Orbitz charged me $4,000 for flights that it never booked

Days before the flight Deborah DiCaprio reserved on Meridiana Fly is scheduled to depart, she learns that Orbitz only booked one of five tickets. Can our advocates help DiCaprio secure a refund for the cost of her replacement tickets?

Question: I reserved five tickets on a Meridiana Fly flight from New York to Naples, Italy, through Orbitz, which charged my credit card for $3,926 for all five tickets.

Five days before the flight was scheduled to depart, I learned that Orbitz had booked only one of the tickets. I called Orbitz to straighten out the matter and was told that Meridiana was responsible for the unbooked tickets. Orbitz’s agent promised to assist me and rebooked the four tickets. Meridiana charged my credit card for the new flights, which cost $4,385. I was also charged $250 for travel insurance.

I have contacted Orbitz and Meridiana to ask for a refund of the duplicate airfares and the travel insurance, but nobody from either company has responded. Can you help me get these costs refunded? — Deborah DiCaprio, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

Answer: Your case is yet another online booking gone wrong. It might possibly have been avoided if you had booked the flights directly through Meridiana Fly’s website rather than using a third-party online travel site like Orbitz.

Unfortunately, when you reserved the tickets, you entered into an “adhesion contract,” or one-sided legal agreement, with Orbitz, which strictly limits its obligations and liabilities to its customers — even when it doesn’t deliver on the promises it makes through its website.

Orbitz makes this clear in the first paragraph of the contract, also called its terms of use, which contains this language: “By accessing, using or obtaining any content, products, or services through the Services, you agree to be bound by these Terms. If you do not accept all of these Terms, then please do not use the Services.”

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The terms of use contain this provision regarding air ticket purchases:

You agree to abide by the terms and conditions of purchase imposed by any supplier with whom you elect to deal, including, but not limited to, payment of all amounts when due and compliance with the supplier’s rules and restrictions regarding availability and use of fares, products, or services. Airfare is only guaranteed once the purchase has been completed and the tickets have been issued.

But there is no language in the terms that obligates Orbitz to book the tickets once you reserve them.

And Meridiana’s terms and conditions indicate that “Only the booking confirmed in the system used by the Carrier to register bookings on its flights, will be deemed valid. The Carrier is not liable for damages caused by the wrong or lack of recording, provided that this is not due to the Carrier’s negligence or fault.” Since Orbitz didn’t confirm four of your reservations in Meridiana’s booking system, Meridiana refused to issue tickets for those bookings since it considered them invalid.

However, even without a specific provision in its terms of use, Orbitz has an implied responsibility to book air tickets for customers once they have reserved and paid for them through its website. And when it fails to do so, as in your case, it should not be shrugging off that responsibility and pointing its finger at the airline. Nor should Meridiana be keeping airfares paid for reservations for which it refuses to issue tickets.

When both Orbitz and Meridiana ignored your request for a refund for the extra airfares, you might have used our contact information for Orbitz and Meridiana to escalate your complaint to higher-ranking executives. Instead, you turned to our advocates.

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We reached out to Orbitz on your behalf, and Orbitz “has received authorization” from Meridiana to issue you a refund for the four duplicate airfares. It will also refund you the cost of the travel insurance.

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.

  • Alan Gore

    So the Orbitz adhesion contract exempts it from having to fix an obvious mistake like this one? I suppose this will be another escalation of non-service that will soon be adopted by everyone else.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    “I called Orbitz to straighten out the matter and was told that Meridiana was responsible for the unbooked tickets.”

    No…it is Orbitz…they are the travel agent in this transaction. Again, another OTA problem.

  • SirWIred

    “But there is no language in the terms that obligates Orbitz to book the tickets once you reserve them.”

    The confirmation/invoice presented by Orbitz to the customer is part of the terms, so they are absolutely obligated to book the tickets (or return any collected money if they can’t.) The Terms & Conditions are a supplement to the contract formed by the invoice. There’s no “implied” obligation to purchase the tickets, there is an explicit one.

    The whole bit about Orbitz’s and the airline’s T&C’s, an adhesion contract, etc., was all beside the point, as their contents (or lack thereof) had no bearing on the outcome, and I don’t see that either party referred to them when failing to issue the necessary refund.

  • Steve Rabin

    Isn’t there a basic problem here? Orbitz’ contract says basically “we can take your money and not do anything in return”? And, “it’s not our problem if we screw up”?

  • “But there is no language in the terms that obligates Orbitz to book the tickets once you reserve them.”

    While this is true, there are also state and federal laws that require delivery of a product that you have paid for.

    This is a consumer column and it is unfair to the readers to tell them that the terms and conditions are the only things in play. Taking money without delivering a product is illegal in all 50 states.

  • Lee4You

    “Shrugging off” the responsibility; this sounds like out and out theft of the money. To have to jump through hoops to have it returned is absurd.

  • Bob Davis

    Why does anyone book third party airline tickets? Is it really that much less expensive?

  • Travelnut

    I read an article in Monday’s USA Today (clearly not written by Chris) about the advantages of booking with an OTA. The only argument that made sense to me is the package deals – booking a flight + hotel can be pretty close to the price for just the flight. I’ve actually booked packages on Expedia and they were really good deals. I did my research on costing the pieces separately to see how much I was saving. And all went well. But generally, I use the OTAs for research and then go on the airline site to book the flight.

  • jsn55

    Calling these entities ‘travel agents’ is absurd. It’s insulting to a real travel agent. They are ‘online BOOKING agents’. They take your money, (and sometimes) follow your instructions to book what you tell them to, and add absolutely nothing of value. Instead, when things go south, they point fingers and/or stay silent. Next time you see one of their advertisements (and they spend billions on advertising), ask yourself: “Who is paying for all this advertising?”

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