I have no idea what is going on and why I’m being asked to pay for a ticket that’s already been refunded

When Borga Dorter’s $472 airfare on Etihad is canceled because of an error, the refund never shows up on his credit card. A chargeback complicates things. Can our advocates help?

Question: I’m having issues with Expedia sending a chargeback to their collection agency. The chargeback in question is 100 percent legitimate and the dispute has been resolved in my favor.

Last June, I purchased a one-way ticket in business class from South Africa to India on Travelocity for $472. A little more than a week later, I received an email from Travelocity saying there was an error in the booking and that I can either cancel for full refund or travel in economy class.

I called Travelocity and canceled the ticket, which they did over the phone. They told me to expect a refund. About four weeks later (when there was still no refund from Etihad), I called Chase to initiate a chargeback.

Etihad issued a refund of to my credit card. Shortly thereafter, I got an email from Chase saying the dispute was resolved.

In October, I received an email from Expedia saying that “the tickets have not been paid for.” The tickets were for someone else, flying to another destination, and ticketed through Expedia, not Travelocity. I thought it might be a phishing attempt. When I contacted Expedia, a representative told me to file a police report for the charge.

Now Expedia has sent a collection agency after me. I have no idea what is going on and why I’m being asked to pay for a ticket that’s already been refunded (as per Travelocity’s own email).

I checked again by calling Etihad and they say my ticket is definitely canceled and refunded.
I can’t reach anyone at Expedia who is willing to help. Can you help me? — Borga Dorter, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Answer: There’s something fishy about this case, starting with that $472 airfare from South Africa to India. You probably don’t need me to tell you that $472 is a ridiculously inexpensive fare — probably too good to be true.

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There’s no evidence in your paper trail that you intentionally booked an erroneous fare that you found on one of those bottom-feeding loyalty program blogs, so I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. Certainly, the fact that you accepted the refund without complaining is in your favor. An entitled fare-thief would have pressed the matter. I believe your motives were on the up-and-up.

But that’s not the end of the fishiness. You booked your tickets on Travelocity, and then Expedia pursued you for someone else’s tickets? Huh? (Expedia owns Travelocity, but still, you made your reservation on a different site. Should have raised a red flag somewhere. I can’t believe it didn’t.)

The paper trail then shows something even more remarkable. It appears Expedia doubled down on your case, insisting that you made these charges. Despite your protests, it referred your case to a collection agency — a lowdown dirty thing for a company to do.

We don’t care; pay up!

This is such a brazen case of corporate intransigence, I am almost speechless. Appealing to one of our Expedia executive contacts may have helped, but given all the times you pushed back, I’m not so sure it would have done you any good.

Expedia just wanted its money. Facts be damned.

But facts matter, and the fact is, you didn’t book these tickets — indeed, didn’t even use Expedia. If you could see me now, I would be palming my face.

I just. Can’t. Believe. It.

Our fearless advocacy team found the nearest phone booth when they heard your case and swooped in to the rescue. They contacted Expedia on your behalf, which acknowledged that the charge was indeed a mistake. Expedia called off the collection agency, which it should have done months ago.

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By way of apology, Expedia also offered a $100 discount on a future stay at any Travelocity Rate Pre-Paid property. Your nightmare is over.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org.

  • sirwired

    The online agencies are such a pile of fail, that these days I just use Kayak for price discovery, and then book directly with the airline. They simply don’t provide any value-add over a direct booking, since they appear to have no inclination or ability to perform normal travel-agent functions when things don’t go 100% perfectly.

  • finance_tony

    Except, I believe, for 24-hr cancellation close to departure. Airlines only offer 24-hr cancellation when booked 7 days prior to departure, but I believe some of the OTA’s will refund it closer in. I’ve never had the need to book that close, but that’s probably the one and only time I’d consider an OTA.

  • Bill___A

    I have been able to get hotel rooms using Expedia when they were otherwise not available. I have also used them from time to time to book tickets when I needed to. There have been times when changes have had to be made. Although I realize that OTA bashing is common, I have had far fewer problems with them than with bricks and mortar travel agents. I am not trying to pick a fight but facts are facts.

  • LeeAnneClark

    I’m with you. I will never never never book an airline with an OTA. Frankly I don’t even see the incentive – I’ve never seen a situation in which an OTA would have saved me money. So why introduce a middle-man – especially one with such a rich history of either causing, or refusing to resolve, so many problems?

    That being said, I have used OTAs for booking hotel rooms, but only when a) I wasn’t able to get a room through the hotel directly (as Bill A describes), or b) a couple of VERY RARE cases when the room price was lower on the OTA than the hotel itself. But the vast majority of the time, for ANY travel booking, I go straight to the source. Far less chance of problems.

  • sirwired

    I’m glad it worked out for you. However, you should know that it’s very common for an OTA to “reserve” a room that’s not actually available (hotels have notoriously outdated IT systems), and they may or may not get back to you to let you know the reservation didn’t go through, which can lead to a bad surprise at the front desk.

  • Travelnut

    True. A few years ago, a hotel I wanted showed as unavailable on the Radisson website but I was able to book it on booking.com. While I usually find the hotel on the OTA but book it on the hotel website, I have never had any problem when I booked a hotel on an OTA. If I am staying in several cities with several chains or independents, it is nice to have the reservations all in one place. (Although I do have Tripit to help me organize.) Would I ever book a flight on an OTA? Heck no.

  • Alan Gore

    “Now Expedia has sent a collection agency after me….”

    If there was ever an object lesson in why you do not under any circumstances use an OTA, this is it.

  • PsyGuy

    This is like one of those damage recovery units for car rental companies. They are trying to make a cash grab until the spot light gets shined on them.

  • PsyGuy

    Agreed. Even when the OTA’s are cheaper it’s often only by a few dollars, which isn’t worth my business given the potential frustrations around the corner.

  • PsyGuy

    I’d have sued the collection agent in small claims court, they can then prove their claim is valid, and if not there are statutory damages.

  • John McDonald

    Often deals through wholesalers to ski resorts are miles better than going directly to the resort. Maybe the room or condo is the same price BUT lift tickets can be as much as 96%off with a wholesaler.

  • Attention All Passengers

    Only two words are needed….Expedia and Travelocity. Case closed (x 100’s of other articles on just about every travel website out there).

  • Lindabator

    no – OTAs have to follow an airlines rules, too. But they have 1 more cushion day, as a ticket can be voided (although they are loathe to do so, while a true travel agent will)

  • Lindabator

    true – travel agents have access to blocks of room that may still be available after the hotel shows none, too.

  • Lindabator

    but sometimes these are bulk seats, and are more restrictive, no miles, etc — but can work out better on price at times (I compare wholesale bulk fares for my clients when they are flexible for a lower fare) — also know a way to get discounted air with package dealers – and can usually get Virgin for a lot less that way as well – and these guys use those systems, too

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