a ticket to Spain a few years ago.
    It was the same bait and switch, which they blamed on the system only updating every hour or something, which is ridiculous to begin with. So when a flight is purchased there is no counter which determines said plane is full?? I call BS.

    Then, when I checked and the same price was up after the time frame in which the system was supposedly updated I went a little nuts on the poor individual. Clearly it wasn’t her fault, but it was still BAD customer service!

    And Consumerist: feel free to target the practices of the Orbitz/Travelocity etc businesses!

  4. AcilletaM says:

    Isn’t Orbitz the travel site that sold your personal data too?

  5. Gary Potter says:

    Sadly, Orbitz isn’t the only online travel site with customer service challenges.

    http://www.acemakr.com/online/2005/06/travelocity_cus.html

  6. Xkeeper says:

    I’m suprised people still use Orbitz, even after all the various problems that people have reported with it.

  7. consumtom says:

    My problem with Orbitz was with the delivery of my tickets. It states that I get 1-2 biz. days or ‘overnight’. I ordered the tickets on Thur. night and payed the extra 4 bucks for that service. So I thought I would get them on Fri. The mailman comes by on Sat. and no tickets. I call the card company and It was chargered. then I called Orbitz. They told me that the tickets were still in route and gave me this story about UPS picking up the tickets at thier office and that the reason it was taking longer is that it was a ‘international delivery’. plus I could not count the first day as the start of the 1-2 biz. days. There is not this interp. of these rules on Orbitz page when odering the delivery service. I tried to be nice and polite thru out our converstion and maybe get a 4 dollar discount for a 1000$ round trip ticket I spent on thier site. Nada! If I had known about all this crap with Orbitz…… well I’m not using there site any more!

  8. moremoremore says:

    If you’re on a travel website and it tells you the price it had given you has timed out, try switching browsers and repeat your search. Often the original good price is given again.

  9. bisopharm says:

    I am currently going thru same problem withis Orbitz or wat are they called. They are terrible, i booked a flight from Charlotte(US) to London for my friend as a birthday present on thier site yesterday(16/11/06).I enered my credi card details and click to purchase but I got an error message that the transaction could not be completed. I took it for granted that my card will not be charged. Later in the day I tried booking directly from US Airways and I was told my credit card company would not give an authorisation. On calling my credit card company, Alas! orbitz had charged me £248.51 for the tickets that were never sold. Now they are telling me its a soft charge, ticket prices are going up every day and my friends birthday is on 9th Dec, I havent got extra funds to book another ticket untill the charge is dropped. They dont even have any details of he booking and I didnt take down a confirmation number since the transaction was aborted. Am really in a fix and very angry. I called today to ask a CSA if I will be compensated for the difference in the price of the flight had booked earlier when my card was charged and what I am able to book when the ‘soft charge’ is eventually dropped. She had no answer, i requested to speak to a manager, but she left me on the phone for 30 minutes and didnt come back to me. There should be a regulating body to look into this fraudlent act by Orbitz and others