When Expedia doubled the ticket price, we had to cancel our flight

By | October 19th, 2016

Donna Pucciani might be forgiven for thinking Expedia is trying to earn its high ranking as one of the most-complained-about companies on this website. After she and her husband, Peter Bostock, experienced what they call “price-gouging,” you probably would, too.

Pucciani and Bostock’s experience is a sad example of why online travel sites such as Expedia are highly unpopular with our readers. Deeply discounted ticket prices and other special deals listed on Expedia turn out to be nothing more than bait-and-switch advertisements – and online travel sites refuse to honor them.

Pucciani and Bostock made reservations through Expedia for a nonstop flight from Chicago to Madrid on American Airlines. Expedia emailed Pucciani and Bostock electronic tickets, along with a receipt for $1,275 for their airfares. A notation at the end of the email told them to print the tickets and to contact American for seat selection. But the following day, an agent of Expedia told them that the price had nearly doubled to $2,293 — which Pucciani and Bostock could not afford.

For the next five hours, Pucciani and Bostock tried to figure out why the price of their tickets had gone up so much — especially because the price on their e-tickets still read $1,275. Expedia gave them a variety of reasons – none of which bore much, if any, relationship to the truth.

First, its agent told Pucciani and Bostock that there was a schedule change. But when they checked this with American Airlines, they were told that the flights they had reserved were still scheduled for the times listed in their booking.

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Expedia also claimed that American Airlines was responsible for the price change. Pucciani and Bostock received an email from Expedia indicating that American Airlines would not allow Expedia to issue the tickets at the $1,275 rate.

Expedia’s agent also indicated that the electronic tickets were invalid because the ticket numbers did not begin with “0.” But the email that Pucciani and Bostock received from Expedia did not communicate anything of this nature to them.

Having gotten nowhere with Expedia, Pucciani and Bostock canceled their tickets on American Airlines and rebooked their trip on an Aer Lingus flight that had a layover.

Although Pucciani and Bostock might have escalated their complaint to executives of Expedia using contact information on our website, they asked our advocacy team to help them get two vouchers from Expedia for a nonstop flight on American Airlines from Chicago to Madrid.

Was their request reasonable?

Expedia’s terms of use disclaim liability for any discrepancies between anything posted on its site and actual conditions. So it isn’t going to accept any responsibility for any differences between prices advertised on its site or in email confirmations and the prices it actually charges its customers.

In addition, the e-tickets Pucciani and Bostock emailed to our advocates did not have ticket numbers listed on them, meaning that although the reservation had been made, it had not yet actually been ticketed. As our advocate noted, “This happens sometimes with online travel booking sites when fare availability has changed but hasn’t been updated on the websites.”

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When this happens, the airline does not book the ticket because the fare is no longer available. For this reason, Expedia’s website and other online reservation sites provide the disclaimer “Fares are not guaranteed until ticketed” during the booking process.

Expedia did offer Pucciani and Bostock 3,500 Expedia +Rewards points as “compensation.” Pucciani and Bostock aren’t impressed with this offer, but they aren’t sure pursuing the case further with Expedia is worth the time and effort involved.

Did Expedia offer Donna Pucciani and Peter Bostock enough compensation?

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  • sirwired

    I understand the issues with the initial fare search vs. finalizing your purchase (these have to do with the high costs of real-time GDS queries vs. using cached fare databases.) But once you click the “Buy” button and the purchase comes back as successful, I’d say it’s on the agency to deliver what they promised.

  • Lindabator

    unfortunately, no ticket numbers mean no tickets, so nothing to reimburse them for. WHY do people still use these 3rd party sites? Use an agent or the airlines directly!

  • Lindabator

    if they never got ticket numbers, it was just a hold of the space, and you can hold space, but fares can still change (which happened here) — since they actually offer no service to the client, I still do not know WHY people use these 3rd party providers. If I, as an agent, hold a reservation, and the price jumps up within that 24 hour period, I get a waiver to issue at the original fare – OTAs could do the same, but that means they’d have to actually WORK the reservations, rather than just play middleman

  • DChamp56

    One important note. Was their credit card ever charged?
    If so, that should constitute the agreement of price.

  • mbods2002

    I wondered the same thing. The sentence “they asked our advocacy team to help them get two vouchers from Expedia for a nonstop flight on American Airlines from Chicago to Madrid” was written in the article after they, “canceled their tickets on American Airlines and rebooked their trip on an Aer Lingus flight that had a layover”. How can they canceled a ticket that was never issued in the first place (no ticket number on e-ticket) I’m confused……

  • AAGK

    If they were refunded what they paid Expedia then they have been made whole. However if expedia’s delay in alerting them to the problem or failure to promptly ticket caused these folks to miss another opportunity to obtain the fare or forced them to pay more on Aer Lingus because of an interim fare increase, then Expedia, not the airline, should cover that increase in addition to the refund.

  • ChelseaGirl

    They already booked with Aer Lingus, so I don’t understand why they want vouchers from Expedia.

  • Pat

    Asking to two round trip vouchers for Chicago to Madrid indicates they are unreasonable in their expectations for what happened. As previous stories have mentioned, do that and you will not get a response. Myself when things like this happen, I move on and give my business to someone else. I do not think I would deserve compensation because of what occurred.

  • Lindabator

    no ticket numbers, no tickets – so NOT charged!

  • Bill___A

    This makes no sense to me. Although I don’t often used Expedia for air fares, I have used them enough to see the process that I get, which matches what has been explained to me.(and is not like the above) Expedia caches fares, but when you decide to purchase one, it goes “live” and that is generally when you find out that there is a change in price – before you buy. Some people express dismay at it but that’s how it works when you browse with cached data and go live when you book.

    I have not experienced nor understand the process described above where a ticket is issued and paid for then rendered invalid. Although I am not calling anyone a liar, I wonder how this happens and would appreciate an explanation of what could occur to make this sort of thing happen because it quite simply is not making any sense to me. Please explain if you know. Thank you.

  • Rebecca

    I agree that it’s bull that they paid and then received information the next day telling them the price had doubled. They did what anyone in this situation should do, canceled and got their money back.

    I disagree that they should receive $2550 in compensation. Who in their right mind thinks that’s reasonable? They aren’t OUT anything. Expedia acted poorly, don’t get me wrong. That does not entitle the OP to what amounts to $2550 in free money. Ridiculous.

  • Rebecca

    Or we can just give them $2550. Because that makes sense (sarcasm intended).

  • whatup12

    I agree, but even my travel agent (and he is one of the best) sometimes cannot get the rate honoured. Ie, the airline can chose to deny the waiver even though most of the time they go along with it. but indeed, the money that i pay my travel agent I get back ten times over in better tickets (that are seriously complex).

  • Pickwix

    I think you are correct, Pat, that their expectations are unreasonable. However, I think you are wrong when you just move on. If a company is offering what is essentially a bait & switch operation it needs to be called out. Loss of revenue (fewer sales) is the only thing large corporations such as Expedia understand. If enough people complain through media such as elliott.org it helps keep these “shady” companies on the right track.

  • Pat

    As others have mentioned and has been told in other stories, the prices that are displayed are cached. If they attempted to get the actual available prices each time a person searched, the speed to get the results would be extremely slow. So by the time you attempt to book a ticket at the displayed price, that price could be sold out. This is not bait and switch or shady. It is a reality what needs to be done to get a search result to a person in a reasonable amount of time. There are studies that have determined how long a person on average will wait for a search result before they give out and close out the search.

  • Annie M

    This can happen anytime even if you book directly with the airline. The tickets are only held – once ticket numbers are issued, then the fare is a true fare.
    What were the prices directly through AA’s website?

  • Annie M

    That should teach you to book directly with the airline. There wasn’t really a reason for you to go through Expedia.

  • NavyRNRet

    I know Expedia has a bad reputation but I booked a vacation with them from SFO to LHR on Virgin Atlantic airlines. I had no issues at all. I like Expedia because they have a broader selection of hotels than booking a vacation directly with the airlines.

  • taxed2themax

    I agree that the OPs base request is, for me, outside of reasonable — but where I think Expedia (and other agents who aren’t showing “live” feed) perhaps could do more is a prominent disclosure that fares shown are NOT live and what is avaialbe at the time the booking actually gets processed by the system, may vary.. I personally don’t like working from cached systems — but cede that costs play a role and that it’s not always a bad thing.. but for things like airline tickets – or any inventory that can move fast and from those availability movements, can then cause prices to move dramatically – I want to be sure all parties are aware of this fact..

  • cscasi

    I have booked through the various airlines for years and never had that happen. The fare I was quoted on line or over the phone was always what I was charged.

  • Annie M

    It is very rarebit it can happen. I’ve had it happen to me- there were no more seats available at the price I was quoted. The system timed out and I received a note that there were no more seats left. When I started over, the price had gone up.

  • PsyGuy

    Why, well because I don’t want to pay $50 to book a simple ticket to go from point A to point B.It’s not hard, date, time, some personal information, I have a doctoral degree, I feel competent enough to make a travel purchase for air travel.

  • jsn55

    As long as you’re content to take an occasional monetary hit when you make an error, yours is a good attitude. I don’t think most people need a travel agent for a simple airline ticket … but neither should they be booking through a useless OTA. Book direct with the airline or hotel. If you encounter a problem, it’s far more easily solved.

  • PsyGuy

    In regard to booking directly I fully agree with you. OTA sites are little more than research and review sites for me. My corporate travel portal often leaves me little to research but in certain destinations I have a choice of several properties and I will use Hotels.com and Yelp to research them in advance. I book my travel directly with the airlines and hotels when traveling domestically. The problem of course it that if I want to fly a non US carrier on an international itinerary I need to book separate itineraries, collect baggage, and do a lot of other things. In those cases I use an OTA, but again I’m fairly experienced in travel so I don’t make tragic assumptions or errors.

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