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.