Correct strategy to deal with unexpected Expedia itinerary change
January 13, 2011 12:06 AM   Subscribe

We booked a return international trip from city A to city C on Expedia (.au site). A subsequent email informed us it was ticketed as two separate tickets (due to incompatible airlines): city A -> city B, city B -> city C. Later, the B->C airline "changed" its flights by many hours, making the itinerary impossible to complete (by creating impossible connections). Expedia offers to arrange a refund only of the B->C connection. What can we do?

Here are some more details:

* We have checked, and the two separate tickets were indeed charged separately to our credit card by the two separate airlines.

* The charge for the B->C ticket is trivially small compared to the A->B ticket. Recovering it would not be very useful, whereas the A->B ticket represents a lot of money to us. Furthermore, the amount is also very small compared to the actual cost of a new ticket from B->C.

* Aside from offering to arrange a refund for the B->C ticket, Expedia also offered options to repair the itinerary. However, the "options" are awful, and frankly silly (they involve making both the forward and return trips ~24 hours longer and at considerable additional expense to us).

* Many, many calls to Expedia over many many weeks (you don't want to know how many...) yielded nil. Finally a "supervisor" came to the phone and said, we have no solutions for you.

* We are in Australia.

* Hypothetical: Examining the airfares currently on offer from airlines, it appears that if we magically got a refund today on the old tickets, we could afford to book new different tickets at a reasonable price and rescue our trip.

Here are some supplementary questions that came to mind for us:

* Does Expedia often issue separate tickets in this way? If so, this type of problem must happen quite often?

* What exactly did we agree to when we ticked "I Agree" at some point during the Expedia booking process? I.e., did we effectively agree to a certain chance of this "Surprise! You lost your money!" scenario arising?

More notes:

* If we adopt a strategy of trying to get a full refund, presumably it could take a long time, even if we succeed. In the meantime, we would have to buy other tickets to rescue our trip. This would be risky if we only have a certain chance of a refund.

* It goes without saying, but: Yes, we will think twice (and thrice) before using Expedia next time.

Our main question: What is the right strategy to try to recover something from the debacle?

Thanks so much for any advice.
posted by hAndrew to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, that's awful. I have traveled a ton and this is why I 1) use sites like expedia for research not for purchasing and 2) avoid using multiple airlines for the same trip whenever possible. I don't think there's anything more you can do with expedia now as it sounds like you've talked to them many many times using both your nice and angry voices. This is why they offer the insurance at time of sale. You might want to try calling the airline itself and see if there's anything they can do for you. Very sorry again, I hope someone here has the miracle solution for you.
posted by boobjob at 1:11 AM on January 13, 2011

Addressing trip alternatives vs. getting a refund here:

Can't you just get a new ticket from B->C at a later time on the day you arrive from a different airline?

or could the airline that takes you from A->B get you to C? If so, can you check on changing your A->B ticket (albeit for a fee) to get to C?
posted by thorny at 1:14 AM on January 13, 2011

Can you dispute the charges with your credit card to free up room in the cards to buy new tickets?
posted by saucysault at 2:12 AM on January 13, 2011

I'm not a travel expert or a contract lawyer with knowledge of Australian law, but basically:

When you booked your original journey you agreed a contract for them to get you from A -> C @ price of X$.

Airline B->C changing their schedule is expedia's problem, NOT YOURS.

...and at considerable additional expense to us.

No. Stop right there. The contract was agreed at X$'s. Any and all additional expenses (within reason) are bills that expedia will need to pay. Such expenses are things like an overnight hotel stay at your layover city because your connection doesn't leave until the next day, or taxi fares to or from the airport because public transport does not operate at the time of your re-scheduled flight, etc.

Alternatively they should offer to cancel the WHOLE journey and refund everything back to you.

Remember, your contract is A->C and not two contracts of A->B & B->C. They're clearly trying to wiggle out of this.

Hypothetical: Examining the airfares currently on offer from airlines, it appears that if we magically got a refund today on the old tickets, we could afford to book new different tickets at a reasonable price and rescue our trip.

I don't know about Oz, but in the UK when they agree to refund they're supposed to refund the money within 3 days. So you might still be able to rebook.

So, Call the 'supervisor' as soon as their office opens (I assume you took the supervisors name and number, but if you didn't, just ask for one anyway when you call). Explain your situation and inform them that you have a contract with them for journey A->C and that you wish an immediate refund if they are not prepared to cover all reasonable additional costs that will be incurred by you as a result of the re-routing.

Good luck.
posted by davidjohnfox at 2:15 AM on January 13, 2011

I don't know if you paid with visa card and whether you can dispute the charge and have it reversed. I think it's a compelling argument that you are not getting what you paid for. A merchant who offers you a lesser substitution cannot force you to accept it. You should try to argue this with your bank or credit card company. Worth a try?

And I've used Expedia many times without issue but your experience makes me consider using an alternative for future travel. Hope it works out.
posted by loquat at 2:18 AM on January 13, 2011

Hi saucysalt, davidjohnfox, loquat,

Reversing the charge on our credit card was an option we also thought of, for the reasons you've described. However, the charges on our card are stated as coming from Airline 1 and Airline 2. The charges aren't stated as coming from Expedia. Therefore, it seems it would be a matter of convincing our card issuer that the charges by Airline 1 and Airline 2 should be reversed.

Perhaps we could argue that, since we didn't knowingly authorize Airline 1 or Airline 2 to charge us, but only Expedia to charge us, the charges should be reversed. However, I think this would be a long shot. Also, our issuer has explained that the process would be likely to take several weeks either way while they investigate.
posted by hAndrew at 2:41 AM on January 13, 2011

Hi davidjohnfox,

The position of the "supervisor", when once we had a chance to speak with one, was that regrettably (for us) Expedia didn't have any contract with us. Rather, Airline 1 and Airline 2 separately have contracts with us.

The contract of Airline 2 is broken, and we can get that trivial amount of money back. But the contract with Airline 1 is not broken, and we can't.

That was their statement anyway, and they weren't budging.
posted by hAndrew at 2:44 AM on January 13, 2011

Hi thorny,

That is an interesting idea. One difficulty is that that could prove unpredictably expensive and/or we could meet with a long delay, depending on the options we find once we get there. The destination C is a relatively uncommon destination. Flights aren't frequent.

This raises the curious matter of the particular breakdown in charges made by Airline 1 and Airline 2.

* Airline 2 charged us only a small amount, for 2 segments (plus corresponding return segments), 1 of which is international.

* Airline 1 charged us a lot more (nearly 20 times as much) for its 1 international segment.

Admittedly the Airline 2 segments are shorter in distance than the Airline 1 segment... But it seems a strange (and supremely inconvenient) breakdown.

In summary, if the charge made to our credit card by Airline 2 were refunded or reversed, it would be a drop in the ocean of separately booking flights from B->C. The bulk of the cost has ended up with the A->B airline for whatever reason.
posted by hAndrew at 2:53 AM on January 13, 2011

Hi hiAndrew,

OK, I'm not really sure what you've done here, to be totally honest. Maybe things are different in Australia to how they are in the UK. I assumed that you'd bought just one itinerary (i.e. one booking reference number) which contained two segments (i.e. two flights) there and two back. This is where I got the part of the contract being A->C from.

Perhaps, though, you booked A->B and B->C on different itineraries (thus giving two booking references). But you bought them at the same time which made you think you'd bought one journey. Well in this case you have two contracts, contract A->B and contract B->C. And if this is the case they they are quite within their rights to only offer the refund on flight B->C.

The part about you getting billed twice is making me now think the latter case is true. One itinerary should equal one bill. However expedia may operate differently in Aus compared the UK. In the UK if booked a single itinerary that contained flights on different airlines, I'd expect to get billed only by expedia and then it's up to expedia to sort out paying the separate airlines.

sorry if I've not been much help.
posted by davidjohnfox at 3:15 AM on January 13, 2011

davidjohnfox, to clarify, we just have one Expedia itinerary that we booked at one time. Later (a few days) we received an email explaining that the tickets were being booked on separate tickets.

We have two charges on the credit card (per traveler). One charge which says it's from "Airline 1", the other says it is from "Airline 2".
posted by hAndrew at 3:34 AM on January 13, 2011

It is correct that the charges come from the airlines on Expedia au. It is correct that one itinerary can be booked as separate tickets, though it should always be on one PNR. There was a similar question on AskMe a few days ago. I would check expedia's terms very carefully again.

What is the cost of cancellation on the first part of the ticket? Do you forfeit the whole fare, or is it a $200 hit?

There are not so many places in the world so difficult to get to that your itinerary must be impossible, perhaps if you give some more information intrepid travelers could help suggest some options!
posted by wingless_angel at 3:50 AM on January 13, 2011

The B>C ticket is on your card as having been charged by the airline? You have a ticket for that airline?

Why haven't you called the B>C airline to explain the problem and have them put you on another flight from B>C that might work better for you?

Unless you really do plan on canceling your entire trip, going through the airline might get you some better and quicker solutions than continuing to go through Expedia.
posted by zizzle at 3:51 AM on January 13, 2011

Write to Christopher Elliott and tell him what you've told us. He's an expert at resolving traveling problems, free of charge.

(Mods, I hope this is OK to recommend. He fixed something for me.)
posted by Prairie at 3:53 AM on January 13, 2011

Hi zizzle, B->C is unfortunately not an easy path to find alternatives for. (Even rarer now that Airline 2 deleted the flight we had booked, and moved us to the other option :\.)

We have discovered by exploring the current options that A->C usually goes via other places, not via B...
posted by hAndrew at 4:08 AM on January 13, 2011

Thankyou Prairie, I will take your advice on contacting Christopher Elliott.
posted by hAndrew at 4:10 AM on January 13, 2011

I've heard people resolve quite complex complaints with an executive email carpet bomb (which is more or less bothering the right people to get you the best solution). Here's Consumerist's Expedia info (though not .au specific).
posted by quadrilaterals at 8:13 AM on January 13, 2011

In the past I have successfully issued a credit card charge-back on the A-B (and the B-C flight) flight for a very very similar case.

A charge-back will take a lot longer to get a refund than corporate action.
posted by muddgirl at 12:05 PM on January 13, 2011

Thanks muddgirl, that's interesting information. What kind of argument/reason did you give to your credit card issuer that the A->B payment should be reversed?
posted by hAndrew at 3:59 PM on January 13, 2011

I don't think I presented any sort of argument - just the facts. You booked a trip to Location C and Expedia will not accommodate you. The worst that could happen is they decline to reverse the charges.

Have you checked whether or not your credit card provides automatic trip insurance? That would probably be even easier.
posted by muddgirl at 4:20 PM on January 13, 2011

muddgirl, we checked that -- unfortunately our card did not provide automatic trip insurance.
posted by hAndrew at 7:39 PM on January 13, 2011

A final update: This situation resolved itself in an unexpected way.

We called Airline 1 (holders of the expensive A->B leg) who explained several facts Expedia had overlooked or opted not to mention. ("Overlooked" appears likelier.)

Crucially: The A->B fare is and always was a fully refundable fare. (Though we'd assumed and also been told it was non-refundable.)

We went to Expedia with this information and, after consulting with a supervisor or something, they said they would refund the whole itinerary.

Here is an interesting lesson from this:

* Although Expedia did advise us not to bother calling the airline directly, doing so turned out to be very useful.

And here is some bonus wild speculation:

* Booking tickets way (wayyy) in advance, as we did, may give you a chance of getting a "ghost" flight, by which I mean a flight that the airline (Airline 2, B->C in this case) was never really committed to flying.
posted by hAndrew at 5:25 PM on January 14, 2011

I marked "Contact Christopher Elliot" as the best answer because I think for future readers with a similar problem that is the best general advice. Elliot was helpful right away.

I also wish I had read this page of his early in the piece: How to fix your trip
posted by hAndrew at 5:29 PM on January 14, 2011

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