Help, my Expedia airline ticket didn’t work in Paris

Catherine Schevon buys a ticket to Europe that involves multiple airlines and a code-share. But when her return to the U.S. is tripped up by a system glitch, she gets “we’ll fix it” promises that prove hollow. Can our advocates cut through the fog of finger-pointing?

Question: I bought a multicity international ticket from Expedia (New York City to London on Virgin Atlantic, and then Paris to New York City on Delta/Air France). The outbound leg was fine, but a day in advance of the return flight I learned that the return ticket was invalid for two reasons: 1) it carried multiple airline codes, and 2) Air France hadn’t been paid for the flight.

I believe Air France did try, but we ended up running out of time. I finally bought a one-way ticket at the airport with less than three minutes to go until check-in closed, and paid 2,524 euros [about $2,970].

I have filed phone and email complaints with both Air France and Expedia. On the phone, Expedia told me I “no-showed” for my return ticket, despite the fact that this was only because I was not permitted to check in. Air France stated they were never obligated to honor the ticket or to resolve the issue.

I think fault mainly lies with Expedia, although Air France could have handled this better. How can I get reimbursed for the cost of purchasing the second airline ticket? — Catherine Schevon, New York

Answer: I’m sorry your return home wasn’t as smooth as your trip to Europe. Unfortunately, the world of code-shares and online travel agencies (OTAs) can be problematic, and the problems they cause can be difficult to resolve. So it’s not a great surprise that this ticketing issue involving multiple airlines and an OTA was both confusing and complicated.

Related story:   I want a refund for my canceled hotel room

You purchased your original ticket through Expedia, with the outbound flight on Virgin Atlantic and your return flight on a Delta/Air France code-share flight, operated by Air France. You upgraded your outgoing flight on Virgin Atlantic to a premium economy seat, and flew to London with no trouble. You finished your trip in Paris and tried to check in for your code-share flight 24 hours before departure on both the Delta Air Lines and the Air France websites, but your check-in request was denied.

You then spoke with Air France by phone:

I called Air France and was told that they had my reservation, but there were incompatible ticket numbers and I would need to wait until the next day and check in at the airport. I arrived four hours in advance of the flight in order to allow time to resolve the problem. I spoke to multiple Air France agents including supervisors who kept reassuring me it would be resolved.

You learned from the Air France agents at the airport that the airline had not been paid for the return ticket, but the agents and their supervisor told you they simply had to contact Virgin Atlantic to resolve the issue. They continued for the next several hours to tell you that it could be resolved, and at five minutes prior to the close of check-in, they finally admitted the issue was not likely to be resolved, and you purchased a new ticket back to New York.

Once you arrived home, you filed a complaint with Expedia, requesting a refund for the ticket you had to purchase. Expedia claimed that it had transferred control of the ticket to the airlines, and it would not refund the money. It directed you to the airlines for the refund.

Related story:   I don't want to go to England anymore. Can I skip that flight?

You requested a refund from Air France, but since it didn’t receive payment or control your ticket, it also declined to issue a refund and blamed Expedia. Thus, you were caught in yet another case of “passing the buck.”

When reviewing your credit card statement, you learned that Expedia had charged you a $7 booking fee, and Virgin Atlantic charged you for the balance of the cost of your tickets. So it seemed reasonable to you that Expedia would refuse to refund the money, but I think it should have been more proactive and willing to help you mediate the problem with the airlines. After all, this is why you use a travel agent, isn’t it?

Virgin Atlantic also initially refused to refund your money because you were labeled a “no-show” on the original Air France flight. You even contacted Delta Air Lines since your flight number on that codeshare flight was a Delta flight number. Delta blamed Virgin Atlantic.

You described your predicament to us perfectly:

Because there are multiple airlines involved (Virgin Atlantic for the outbound flight, Delta as partner airline for the return flight), the blame game is a bit complex. So far as I can gather, Air France says it’s Expedia’s problem, Virgin Atlantic says it’s Expedia’s problem, but Air France shouldn’t have denied me boarding, Delta says it’s Virgin Atlantic’s fault, and Expedia says the ticket is “out of their control.”

You could have reached out to any of the contacts we list for Expedia, Air France, Virgin Atlantic, or Delta Air Lines, but you contacted us instead.

Related story:   Are car rental companies forcing you to buy insurance you don't need?

We reached out to our contacts at Expedia and learned that Virgin Atlantic was the company responsible for the error. When you upgraded your seat on your outgoing Virgin Atlantic flight to premium economy, a “system glitch” caused the return flight to be canceled. Why this wasn’t evident to the Air France staff and fixable while you were at the airport remains a mystery. But Virgin Atlantic claims it has researched and fixed the problem so it doesn’t happen to anyone else.

The airline promised to refund the money you paid for the last-minute ticket the airlines forced you to purchase. I’m glad we could help.

Michelle Bell

Michelle worked in the travel and hospitality industry for almost two decades. Born in Germany, she has lived in 15 states and two foreign countries, and traveled to more than 35 countries. After living and working in Southeast Asia for several years, she now resides in New Orleans. Read more of Michelle Bell's articles here.

  • Lindabator

    And this is why Congress needs to enact new laws against the OTAs. As a REAL travel agent, it is MY responsibility to ensure there is not an issue, and if there is one (like in this unique case), that I advocate with our sales reps to clear up so you are made whole. HOW these 3rd party OTAs get away with wiping their hands of their responsibility to their client is mind boggling.

  • IGoEverywhere

    Happy for the resolution, but I call fibs and excuses to all of the ticketing providers.
    I, like Lindabator, am a storefront agent. I have worked in the planes, behind the counters, and in management for airlines since the days of Piedmont and Allegheny and the last 40 years, my agency. We still issue ARC paper ticket receipts. It is a bit costly for us, but, when a situation like this comes up, every IATAN airline in the world can read what was paid for, what was reserved, and what fare basis was sold by looking at that ticket receipt. The older clients still think that it is a ticket.
    Printing or copying an Email from Expedia shows a bit, but obviously not all of what was needed for this situation. We also preform several other back-ups for more complicated trips so the customer never has a situation like this occur. We are agents and know how to do this. Too much paperwork, I like e-tickets, then you might have a problem like above.
    The customer changed the ticket with the airline directly; a problem? No! I do not believe in a 1000 years that affected the return trip. Different segment of the trip on a different airline; there should be no interaction..
    I on the other hand am immediately informed on my Travelport computer that a change was made and re-check to make sure that all is well.
    I charge 40.00 for these services, Expedia charged 7.00. My clients have never had this situation occur. How much time and money was saved?
    Find a real live in the office or a fully trained in house agency. Ask for references, ask for certifications, get your trips done right.
    You’re probably safe buying a round trip ticket on the same airline unless you were on Delta in Atlanta. Oh, All of my clients were re-routed that were not already in Atlanta, and those there were found accommodations.

  • Alan Gore

    The Check My Trip app might have helped as a second line of defense, because it comes from Amadeus, a major service company for travel agents. You put in your PNR locator, and the app displays what flights are in it and keeps a running check on the status of each one. If this error occurred when the pax bought the upgrade on Virgin, this app should have alerted her about the cancellation of the return booking.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Yeah I’m calling BS on that lame excuse as well. There is no reason why upgrading their seat on the way there should have resulted in canceling the seat on the return. Obviously there was a glitch, and shame on every single one of these companies for not trying harder to do the right thing. The fact that they seemed to think it was acceptable to force a customer to re-purchase (at a much higher rate) a ticket that she had CLEARLY already purchased is egregious. But without Elliott’s intervention, that’s exactly where it would have been left. Shame on all of them.

  • Bob Davis

    Just one more problem with Expedia. I don’t get why people book airfare with any third party except maybe a REAL travel agent.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    It is my opinion that the reason why travelers use online booking sites such as Expedia is ignorance. Ignorance of understanding that there can be problems when traveling. Ignorance of understanding fares and rates. Ignorance of knowing where to stay, what to do, etc.

  • IGoEverywhere

    I use the View Trip system based upon Galileo / Apollo. Somebody, somewhere got a queue from the cancellation! That is no fail from either system. Now, who ignored the queue?

  • kanehi

    I booked thru a travel agent and when I needed assistance they didn’t answer their phones. I had to deal with the airline myself. Didn’t go back to that travel agent again.

%d bloggers like this:
Get smart. Sign up for the newsletter.