I’ve been a big fan of online purchasing for a long time. Year after year, the process just keeps getting better and, perhaps more importantly, easier. Some things make a lot of sense to buy online – computer products, software, non-tailored clothing – you can almost always find much better deals and a much wider variety if you do your shopping online. Other things such as travel, food, and other try-before-you-buy type items require a much more complex process to successfully offer online, but with all the technology improvements over the last few years even these complex items can be obtained over the internet.
I can’t remember the last time I didn’t purchase my plane tickets online — you might not either. Many moons ago, Travelocity had a pretty good corner on the online travel market. If anyone remembers their DreamMaps, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Select your departure city and then just browse the globe speckled with prices and find some amazing deal to some exotic destination. I don’t know why they ever took it down.
Skipping ahead, Orbitz and Kayak have really never let me down. Priceline has given me some great deals on a few hotel rooms, but I’ve never successfully gotten a good airfare deal through them. Bing Travel (Farecast) and Cheap Tickets get an honorable mention, but the online travel giants of years past have failed to keep up. Travelocity never has the best price anymore so I rarely even check their site. Last (and possibly least), the one with my favorite jingle of all – Expedia “dot cooooooooom” – has become my foe…
My wife and I are leaving for our honeymoon to Central America…
I booked a room for one night at the Maya Colonial Hotel less than 24 hours in advance – no option to purchase trip protection insurance, so, obviously, I didn’t (but I would’ve if I could have)…
We miss our first flight which means that we will miss our connecting once-a-day flight to Honduras and, you guessed it, miss our hotel reservation. So I call Expedia looking forward to a pleasant experience that makes booking with online travel giants the way to go…
On hold for 45 minutes… carrying my phone around the airport on speakerphone waiting for someone to pickup… no answer… it’s time to board the plane so I have to hang up.
I call Expedia again after we land… on hold for 30 minutes… a guy picks up so I explain the situation. He is a nice customer service guy so he listens and explains that he will try to reach the hotel… puts me on hold, tries to call hotel… 15 minutes go by… I get disconnected… have to call back and wait on hold again for 25 minutes… again, carrying my phone around waiting for hold music to end and a person to pickup…
Finally get through. This time, I give the guy my number right away so he can call me back if we get disconnected. Explain the situation again, he puts me on hold… I wait 15 minutes… he can’t get a hold of the hotel. (To those of you that want to bash me for being disappointed with Expedia, please know that at this point I was only upset with the hotel.)
So this guy, also a nice customer service guy (like the first one was), explains that he understands the situation and since we can’t reach the hotel he will submit a cancellation request to them right away. He then also puts me at ease and assures me that everything should be fine and to contact Expedia if I find that the hotel still charges me and they will take care of it. Great.
My wife and I go and have a great and adventurous honeymoon…
10 days later… returned from the honeymoon, checking my bank statement and notice that I got charged for the hotel room. So, as the nice customer service guy said to do, I call Expedia… wait on hold for a while (no surprise)… talk to a lady and explain the situation… She looks up the itinerary number, reads the notes, calls the hotel. When she gets back on the line, she tells me that they never received any cancellation request, so that’s why they charged me. I wasn’t even in their country, much less at their hotel, but since the reservation was not cancelled, they charged me. At this point, it’s upsetting, but I assume this is when Expedia will apologize and take responsibility to get me credited back for the mistake. Expedia lady doesn’t offer an apology that apparently they didn’t handle it correctly, she apologizes that I have to pay for a room that I never stayed in – almost like a “Sorry, better luck next time.” I try to stay calm and explain that I don’t think that is right. She tells me I can speak to the manager of the hotel if I call back the next day at 10 am (which would be Monday and I would be at work) – I tell her that won’t be possible and that I need Expedia to take care of this for me… she puts me on hold and gets her supervisor.
The supervisor was nothing more than an “I’m sorry, but we won’t help you” man. I made sure that he understood the circumstances. He said because I tried to cancel within 24 hours of the reservation time that I would still be charged. I asked him if he knew when I made the reservation. He looked it up… made the reservation less that 24 hours in advance. So I asked him if there were any exceptions to that rule considering that I never would’ve had the chance to cancel more than 24 hours in advance AND I canceled within 6 hours of making the reservation in the first place. He didn’t seem to have an answer but merely responded with, “Well, you clicked that you agreed to the Terms and Conditions, so there’s nothing I can do to help you.”
I clarified, “So you are ok with the fact that Expedia helped me lose $100 on a hotel room that I never stayed in?”
His response after a long pause, “Uh… I guess you are entitled to your own opinion.”
Later he says, “I’m sorry sir there’s nothing we can do for you, you checked the box agreeing to the terms and conditions.”
I re-stated, “There’s nothing you will do. There is plenty you can do, but you won’t. I’d really like for you to help me out, but you do not want to.”
Before we got off the phone, I made sure that he (and whoever reviews the call later) knew that, “I will never use Expedia again.”
In the end, I’m glad it was only $100. I don’t have any reason to believe they would have done any more to help me out if it had been $1000 or even more.
Sidenote: I have had last minute itinerary changes and canceled flights before when using Orbitz. When I called them to get assistance they were always very helpful and understanding. They seem to truly understand the chaos that traveling can be and they’ve positioned themselves to be a help in those times… not add to the misery. Thanks Orbitz.
Word to all service-offering companies: Don’t use your terms and conditions to legally screw your customers out of their money.
Others that have been screwed by Expedia:
http://www.marketingshift.com/2005/12/expedia-dot-scam.cfm – I really hope Team Expedia comments on my blog.