Expedia Refunds Your Canceled Trip Whichever Way It Finds Cheapest, Lies About It

“August 21, 2007

Mr. Dara Khosrowshahi

CEO
Expedia, Inc.
3150 139th Avenue SE
Bellevue, WA 98005

Re: Itinerary # [redacted]

Dear Mr. Khosrowshahi:

I have been an occasional, satisfied Expedia user over the years but I had an experience with your company yesterday that has left me angry and frustrated.

Last month I booked tickets for me and my wife on Expedia for air travel later this week as follows: Continental First Class (refundable) EWR-DEN/ Frontier Coach (non-refundable) DEN-LAS / Continental First Class (refundable) LAS-EWR for later this week. My wife injured her back so I called your toll-free number to cancel the reservation. The representative with whom I spoke told me that I would have a credit of $3,063.78 on Frontier Airlines, since they were the “validating carrier” (carrier who issued the tickets) and that my refundable first class tickets had become non-refundable….”

I would have assumed that Continental would have issued my tickets since they were the originating carrier and made up the majority of the cost and the travel – and since I live on the East Coast, a Frontier credit doesn’t really do me any good. Whenever I have booked travel in the past, the carrier on the first leg has been the carrier who issues the tickets. Furthermore, I was shocked to learn that the refundable portion of my trip had become non-refundable.

I then asked to speak with a supervisor who told me that the determination of which carrier will serve as the validating carrier is “up to the airlines” and that Expedia has nothing to do with it and does not know before the ticket is issued who that carrier will be. She added that in Expedia’s rules and regulations it states that when you book through Expedia, the entire itinerary is subject to the most restrictive ticket’s restrictions, so since my coach Frontier tickets were non-refundable, so was the whole itinerary – including the expensive first class normally refundable tickets. I have never heard of this policy before from any travel booking service.

When I asked to speak to that supervisor’s supervisor, I was hung up on.

I then called your Corporate Headquarters and the receptionist gave me the number of your Corporate Customer Service Department. The first woman I spoke with was defensive and repeatedly said that there was language in the fine print on the web site entitling Expedia to do what it’s doing. I asked to speak with her supervisor and was transferred to Martin, who was very friendly and sympathetic. He explained that Expedia chooses the validating carrier based on the carrier’s commission structure and that Frontier’s commissions to travel agents are higher than Continental’s, so that’s why Frontier issued the tickets.

So, contrary to what I had been told by three other representatives of your company, not only does your company know who the validating carrier will be but chooses the validating carrier based on its commission structure.

I have the following problems with your policies and actions:

1. It is not clearly stated that the carrier who issues the tickets is up to Expedia and may not be the originating carrier. And that this is entirely in your interest and not the consumer’s. And this goes against what most consumers would reasonably expect when booking their tickets.

2. That you turn refundable tickets into non-refundable tickets if those refundable tickets are part of an itinerary with non-refundable tickets. You don’t make this policy clear to consumers and it makes no sense. I can only assume it is because you can make more money with this arrangement.

3. That your customer service agents were defensive, unhelpful and repeatedly misinformed me by stating that Expedia has no control over which airline issues the tickets booked through the site.

I would like you to do the following:

1. Either refund my money or give me a credit for the full amount that I can use on Continental Airlines.

2. Make your policies clearer so that other consumers don’t go through what I went through. If I knew then what I know now (and still wanted to use your service) I would have booked the Frontier segment separately.

I am very disappointed with the way you treated me and these customer-unfriendly practices. I hope that you will rectify this immediately.

Regards,

Jonathan R. Teller

cc: Ben Popken, Editor – Consumerist.com

(Photo: Ted Szukalski)

Comments

Edit Your Comment

  1. theWolf says:

    I think Mr. Teller was being rather charitable by saying that the refundable/non-refundable switcheroo was unclear. I’d say it was an out-and-out falsehood.

  2. GuruSteve says:

    I considered using Expedia for a vacation this past summer. I used a basic test of “shadiness” that I always use before spending lots of money on a website: I played with the website menus to see if I could book the same item for a different price. I succeeded, so I determined that Expedia was too shady for me to do business with. I guess I was right.

  3. NoWin says:

    …and you wonder why real-person travel agencies just may be making a comeback….

  4. cashmerewhore says:

    It’s not “me and my wife”.

    I rarely make it through customer complaint letters after grammatical errors.

  5. not_seth_brundle says:

    @cashmerewhore: That’s a style point, not a grammatical error. I guess “myself” is preferable to “me” in this case, but “me” is not incorrect.

  6. Aladdyn says:

    I rarely make it through comments left by asses, luckily yours was short.

  7. bigTrue says:

    Just got back from a booked trip on Expedia Tuesday. It was a quick jaunt down to Nashville from Deroit with a rental car drive up to SW Kentucky.

    I booked and selected my seats via Northwest. I was very pleased with my seat selections because I got the front pair of seats in the cabin. Got to the airport and was told that Northwest “rarely gets seat selections unless it’s NWA.com”. Luckily I wasn’t stuck in the back of the cabin.

    Got to Nashville to find that my reserved rental car of a fullsize Charger was not available. Luckily I’d already made the decision to request a compact Caliber for gas mileage reasons when we found we’d be driving further then planned.

    Basically, Expedia screwed up two out of three booked portions of my trip. Why offer seat selection if it never gets to a particular airline? Just tell me I can’t pick seats and I’ll check in early to make sure I get the best seats possible. The rental car thing was slightly annoying, but it all worked out, this time. I wonder, on busy weekends or holidays, do you show up to find no cars available?

  8. logicology says:

    @cashmerewhore”:

    There is nothing wrong with “me and my wife” in this instance.

  9. nweaver says:

    Why use Expedia at all?

    What you do is use a travel agency site (eg expedia) to find the cheapest airline, and then book directly through the airline.

    Its a lot more reliable, a lot clearer, and some of the better airlines (Southwest, JetBlue) don’t offer commission to travel agents at all, so you don’t see them on Expedia etc.

  10. davebg5 says:

    Hello, credit card company? I’d like to dispute a charge.

  11. motoraway says:

    @not_seth_brundle:

    I believe he was looking for “my wife and I”.

  12. not_seth_brundle says:

    @motoraway: Now that would be incorrect. The objective form “me” is correct because it is an indirect object. Would you say “I booked tickets for she” or “I booked tickets for her”?

  13. shades_of_blue says:

    I don’t think a correction like ‘my wife and I’ is going to sway any hearts Expedia, but good catch.

    IF Expedia happens to see this blog, I’ve only got this to say: You can deny one man his refund, but you can’t silence him from informing others of your shady practices. Question is, how will your stock holders react, after a story like this appears on a national news station?

  14. 3drage says:

    @CASHMEREWHORE”: I’m sure that frees up all kinds of time for you to spend, posting incorrectly about people’s grammar.

  15. STrRedWolf says:

    Gramar aside, this puts another nail in the coffin in Expedia. I booked a trip to Pittsburgh for a anthropomorphics convention (Anthrocon) through them, for United Airways. Bad idea:

    * A month after I booked for relatively cheap ($100) I get an email saying to contact Expedia. Just straight-forward SMS-in-an-Email. So I check my itinerary online and sure enough, there’s a problem. I call up and was able to rebook, but this time it’s not a direct flight — it’s a Baltimore-to-Pittsburgh-via-Charlotte flight.

    * A month after that I get called by Expedia directly saying my direct return flight was canceled, we can rebook you. I double-check quickly and find that flight’s been canceled. I rebook, this time Pittsburgh-New York-Baltimore.

    * Day of my flight, I check in and United tells me to go to US Airways. Uh… I booked the flight for you. What’s going on?

    * Go to US Air, and the kiosk can’t find my flights. Oh, lovely.

    * Go to US Air’s only stationed attendant, and the poor lovely lady, bless her soul, she’s able to find the canceled flight and zero rebooked flights. She then strangles the system, makes it cough up an emergency pass for the Baltimore-Charlotte-Pittsburgh, and rebooks the return flight as Pittsburgh-Philly-Baltimore, a much saner trip… were it not for the fact that the Philly-Baltimore trip was on a too-noizy Dash 8~300 twin turboprop and it makes you wish you had noise cancelation tech in the palm of your hand!

    So Expedia has lost me… and I’m checking through the Pittsburgh airport site first. Since Southwest services them and Baltimore, I’m going to try them first.

  16. Buran says:

    @STrRedWolf: I didn’t go this year but when I went in a previous year, I took Southwest and used my free flight (I’m a Rapid Rewards member) to do it. Southwest has generally been pretty good (though I’ve gotten rude flight attendants hassling me before, that was just on one flight) and their FF program actually makes sense. No confusing “miles” stuff. Just “take this many flights and get a free ticket”.

    When I go up to Chicago in November, I’m driving. I live in St. Louis so I’m just five and a half hours away. The scary thing is that with the hassles you go through with airlines and airports these days I probably wouldn’t get there any faster than I will by driving.

    Midway Airport (Southwest flies into smaller or out-of-the-way alternate airports) is also not all that close to the hotel…

  17. Buran says:

    @STrRedWolf: Oh, and next year, give Southwest a shot. They have nonstop flights from BWI to PIT for $39 each way if you book online. Good luck! (don’t know if I will go next year, either, though).

  18. bnosach says:

    Expedia = Microsoft? (owned by). Maybe you should call Redmond folks at first since they have a little bit more organized customer service.

  19. Ickypoopy says:

    If you are searching for plane tickets I would recommend a search engine rather than a travel booking site. Sites like kayak.com and yahoo farecahse search other sites and point you to the lowest fare. Usually these end up being on the carrier’s direct website, which is nice because it cuts out the middleman, and makes issues easier to resolve.

  20. Faerie says:

    A couple years ago (before reading Consumerist), I booked airline tickets on Expedia over the phone. I called them because I wanted to be clear what the change fees and/or cancellation policy on the tickets were as there was a chance my plans would be changing, but I wanted to lock in a low fare with my most likely dates. Sure enough as fate would have it, I had to change the tickets and was told that the change fee was about 3x what was originally quoted (I don’t recall the exact prices now). I went back and forth with them, explaining that I had been told a different rate on the phone and they refused to honor that rate, stating that the change fee was posted on the website and that was the only rate they’d honor. They were very rude to me and when I asked to speak to a supervisor, I too was hung up on. I didn’t think to fight the charge with my credit card, though I really should have. But that was the very last time I used Expedia.

  21. cindel says:

    Chargeback anyone?

  22. acambras says:

    OK, Grammar Hounds — here’s a thing I learned it in school:

    The other person (in this case, the wife) should be temporarily removed from the sentence so that the right pronoun can be selected to allude to the speaker:

    I booked tickets for me and my wife > I booked tickets for me (no…)

    I booked tickets for my wife and I > I booked tickets for I (no…)

    I booked tickets for my wife and myself > I booked tickets for myself

    So…

    My wife and I are flying to Vegas.

    Would you like to go to Vegas with my wife and me?

    I have booked tickets for my wife and myself.

    And of course the polite thing for him to do would have been to refer to himself last (“my wife and myself,” vs. “myself and my wife”).

    I’m not a professional grammarian or an English teacher. I wouldn’t have even posted this comment, but all the arguing and erroneous arguments were getting on my nerves.

  23. emjsea says:

    OK — Grammar Hounds–
    Nobody else really cares about it. I know my boyfriend and me don’t.

  24. hwyengr says:

    @Buran: Take the Amtrak if you’re going to Chicago. It’s just a hair longer than driving, you don’t have to drive, and you get dropped off in the Loop.

  25. gafpromise says:

    I don’t book through Expedia or any of those sites. I use them to search sometimes but then I go directly to the airline’s website to book- cut out the middleman. Very often I am able to get the exact same price that way as Expedia showed, there is no difference except I get to avoid Expedia FTW.

  26. Buran says:

    @hwyengr: I don’t know the area too well — how close is that to Woodfield? I am also ridesharing with a friend, so with each of us paying for half the gas, it should work out decently.

  27. doe3001 says:

    EXPEDIA tried to scam me once.

    I sent this letter on 08-13-2007 to one of EXPEDIA’s CEO and later to their President and Senior vice president, customer operations. NO RESPONSE so far. A failure to respond only means that EXPEDIA’s executives are fully supporting their deceptive business practice including their attempt to scam me.

    I just edited (to remove) personal data :
    (Name of one of EXPEDIA’s CEO)
    Chief executive officer
    ******@expedia.com

    I found your e-mail address in the internet. I writing since it is going to be almost one year after I received an e-mail from one of your representatives in response to my e-mail regarding my case. My case is too gruesome in detail that I’m running a website to alert people about how bad EXPEDIA is and how they tried to scam me ( [www.victimsofexpedia.com] ) . I have no other possible explanation for all EXPEDIA has done after they failed to arrange one of my trip.

    I’m pretty sure you know about my case (Case ID: [REQ:21826350]). Just in case, I’m sending this e-mail to you in order to document I tried to reach the highest level at EXPEDIA.com in order to solve my case.
    I doubt you will ever answer this e-mail because I think you are familiar with my case (did you ever look for “expedia complaints” in Google or Yahoo?

    Below are copies of the latest messages I send to and I received from EXPEDIA.

    Sincerely Yours truly,
    XXXX, XXXXX

  28. not_seth_brundle says:

    @Buran: Woodfield mall? In that case, yeah, it’s probably just as well to drive, so you don’t have to rely on the Metra to get you out to Schaumburg and to get around and about once you’re there.

  29. hubris says:

    @emjsea: That actually *is* wrong.

    When will people learn to follow the money? Websites like travelocity and expedia claim to save people money. Except that you’re including a middleman in the equation, and middlemen very rarely make things easier or cheaper. Either go directly with the airline (which is a horrible experience in and of itself), or use a human travel agent, so you can at least bitch in person should it be needed.

  30. Buran says:

    @not_seth_brundle: Yup, it’s across the street from there. We’ll be using a fuel-efficient vehicle to get there, too, so it’s not like we’ll use a ton of gas. I actually have never ridden on the Metra so I’ve no idea where the stations are.

    Maybe I’ll even tell my GPS to avoid toll roads considering I don’t like how the toll fares are jacked for cash users — and given MO has no toll roads, it’d be pointless for me to get an EZPass.

  31. rjhiggins says:

    @not_seth_brundle: Wow, all these grammarians and almost nobody can get it right:

    “…for my wife and me.”

  32. Greganda says:

    I used to use Expedia, but now I always use Kayak.com for searching flights. It’s much easier to adjust parameters (how many stops, or which nearby airports to include, for example) in order to get more/fewer/cheaper choices. It’s also better for scheduling multiple-leg travel.

    To book the actual ticket you’re redirected to the airline’s website. I’ve never had a problem since I started using Kayak.

  33. Bob says:

    Jeez, people. Just book through the airlines. As if the airlines aren’t difficult enought to deal with, you want to throw another big company in the mix, too ?!?

  34. crnk says:

    I’ve actually seen and read some clauses in the tickets that do in fact say that the most restrictive fare rule of a ticket does apply. Thus, flying a refundable ticket and choosing to fly segments as nonrefundable will make your ticket incur the change fees associated with it.
    Why didn’t you just search with the requirement of a refundable fare? most search engines had it.
    Also….why were you not flying direct in the first place? Was there a reason for the DEN stop?

  35. ElizabethD says:

    Easy grammar test without the jargon: Would you say “for I”? No? Then don’t use “I” following a preposition even if the preposition’s object is plural.

    However, it is preferred that you put the other person first: “…for my wife and me.”

    This is the last word on the subject!

    Yes, I’m an editor. I can’t help myself.

  36. patkrueger says:

    Most people have a lot of negative things to say about airlines these days. I want to share something really positive.

    On August 11 (2007) we were among thousands of international travelers planning to enter the US at L.A. International Airport. Our Korean Airlines flight landed just about right on schedule. Many may have caught the news story – L.A. Immigration had some sort of computer melt down, so no one could be admitted to the country at that location. We were told, with sincere apologies from our captain, that we must wait on the plan for a few minutes. That turned into a 5-hour wait.

    There were many very large incoming planes sitting on the tarmac waiting. On KA 011 the crew, and the airlines practices, made that wait much more comfortable than for most. After it became obvious that it was going to take hours, the airline brought out food and beverages for all of us. The cabin was kept cool and comfortable – headsets were returned to those wanting to use their personal flight entertainment systems, bathrooms were cleaned and kept stocked.

    All of that certainly made the wait more comfortable, but the real difference came at the end. We had, of course, missed our connecting flight, so I mentally prepared to spend (maybe) days negotiating with Northwest Airline trying to get to Minneapolis. After we finally deplaned and made it through custom, a KA representative was waiting for all of their passengers. When he asked about our destination (in order to provide directions) I told him we had missed our flight. “No problem. We have got you new tickets.” Indeed, they had arranged for new flights for every passenger who had missed a connection. We were out of LA in a few hours. They took care of everything, and the problem was not at all their fault!

    Fly Korean Airlines when you can!

  37. Negative says:

    All of this grammar talk keeps making me think of this little phrase, “The life of the wife is ended by the knife”.

  38. flightwisdom_guru says:

    To be accurate, this isn’t an Expedia or an airline rule. This is an IATA rule.

    Most carriers, including Southwest, are members of that international organization which sets common standards.

    What a good travel agent would do would be to issue these as separate tickets. If the two carriers have a baggage agreement, you could still have them through-check the luggage.

    Simple answer is this…for your own protection…never book business or first class travel on the same ticket as economy.

    As for the validating carrier, I’ve seen Expedia do a lot of crazy things. My personal favorite is getting two airlines without a ticketing agreement on the same ticket by issuing on a third airline that was nowhere on the ticket. Rule of thumb in the industry is supposed to be that the ticket is always issued on the carrier taking you the furthest distance, not the first carrier on the reservation.

  39. samftla says:

    In that past I had used Expedia from time to time for minor bookings, ie hotels and rental cars. Most of the time all went OK until I used them to book a hotel in Cordoba, Argentina. It was one of the Expdedia special rates where you had to prepay in order to get that deal. I did, printed out my confirmation and off to Argentina. When I arrived at the hotel, you guessed it…no reservation, no prepayment and no room. To add insult to injury I had to place an international call, at my expense to Expedia to try and resolve the issue. I was able to find another hotel room and pay again and eventually Expedia refunded most of my money, less a “service fee” which I never could get them to explain and a credit voucher for $75 which went into the trash. Needless to say Expedia no more.

    SAM

  40. swalve says:

    Dear Consumerist- I just paid over $3000 for airline tickets from a discount travel website. Should I kick my own ass, or will you come do it for me?

    Signed,
    Missing the Forest for the Trees in St. Louis

  41. MMD says:

    If there was ever a case for calling the credit card company and requesting a chargeback, this is it. I haven’t used Expedia in a long time except to search fares – and after reading this, I probably won’t even bother to search there anymore.

  42. chungkuo says:

    This is a GREAT complaint letter. Polite, firm, and spells out exactly what the customer will find as an acceptable resolution.