Did Expedia abandon this customer — or did he do this to himself?

By | November 30th, 2016

Something got lost in translation when Daniel Joseph visited Romania recently. You’ll never guess what it was.

Well, maybe you will. If I told you he’d booked his trip with Expedia, would you care to make a guess?

Joseph had booked six different flight destinations through the online travel agency for his long-awaited trip abroad. While en route to Europe, he received an email from Expedia that one of his flights had been substantially changed, which would cause him to miss a connecting flight. The message also informed him that Expedia was looking into alternate flights and would get back to him.

But Joseph and Expedia never connected.

The flight change was a connecting flight from Belgrade to Chişinău via Bucharest on Tarom Airlines. It was scheduled for the tenth day of his trip. Joseph made several attempts to contact Expedia via email and by phone. His ability to communicate was impeded as his cell phone did not work abroad.

Joseph borrowed a phone and was relieved to finally connect with Expedia. That relief was short-lived as he waited on hold for 1 1/2 hours until the cell phone cut out after exceeding the roaming limit.

Expedia notified Joseph that it had been repeatedly trying to contact him without success and needed a response. Joseph couldn’t get through to Expedia, either. As the days counted down with no flight being booked, Joseph started to worry.

You can learn a lot from this case.

It appears that both parties were trying to resolve the issue, but were unable to interface with one another. Flights change, so it is up to travelers to check the status of their flights prior to departure and throughout the trip if they are flying to multiple destinations.

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The sooner a flight is rebooked, the better the chances are of getting a seat and reducing the airfare.

Many of Joseph’s grievances could have been avoided had he contacted the airline directly, rather than waiting on Expedia. Having a means of communication is vital when traveling abroad. However, in this instance it did not make a difference.

Expedia’s reason for the lengthy hold time was that it was having difficulty connecting with Tarom Airlines. It gave Joseph the option of canceling his connecting flight on Tarom — incurring a high penalty fee — and rebooking on an alternate date. This would have resulted in an overnight stay of more than 14 hours in the Bucharest airport, and he would have to forfeit the prepayment made on a hotel room in Chişinău. That was not acceptable, according to Joseph.

In desperation, on the ninth day of his travels, Joseph sent yet another email to Expedia with flight options that he had received while at the Belgrade airport. He needed to fly to Chişinău the following day.

He didn’t receive a response, so he booked his own flight on Turkish Airlines through Expedia.com — and paid substantially more in airfare. This stressful situation was heightened by the fact that he was in a foreign airport surrounded by people who did not speak English.

Joseph says he felt “abandoned” by Expedia.

This debacle stemmed from a series of miscommunications. Expedia was contacting Joseph via email and by calling his contact number — which happened to be his home phone. Joseph was having difficulty connecting to Expedia by phone and by email. Both sides expressed concern about the urgency in needing a response.

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Expedia may not always be easy to contact. On Expedia’s website under “contact us”, for flight changes or booking, it offers the option of calling Expedia or having it call you — there is no email option. Expedia may communicate with customers regarding flight changes and booking options through email, but it may not respond to the customer’s reply in a timely manner. That is where it drops the ball in correspondence.

It looks like Expedia may have misinformed Joseph about the penalty fee for changing his flight with Tarom. In fact, Joseph later learned from Tarom that it would have “gladly” made the flight change without any additional charges. Expedia did, however, request a full refund for his flight on Tarom.

Joseph had been relying on Expedia for assistance — which is understandable — but it ended up causing him problems that could have been avoided.

In listing his home number as the contact, Joseph inadvertently added to the misfortune. Even though he gave Expedia the number of the borrowed cell phone while abroad, companies generally end up calling the contact number on file.

According to Joseph, this sad ordeal added undue stress throughout his vacation and cost him financially. Joseph believes that Expedia should reimburse him for the difference in airfare and cell phone charges — or at least give him reward points toward a future flight.

He contacted Expedia’s executives, which are listed on our company contacts section, but got nowhere. He did, however, receive an apology from Expedia for his inconvenience and a contact link to Tarom Airlines in case he wanted to pursue the matter with the airline.

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After Joseph contacted Expedia — with no resolution — he turned to our advocates. We negotiated with Expedia on Joseph’s behalf, but unfortunately, Expedia did not change its position.

Since Joseph is a frequent customer of Expedia, it would be a nice gesture to offer some type of compensation to show its appreciation for his continued business and as an apology for the miscommunication.

So, to repeat: In order to avoid similar problems when traveling, check the flight schedule prior to departure and get updates online with the airline or on a phone app. Flight times and seat assignments can change at any time. Contact the airline directly if a flight needs to be rebooked.

When booking flights, list your cell phone number as the contact, rather than your home number. If any problems arise, the company will be able to reach you after your departure date. Most cell phone providers are able to supply some type of international calling plan. Input the non-800 numbers and the country code in your contacts for your hotel, travel or online booking agent, airline, and car rental agency.

Should Expedia issue Daniel Joseph Reward Points toward a future flight as compensation?

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  • Annie M

    Should have used good travel agent for this type of trip. Not every trip is a do it yourself trip.

  • Jeff W.

    Very hard to be on the side of Expedia. Looks like they tried to do the right thing when the flights were altered. But if you are going on an extended trip that includes six destinations, odds are quite increased that something could be changed and you need to leave a contact number when you are in each of those destinations.

    But a home number helps no one when you are in the middle of Romania.

    I would argue that this type of journey is not type that should be booked with an OTA. But a human travel agent would not have been able to easily contact him either.

  • DChamp56

    A real travel agent would have been SO much better.
    Also, having a phone that works in other countries is just about a must have for this kind of detailed trip.

  • sirwired

    I think some reward points are adequate. There were certainly some errors made on both sides.

    I agree with the other commenters that this wasn’t really a suitable trip for an online agency, and that he should have totally provided a better way to contact him abroad.

    (I actually DO provide my home number when travelling abroad, but that’s because I have a VoIP phone at home, and my VoIP provider (Ooma) provides an app to make and receive my calls over a data connection. All I need is a local SIM for my cell phone (cheap!), and I’m all set! I can’t say enough good things about Ooma… a one-time charge for the device, and then even the “deluxe” feature package (which even includes a second line!) is only a tiny fraction of what the phone or cable company will charge you for service.)

  • Mel LeCompte Jr.

    This is the second story in a month, if I recall correctly, where a person asked for a credit/voucher/points for an issue and were refused.

    Is there going to be a trend that if you ask for a business’ “funny money”, indicating that you want to stay loyal and plan to use the credit, you are refused as they may actually have to pony up, while if you demand a refund but the situation/complaint was so toxic you’ll never use that company again, they toss you a credit they know will never be used?

  • Dutchess

    Or, should have booked directly with the airline. Could have easily fixed this himself directly!

  • Lindabator

    not necessarily — I had clients on a trip, and while their flight was in the air, the connecting flight (which had been a go at checkin for the first flight) was cancelled. I weas able to get their tickets changed, left her an email and a message, telling her to let me know she got it – and she was thrilled to find out the long line with disgruntled folks was NOT where SHE was headed. :)

  • Hanope

    If the OTA only gives the option of contact by phone, then its inexcusable to be on hold for 90 minutes.

    Other than that, I have to agree that with such a complex trip, I wouldn’t use an OTA, and would definitely make arrangements to be contacted while abroad.

  • Bill___A

    I think he did this to himself. Expedia shouldn’t take so long on the phone…true….but some things are left to bricks and mortar travel agents.
    I have been making a lot of comments like this recently. And it isn’t because I think that everyone needs to use a bricks and mortar travel agent in every case. But a person like this and an itinerary like this….yes they should.

  • Bill___A


  • Michael__K

    If the agent is available 24 hours… Otherwise any intermediary may still have been more problematic than booking and dealing directly with the airlines (unless this itinerary was not ticket-able by one airline).

  • Michael__K

    When booking flights, list your cell phone number as the contact, rather than your home number.

    If your pre-departure cell number is different from your number(s) abroad this is still not a solution. Expedia (and most other OTAs and most airlines) only allows one contact phone number per itinerary and you don’t know in advance when problems will arise and when they might contact you before or during your trip. They could call you at your [international] contact number immediately after you book as a fraud-check, and then cancel your itinerary if you don’t answer.

    [And, yes, I know there are various potential solutions to the problem, e.g. call-forwarding. Point is, it’s easy to blame the customer but there is no trivial solution.]

  • Frank Neely

    I found from my own experience with Tarom that they constantly update and modify flight schedules. This summer (in July) I booked a one-way short flight from Bucharest (Romania) to Sofia (Bulgaria) for November travel for 2 passengers. I booked directly through them on their website, and found it difficult to navigate from the get go. Between July and October the booked flight changed 3x–first the flight # (same day, different time), then the departure day (same flight, different day), and finally flight # again (original number, different day, different time). It was dizzying to follow. My assumption was that they are a small regional airline that adjust flights as demand shifts nearer to departure. However, I discovered that flight changes came through an automated e-mail notification in Romanian which often ended up my spam folder. Also making the assumption that emails coming from .RO addresses get flagged by many servers as spam. Their automatic flight changes didn’t work for me so I needed to contact them. Tarom doesn’t have an easy way to reach them. They direct you contact the agent that booked your ticket. I finally found two numbers online for a representive in New York and another in London. The first time I called New York, but no agent ever answered and calls went into voice mail. Then I called their office at Heathrow, which was immediately answered by a live person who switched me to a more acceptable flight. The next time the flight changed, I called New York and got an agent this time who changed my flight yet again. My point being, sometimes when dealing with a small airline in another country in a language you don’t speak (aka Romanian) look for an office in another country that speaks the language you speak (in this case English). Another tip that saved me from missing Tarom emails in my spam folder was that I use CheckMyTrip to consolidate many of my flight reservations. You enter your booking reference (and can forward your booking confirmation email too) and they track all flight information for you. It was from CheckMyTrip that first notified my of my Tarom flight changes, and from potentially showing up at the airport and missing a flight due to a Tarom communication ending up in spam.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    And this is the type of trip to use you, not Expedia. An itinerary this complicated would probably benefit from a travel agent and be worth the additional expense (and support) that you’d get. (Though I think you should never use OTAs, just book the easy trips yourself with the airline directly).

  • PsyGuy

    This is one of those itineraries when you want to use a RL TA.

  • PsyGuy

    That’s nice but roaming can be obscenely expensive, and there can be restrictions on obtaining local SIMs when traveling as a tourist. Sure you can rent a phone, but for an hour and a half call that would have been costly.

  • sirwired

    What countries make it hard to get a local SIM? I know that some require showing ID to get one, but I wasn’t aware any actually made it any more involved than that. (Okay, North Korea, Turkmenistan, etc., probably make it a hassle (or impossible), but those aren’t exactly hot tourist destinations.)

  • sirwired

    It does not appear that he was in the phone queue for 90 minutes. Rather the agent he talked to put him on hold for 90 minutes while the agent themselves tried to get in contact with the airline.

  • sirwired

    There are several solutions to this problem. Yes, they take some work, but not much, and it is indeed on the traveler to make them selves contact-able while traveling. Your TA can’t fix your problem if they can’t get a hold of you.

    – The simplest is to simply put your phone in voice-only mode while abroad. Most phones these days work worldwide. Your phone will be notified of new voicemails for free, even if you’ll have to use a Plan B of some sort to listen to them. (SMS’s (which you can’t turn off) are a bit of an issue; most roaming plans don’t charge crazy amounts to receive texts abroad (they are often free), but this varies. Incidentally that information is contained in a text you receive as soon as your phone logs on to the local network.)
    – Get a local SIM (easy and cheap in most countries.) Most carriers have apps and/or e-mail notifications for voicemail, and a way to access it that doesn’t involve calling home. To place a call, there are several free/cheap VoIP apps.
    – Google Voice. Free, provides app and browser-based phonemail and calling. Will forward to any US number (while at home), and with “Hangouts Integration” can make/receive calls anywhere you have access to the internet (foreign data SIM, tablet, internet cafe, whatever.) Takes about five minutes and a Google account to set up. Pow! Now you have a second phone number for your phone that will work at home AND when you plonk in a foreign data SIM.

    Speaking for myself, I use a mix of options. My contact number is my Google Fi number. (Fi is a cell carrier with Google Voice combined with some interesting other features too complicated to go into now.) Sometimes when abroad, I use a local SIM, sometimes I roam with Fi. (Fi has uber-cheap foreign data, but crazy foreign voice rates.) In either case, I’ll receive my Fi voicemails and texts any time I have service. If I’m settling down for a long battle with US customer service while abroad, I use VoIP calling over WiFi.

  • Annie M

    Many agents ARE available 24/7. You just need to find them.

  • cscasi

    Of course, it might behoove one to ensure he/she has a cell phone that will work wherever he/she is going, especially if he/she gives the travel company that number as a contact point. Of course, if one just gives his/her home phone number as a contact point, but is off somewhere in Europe, then that won’t do much good, either.

  • disqus_wK5MCy17IP

    This stressful situation was heightened by the fact that he was in a foreign airport surrounded by people who did not speak English.

    This tends to happen when one chooses to fly to foreign countries. Please warn blog readers that this is one of the pitfalls of international travel that they may need to plan for in the future.

  • jim6555

    A multi city trip could require the flights of several airlines. The brick and mortar travel agent is the best solution here.

  • jim6555

    There is a company called Telestial that has a SIM card that covers 50 different counties with most of them being in Europe. The cost is reasonable.

  • LonnieC

    Sure wish you lived in Albany, NY….

  • DepartureLevel

    Why are people so afraid to deal directly with airlines ? They keep going back to Expedia after tortuous efforts to “fix” something only to find out they can’t, if they can even get through to them in the first place. How far in advance was he made aware of this misconnect ? That is the time to be your own advocate, expect the worst from Expedia = nothing…..and start looking online with various airlines –what their lowest fares are to where you need to go. Otherwise just show up at the airport on your scheduled ticketing day and play dumb, fat and happy…..”.I never heard from Expedia “…..and he wouldn’t be lying since they were impossible to reach. Risky but the airlines do get these things happening probably on a daily basis and would have to try to help ??…(or not, wow !! they just don’t work like me anymore).

  • PsyGuy

    We have different definitions of what “reasonable” is.

  • PsyGuy

    Well Japan for one. You can’t get a local SIM without a residence card, the best you can get on tourist (temporary visitor) status is to rent a phone with a SIM.

  • sirwired

    Data-only SIM cards are available from a variety of sources. As long as you aren’t tied to receiving calls to your regular US number on your phone, it’ll work fine. (And there are plenty of ways to receive calls to some number or other… Google Voice is the first that comes to mind, and you can even set that up to send calls to your cell when you haven’t left the country yet.)

  • Mark

    Alternatively use Skype via wifi? It really isn’t too hard…

  • PsyGuy

    Very tre, but depending on the country free WiFi can be very hard to come by. In Japan you basically have to be either in a Starbucks/McDonald’s or a hotel lobby.

  • Mark

    If you’ve got a couple of hundred dollars resting on sorting out your flights, finding a McDonald’s or Starbucks isn’t too hard.

    Obviously nobody wants to spend their holiday sorting out something like this – but unfortunately that’s what you’re signing up for if you’re using an OTA (and I say this as someone who self-books most of his travel).

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