Expedia never confirmed my ticket and I had to buy a new one for six times the price

When Anne Maertz receives emails from Expedia indicating that her upcoming flight on Norwegian Airlines is “booked and confirmed,” she takes the online travel agency at its word. But when she arrives at the airport, Norwegian claims that she doesn’t have a ticket. Can our advocates help her get a refund for the new airfare she was forced to purchase?

Question: I’m a fundraiser for an international nonprofit. I purchased a ticket through Expedia for the Norwegian Air Shuttle for $75 from Copenhagen, Denmark, to Amsterdam to enjoy a European vacation before going on to my current assignment at a refugee camp in Ethiopia.

I received two more emails from Expedia. One contained the subject line “Your upcoming trip — Copenhagen – Amsterdam” with the itinerary number and the word “BOOKED” in capital letters at the top. The other had “Expedia travel confirmation” and the date of the trip in the subject line, and the language “Your reservation is booked and confirmed. There is no need to call us to reconfirm this reservation.”

The day before the flight, I received an email from Expedia instructing me to check in for my flight on the Norwegian Airlines website. But when I tried to do so, the website did not recognize my booking number. It responded with the message “Couldn’t check in today? Don’t worry, we are still working on our website.”

I thought I could check in at the Copenhagen airport. But when I tried to do so, the Norwegian Airlines staff did not recognize my passport number or booking reference. They said they had no record of my reservation, the flight was full, and I would have to try another airline. I had to purchase another ticket on SAS for $420 to get to Amsterdam on time.

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I emailed Expedia for help twice, but its agents told me to call Norwegian Airlines, which I cannot do from Ethiopia.

Can you help me get back the airfare for the extra ticket? — Anne Maertz, St. Paul, Minn.

Answer: When is a travel reservation not a travel reservation? When Expedia doesn’t confirm it –as you found out the hard way.

It’s understandable that you were misled by the emails you received from Expedia to believe that you had an actual air ticket.

But your story is yet another reminder to follow up multiple times with both an airline and a travel agency, especially when using an online travel site. Neither payment of the airfare nor language in emails from travel companies means that you actually have a valid air ticket — especially when you make the purchase through an online travel site like Expedia.

Expedia’s terms of use indicate that “airfare is only guaranteed once the purchase has been completed and the tickets have been issued.”

When you got that error message from Expedia when you tried to book your Norwegian Airlines flight, I would have contacted Norwegian directly to book the flight. And even though that email from Expedia said that your reservation was “booked and confirmed,” I still would have double-checked that with Norwegian.

But Norwegian Airlines bears some responsibility for the poor customer service you received. It should have issued you the ticket you purchased and sent you a confirmation of its own, and its Copenhagen airport personnel should not have treated you with indifference when you tried to check in. At the very least, they should have called Expedia to help you straighten out the situation.

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After both Expedia and Norwegian refused to help you, you might have escalated your case to higher-ranking executives of Expedia or Norwegian Airlines using the contact information on our website. Instead, you contacted our response team for assistance.

Our response team advocates contacted Expedia on your behalf, and Expedia indicated that it was willing to offer you the difference in cost between the price of the Norwegian Air Shuttle and your SAS flight plus a $50 coupon.

You asked us if we thought you should accept this resolution. We think that it’s a generous offer.

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org.

  • John Baker

    “It should have issued you the ticket you purchased and sent you a confirmation of its own”… What?

    If Expedia never purchased the ticket or sent Norwegian the booking, why should they have issued a ticket they weren’t paid for.

    Sorry this one is solely in Expedia’s court.

  • Mel65

    I don’t know that that’s a “generous offer” so much as an appropriate one.


    Once again I am confused: You say “When you got that error message from Expedia when you tried to book your Norwegian Airlines flight, I would have contacted Norwegian directly to book the flight. ”
    You mention only the error when she tried to check in on line and not that she had trouble booking the flight. Error messages from Expedia during the booking are something you would need to follow up on. This appears to be Expedia’s problem entirely. Norwegian had no booking for the OP and could not issue a ticket that it had no record of–especially since the flight was sold out and they had not been paid for the ticket.

  • MarkKelling

    What error message from Expedia when trying to book???

    Th OP didn’t mention any error from Expedia (at least none mentioned in what was included in the article). It was thrown into the response section without any frame of reference.

    The advice to check with the airline directly to see if the reservation number you were given is valid is always a good idea. IF the OP would have done so in this case, the issue of not having a ticket could have been resolved early on and the cost would not have been so much.

  • Michael__K

    That’s a strong possibility but not the only one. Carriers sometimes collect and keep payment and somehow lose the ticket/reservation anyway. I have personally experienced this.
    The customer does needs to go through Expedia to resolve the problem either way.

  • Don Spilky

    So OP received an email from Expedia:
    1. Confirming booking
    2. Reconfirming booking
    3. Reminding OP to check in

    Yet she didn’t actually have a ticket. Sorry – This screw up is FIRMLY on Expedia and Expedia alone.

  • Rebecca

    At least we’re back to “customer did absolutely nothing wrong” problems today. The OP received not one, but two emails confirming her purchase and flight from Expedia. This is 100% the fault of Expedia, and while I’m glad it’s resolved, they should have been bending over backwards to help her.

  • Tigger57

    Did I miss something?? What error message did she receive when booking? If she did receive an error message what was it? The story changes once that was said.

  • Lindabator

    and to expect the agents to call an OTA on your behalf is just daft – it is neither feasible nor their responsibility. Folks – ALWAYS gt the ticket number!

  • Lindabator

    when she could not check in was what they meant

  • disqus_00YDCZxqDV

    Exactly: There was just an error on Norwegian’s site that said “Don’t worry” so you can understand why she’d think nothing was amiss until she got to the airport. Totally egregious service on Expedia’s part and another reason not to use them and just go direct to the airlines.

  • The Original Joe S

    OTA? You get what you bargain for.

  • The Original Joe S

    yup. OTA = PROBLEM!

  • Fred

    If your “confirmation” (from any source) does not include a ticket number, which starts with the 3 digit airline number (ex; American Airlines is 001 and United is 016) and has 10 digits after that, you should be fairly sure you DO NOT HAVE A TICKET!

  • lcpossum

    Not necessarily true. I have a confirmation from AA with only a record locator in it. AA confirms on the phone that I’m ticketed but refuses to give me ticket numbers or actual flight numbers for codeshare flights. I’ve noticed this before on AA flights.

  • Skeptic

    People like me who monitor their credit card activity fairly frequently would probably have noticed if no airfare charge showed up. OTOH, if the charge posted, I would definitely hold the payee responsible for the SNAFU. And I would not use the term “generous offer” to characterize their fulfillment of our contract any more than I would expect them to call it a “generous offer” when I paid for the ticket in the first place.

  • MarkKelling

    Then they should have said that!!

    The article states “When you got that error message from Expedia when you tried to book …” NOT “… when you tried to check in.”

  • MF

    Agreed, however in this day & age, doing the right thing seems both rare & generous.


    I usually agree with you but she twice referred to booking–error message from expedia when booking and then said she should have booked with Norwegian. I think an essential part of this was edited out in error and that she did mean the actual booking.

  • cscasi

    Especially since Expedia took her money.

  • cscasi

    That’s because the code share (other airlines) flights have their own confirmation numbers, which should be shown on American’s website where you have your AA confirmation. If not, all you have to do is call and ask for the additional numbers. Alternatively, you can call the other airlines to ensure you have been booked and confirmed and ask them for the PNR numbers.

  • cscasi

    But, that was not stated, so we can only guess.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    Book direct. I wonder how much cheaper the expedia fare was than a direct purchase on the airline.

  • lcpossum

    Read my text again. I state clearly that I spoke to them on the phone and they refused to give me either ticket numbers or flight numbers for the airlines actually operating the flights. Apparently, “all you have to do is call” doesn’t work.

  • Bill___A

    Wrong airline wrong booking method big problems.

  • ctporter

    Why on earth would they refuse to provide a ticket number? To be reimbursed for airfares at my company we have to provide the ticket number not the record locator. No matter which airline I purchase a flight on I am always able to see it on my confirmations both on the web site and from my corporate TA.

  • lcpossum

    Beats me. After all AA is known for their stellar customer service.

  • joycexyz

    The difference in price is what she should get, and the $50 coupon is a bonus, so it is a generous offer in a very broad sense. I wonder why she asked whether she should accept the offer. What did she expect?

  • joycexyz

    And why, oh why, use Expedia??? She could so easily have booked directly with the airline!

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