Orbitz: Pay For Ticket We Never Sold You Or Else

UPDATE: Orbitz Sent Reader To Collections For Ticket They Never Sold Him

Imagine a mugger holding a gun to you and saying, “I need you to pay for that gold watch I gave you last week.” Confused, you say, “Uh, you never gave me a gold watch.” The mugger says, “Hey buddy, pay me for that watch or else…” He cocks the hammer. Ok, that’s a little melodramatic, but essentially that’s what Orbitz is doing to Josh; they want him to pay for a ticket they never sold him, or else they’ll send him to collections.

June of last year, I tried to book a ticket for my brother through Orbitz. The process went as usual and when I completed my transaction, I was presented with a screen telling me to expect a confirmation email shortly.

Several days later and with 48 hours to go before the flight, still no email. So I called the fine customer service folks at Orbitz and was told, in no uncertain terms, that they did not have a reservation for my brother or myself (just in case I had made a mistake on my end filling out the form). I was then offered the opportunity to buy a new ticket at $200 above what I had originally signed up for. I had to pass and my brother missed a very important family event.

Move forward in time a week, and I find that my BofA checking account has charges from Orbitz and the airline I had originally booked through (American Airlines). You know, the flight that didn’t exist.

I called Orbitz again and was now told that Orbitz never gives refunds. I escalated from one outsourced call center worker to another equally inept call center worker who read from the same script. Since that went nowhere, my next call was to BofA.

It took a lot of time and documentation, but I finally received a letter in October from BofA letting me know that the funds I had been forwarded when I initially disputed the charge was to be made permanent.

So what’s the problem? The call I got today from Orbitz telling me that they got a letter from American Airlines hadn’t received payment and that I would be sent to collections.

Is this true? How can this be? I am lost and confused and just plain fed up. Any guidance or suggestions would really help.

Let’s see, some options:

1) Resubmit your disputation of the charges with Bank of America
2) Forward your complaint to BoA’s CEO (address here).
3) Hire an attorney specializing in consumer debt cases

Any other notions out there?

(Photo: Shermeee)

Comments

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  1. dragonfire81 says:

    If I was him, I’d take option 3. Trying to make you pay for something you never actually purchased is not legal.

  2. seawolf2000 says:

    yep Orbitz dropped the ball on this one. The sick thing is that they tried to charge him $200 more when he called to check his reservation. Does Orbitz need the money that bad??

  3. Well if you won a chargeback then Orbitz can’t come after you for the money. That’s their agreement with the credit card companies.

    But….

    I think Orbitz knows that. This isn’t Uncle Bob’s Travel Time Website. So I think we’re not getting the whole story. Can you give us more information?

    • crashfrog says:

      @twophrasebark: That’s their agreement with the credit card companies.

      So? You say that like it’s supposed to represent an obstacle to a company coming after someone for money. I’m sure American is coming after them, and I’m sure Orbitz’s guys are saying “geez, all we did was make a little mistake! Why should we have to pay the price, when we’re a huge corporation and Josh is just a little guy?”

    • Reeve says:

      @twophrasebark:
      That is not exactly true. Chargebacks are a powerful tool for consumers but had the service actually been delivered Orbitz would be able to collect.

      That being said there are tools you can use. Obviously hiring an attorney is an option but that will not save you any money – ie you probably will pay the attorney more than you will save.

      I agree with P41 and others. Also, isn’t there a consumerist post on fair debt collection. I believe there are letters that Consumerist has that you can send which may get them off your back.

      Reminder – if this were to go to court Orbitz or AA has to prove that they provided you with something – the consumer does not have the burden to prove that nothing was provided.

      • @Reeve: “That is not exactly true. Chargebacks are a powerful tool for consumers but had the service actually been delivered Orbitz would be able to collect.”

        Please clarify. Orbitz (and any other company that uses credit cards) has an agreement with the card issuers that if they lose a chargeback, that is the final word.

        The financial institution is the final arbiter of whether the service was delivered. If this was not the case, you would quickly see how pointless the protection of your credit card is and how quickly a massive industry of pursuing chargebacks would pop up. Believe me – there is no such industry. You lose a chargeback, you lost the money.

  4. Jevia says:

    Forward the chargeback documentation with Orbitz to American?

  5. mac-phisto says:

    it’s stories like these that really make me feel powerless as a consumer. the OP did everything right to get the charges reversed & down the line they try to collect again. & again. & again. how much was the original ticket – ~$400? all it takes is a collection item appearing at the wrong time (like when you’re trying to finance a vehicle or purchase a house) & this will end up costing you tenfold in higher finance charges.

    i had a similar problem with the old at&t wireless (billing error that i refused to pay & disputed over & over again) & after the 3rd collection company, i just folded.

    luckily some lawyers have had some success battling companies recently – i’d suggest investigating that route.

  6. hardtoremember says:

    I am with dragonfire81. It is illegal to charge someone for a service that was not rendered.
    I think that letting them know that you are going to get a lawyer may well solve the problem.
    Option 3.

    • floraposte says:

      @hardtoremember: I suspect it’s not, actually. That’s why you can charge no-shows at doctor’s appointments and airplanes. And the OP is, in the airline’s opinion, a no-show, and they’re not letting Orbitz off the hook for the ticket, so they’re not letting the OP off. So he’s stuck in that dread limbo of trying to prove he didn’t get an email and that he did so speak to a CSR named Bob in June. Godspeed, son.

      I’m wondering if calling the airline might have clarified things at that point. Certainly I now know it’s worth checking with the airline if a reservation service claims my reservation didn’t go through.

  7. humphrmi says:

    This is why Orbitz is nothing more than a price check service for me (and often failing at that, given the recent airline fees). Why should I pay them to make my reservations, when I can shop around on their website and then avoid the fees by booking on the airlines own website?

    Orbitz: please ignore the commenters. Keep spending your money collecting flight, fare, and seat info. Charge people for flights you don’t sell them. I need you to help me compare prices! If you don’t, who will? Expedia? BestFares.com? Come on, those guys are weanies!

  8. chartrule says:

    ouch – how can you owe money on something you never recieved?

  9. Julia789 says:

    I learned several years ago never to use third party websites or travel services to book flights. Use them as a handy tool to look up available flights on many different airlines at once, but then book directly through the airline’s website instead.

    I learned the hard way that when there is a problem, the travel website blames the airline, and the airline blames the travel site. Both send you back and forth to each other for months, and nothing is resolved.

    • ideagirl says:

      @Julia789: and, in my experience, often cheaper, too. I have to add that the way so many people jumped on the “the OP must not be telling the whole story” bandwagon disturbs me. Why do so many people jump in to defend business mistakes at every turn? Not that all big businesses are evil, but, in my experience, when this kind of stuff happens, it is more often than not the business that is at fault, not the consumer.

  10. psychos says:

    Find airfare: ITA Software (backend for Orbitz and many other travel search engines.)

    Book airfare: The airline’s actual website.

    Booking through Orbitz or another 3rd party provider: Tends to more frequently lead to problems, such as this poster experienced.

  11. shepd says:

    What else can I possibly say about orbitz that maddox hasn’t said already?

    [www.thebestpageintheuniverse.net]

  12. AndyAndy719 says:

    ITA software provides a search on negotiated fares – which all differ from site to site, company to company.

    Bookings are done via GDS (worldspan/apollo) and direct supplier links, again – different negotiated pricing.

    It’s silly to just automatically go right to the airline for booking. If you have a problem chances are you’re calling the same outsourced customer service center – they just answer the phone different. Sometimes the airline direct is cheapest, sometimes not. Use kayak to see :)

    I think the true issue here is that the OP waited several days and then decided to call 48 hours before his trip. Regardless of a confirmation email or not, you can login and check the status of your tickets, or login to bank of america and see the charge.

    If a ticket is issued and he didnt show – he’s on the hook.

  13. J.Heck says:

    Honestly, speak to a lawyer. Right now, sites like Orbitz and Hotwire are in a litigation with hotels in Ohio. I wouldn’t be surprised if Josh isn’t the only one out there who’s been screwed over by these third party sites, especially now that other scheme-y things have been brought to the class-action table.

  14. hallam says:

    Write Orbiz a letter pointing out that the debt is totaly disputed, has been reversed out and that if they attempt to sell the debt to a collections agency without notifying them of that fact they will have committed fraud.

    Their ‘no-refunds policy’ is clearly illegal, if they failed to supply the service there is no debt.

    Threats regarding credit agencies etc. in this situation would appear to be an attempt at extortion.

  15. P41 says:

    Well kudos on having already won the dispute. That’s far further than most people have gotten when they complain here.

    If you hire a lawyer be prepared to pay for it yourself until you win a big lawsuit. Otherwise:
    Report them to BofA. (not often they’re the good guys here)
    Send a copy of the dispute resolution from BofA to Orbitz, (registered mail, return receipt) and also tell them you don’t have a business relationship and not to call you again. (You are on the national do-not-call list, right? You can report them.)
    You should also consider pointing out that this behavior sounds exactly like extortion. If they send you anything in the mail, report it as mail fraud to the postmaster.

    Oh also shouldn’t it be Bank of America they send to collections, not you? Ha ha ha.

    If you start getting calls from collectors, they’re unlikely to accept your story, no matter how true. So be sure the first thing to ask them is who you’re talking to (name and company name) and how to contact them. That way you can report them to the police (extortion and harrassment) and you document their behavior after you tell them you already won the dispute against these fraudulent charges and to never call you again.

    • stang says:

      @P41:

      It would not matter if he’s on the National DO-Not-Call list. Since he’s done business with them, they have full rights withing the National Do-Not-Call program to continue to contact him in the future.

      I agree with reporting them to BofA. But I doubt anything good will come of it, because BofA could reverse their decision and charge you for it anyway.

      Apparently AA never got the message from BofA and Orbitz that the matter had been settled, so maybe you should try to contact AA and explain it to them. Or this could be a shady scam on Orbitz’ part to leech money from it’s customers.

  16. brokeincollege says:

    This is the reason I ALWAYS charge plane tickets to AmEx and buy directly from the airline’s website. Haven’t bought through a search engine in at least a year so far. For international fares, I use a travel agency.

    Because I know AmEx won’t stand for this.

    Sue their ass for fraud, extortion, harassment, and if they actually do send it to collections, slander, libel and defamation. Oh, and yeah, contact your attorney general and have charges pressed.

  17. s25843 says:

    To the Original Poster: Contact Chris Elliott over at http://www.elliott.org , he is a consumer travel advocate, and is usually successful in helping out with problems like this.

  18. econobiker says:

    Can orbiz proove they sent a confirmation email?

    • evslin says:

      @econobiker: Even if they proved they sent a confirmation e-mail, I don’t think that accounts for the fact that OP called them directly and they told him there was no reservation. Confirmation e-mail or no Orbitz needs to get their shit together on this one.

  19. SkokieGuy says:

    When you disputed with the CC company, Orbitz was obligated to provide proof that the charge was legitimate.

    They obviously were unable to, or the charge would not have been reversed.

    Let them report you to a collections agency. Third-party collections are far more heavily regulated.

    The moment you receive a collections notice, demand proof of the debt. You can reply with the chargeback data indicating that your credit card company was unable to find a reasonable basis that the charge was valid, therefore no money was owed.

  20. lingum says:

    Did you book on the gay travel part of Orbitz?

  21. typetive says:

    I had a similar problem, though it never escalated this high. I tried to make a reservation for a hotel room through a convention website. It was never processed, after I entered my credit card info (AmEx) the system spit out “sorry, that room is no longer available.” and I thought that was that and I didn’t end up getting a hotel room. (I tried again a day later and still no rooms available.)

    Fast forward to a few weeks later and I get a charge on my credit card for one of the two nights of the hotel room.

    I called the convention travel site and they said that it was my responsibility to call them and check to see if they had actually processed my hotel reservation even though they told me that they hadn’t online.

    I called the hotel and told them the story, they were very understanding and luckily had rebooked my room to someone on a waiting list for that night so I was off the hook and they credited it back to my Amex.

    But the gist of the story is that these big travel booking companies think it’s our responsibility to check and recheck to see if they’re going to take our money, even if they said they couldn’t give us our booking.

  22. CompyPaq says:

    Wait for them to send you to collections and then send the collection agency a copy of your won dispute with Orbitz.
    Also enclose the form letter for getting collection agencies off of your back.

  23. melmoitzen says:

    “I find that my BofA checking account has charges from Orbitz…”

    Did everyone referring to a “chargebacks” and “credit card company” notice this important information (no credit card used)? Sounds like a good idea, but a different set of rules apply when you don’t use a credit card, making chargebacks all the more difficult.

    • Defender40 says:

      @melmoitzen: That’s not necessarily an accurate statement. Dependent on the form of payment used (i.e. online check, visa debit card) the rules may have been the same. When disputing a charge on a Visa Debit Card it is treated exactly the same way as a visa or other credit card. When the op disputed the charge, if they were honest with the csr, the charge would have been disputed (on the CSR’s end) as a service paid for but not provided. Speaking from experience with B of A’s internal systems, the Credit Card dispute process and Debit card dispute process are nearly identical. Online purchase disputes are identical. Just my .02. Orbitz is going to lose this one I think…..

  24. mushpuppy says:

    Sue them in small claims court for a declaratory judgment.

    Also, in the future, never never never use a debit account.

  25. attercob says:

    First, quit using a debit card. With a credit card you are protected by law in several ways that a debit card does not protect you. There is also the simple fact that with a credit card you are just agreeing to pay, with a debit card you are actually giving someone access to take money out of your account. I realize some people like debit cards because they don’t pay interest… but if you have the money to use the debit card then you also have the money to pay the credit card in full each month. I suggest Amex as they don’t let you cary a balance (so you can’t get lazy) and they have very good customer service.

    Second, exactly what do you think Orbitz is going to do to you? They can make loud noises but all you need to do is respond:

    “I’m sorry but your records are in error, I do not owe you this amount. Please update your records accordingly. Be advised that you will be held liable for any erroneous information reported to a consumer credit agency, including the costs of removing the erroneous information, damages resulting from such information, and any associate legal expenses.”

    Third, why would you ever buy through Orbitz? They charge you $30 (or something like that) extra per ticket. Instead, use their search engine to find the fare you want then buy it directly from the airline’s website. This saves you $30, possibly gets you a lower fare if the airline has web-only specials, and you amy also earn bonus flyer-miles for using their website (for example delta does this). Buying the tickets form Orbitz is a sucker’s deal. I also suspect you’ll get better customer service from an airline then you will from Orbitz, particularly if you fly enough to get elite status.

  26. avatar28 says:

    Sure, it’s easy to say never use a debit account. But what if, for whatever various and sundry reasons, you don’t actually HAVE a credit card? Should you then just cut yourself off from every actually buying anything?

  27. bam153 says:

    Talk to an attorney. Also go check where this article is on Digg, it looks like there are some people who had a similar experience (Including myself – lost hotel reservation when I arrived at the hotel). There might be the option for a class action suit which will not only get you the reimbursement you deserve, but will also harm the company a great deal more than a bunch of little individual suits from the occasional disgruntled customer who actually takes the time to take legal action.

  28. vespa59 says:

    You don’t need to do a thing. They don’t have your money and they have no way of getting it, without you agreeing to give it to them. There is nothing they can do, short of suing you for the amount they feel you owe them.

    Collections agencies are a joke, and anyone who gives in to them is a sucker. They’re just professional bullies, but they have no authority and no power. Despite what they’ll tell you, they can’t do anything to your credit, garnish your wages, charge your bank account, etc…

    I would totally just ignore this. If Orbitz contacts you again, tell them that as far as you’re concerned, this situation is resolved and you will take no further action. When their collection goons call you, just tell them that you don’t Orbitz or the airline anything and to stop harassing you. Make sure to use the word “harassment” whenever they call you. Also make sure to be clear that you don’t owe anyone anything. Suggest they take the matter to small claims court themselves (assuming the amount they think you owe is under $5000).

    Eventually, the cost of the collection agency will be more than Orbitz or the airline wishes to continue to spend and one of two things will happen: They’ll either take you to small claims court (highly unlikely, given the cost of it and the likelihood they would lose), or they’ll just cut the loss and go away. If they do take you to court, just show up with all your documentation, and you should be fine.

  29. Nerys says:

    Not sending him an e-mail does not absolve him of paying for the service rendered or not. IE he DID buy it and WANTED to buy it.

    NOW because of the lack of e-mail HE did the very very smart and right thing. he called in confirmation. THAT seals the deal for him.

    HE DID his due diligence the problem is orbitz. American is also in the right here. They also did nothing wrong but the target is orbitz not the OP and that is what needs to be clarified.

    I would not deal with AA at all. If they contact you explain that I have no business with you I have business with orbitz and I have resolved that dispute. If you still have a problem take it up with orbitz.

  30. AugustPoe says:

    I used to work for the customer service agency who provided the
    service for Orbitz. They opened offices overseas and a lot of the
    employees were pissed off. It’s hard to have cohesive service when
    you’re spread all over the world. I will let you know however, that
    your story seems to be very rare. I’ve never heard of that happening
    before. I mean, usually what would happen was the ticket you were
    trying to purchase wasn’t available any longer (that happened WAY too
    much). The fact that it went through was probably some type of
    computer glitch and no person was actually involved in the mistake…
    other than shotty customer service. I mean, the airlines can prove you
    weren’t on the flight. I’m POSITIVE Orbitz technical department can go
    back and actually find the error.

    Then again, maybe you should chalk it up to a bad experience and not
    waste any more time or energy on something you have no control over.

  31. friedduck says:

    1. Keep good records. All phone calls, who you spoke with, when, etc. It’s tough to prove you didn’t get an e-mail, etc.

    2. Write a letter to Orbitz/AA detailing everything. I’d actually expect it to end there, but….

    3. IF they do send it to collections tell them it’s not a valid debt, and not to contact you.

    4. IF they dun you (spelling?) you can collect damages under the fair credit reporting act. There’s also strict rules on collection agency behavior–keep a record of all calls and what’s been said.

    Finally I’d call whoever your local consumer reporter is & see if they can help, or consumer affairs at the secretary of state. (Couldn’t hurt.)

    DON’T just ignore it, and don’t forget to keep good notes.

  32. DennisGlocks says:

    I don’t think you can really do this but ask them why you haven’t
    received the tickets, ask for your tickets or you’ll send it to
    collections lol

  33. Chroma3000 says:

    Not to be a nitpicker or anything, but I think you guys added your response to the block quote letter.

    But yeah, this is pretty bad. As others have said, it’s illegal to charge someone for a service not delivered on.

  34. AcanthaCleite says:

    Hello,

    Not sure if you resolved your situation yet but I had a situation like this recently. I tried to buy a ticket and was (what I eventually learned from them) soft charged for the reservation. After the reservation failed to go through (internet timed-out)…so without a reservation number or even an account with orbitz, I called my credit card company to make sure I wasn’t charged. Sure enough, I was. After getting the run around from orbitz (they told me I had to get my bank’s fax number so they could fax a form to reverse the process). I called my bank and that lady said it was impossible and that orbitz would have to call them.

    Finally, I called orbitz again. Explained the situation. And conference called my bank (who sent me to some special agent that does this kind of stuff all day). The orbitz representative provided them with confirmation codes that verified who he was so they finally took the charges off.

    According to both my bank and orbitz, soft charges means you aren’t actually charged yet…it’s just to reserve the ticket. If the merchant doesn’t “re charge” your card, they supposedly disappear after 5 days. However, I doubt they’d find difficulty in actually charging you for something they didn’t give you; like in your case.

    I hope this sort of helps…orbitz definitely gives refunds; that’s a ridiculous statement from some stupid worker. I’m not sure about what other people might have told you. Anyway, goodluck.

  35. kawachi says:

    @AndyAndy719 (et al): When someone from the general public does a fare search on ITA Software, it does NOT search negotiated fares, only published fares. As as travel agent, I recommend it to my clients all the time and it saves me grief and them money. They waste their own time searching for the EXACT flights they want and come to me to buy them. They usually do that because ITA will often recommend a combination of airlines and the airlines (or their websites) themselves won’t sell you such tickets. True, they might find the same deal on Expedia, Travelocity or Orbitz BUT my fees are lower and with me they get to speak to a human!