What Orbitz did after it won this chargeback will surprise you

When a hurricane threatens New Jersey, Michael Shansky tries to cancel his vacation — but neither Orbitz nor his hotel will agree to refund his payment. Shansky initiates a chargeback, but Orbitz successfully disputes it. Can our advocates help Shansky secure a refund for a trip he never took?

Question: I booked a vacation last year through Orbitz for my family for three days in New Jersey at the Country Inn and Suites by Carlson, which I paid for with my Discover credit card. Unfortunately, a hurricane blew into the area where we had made hotel reservations two days before we were scheduled to depart for our vacation.

I called Orbitz to inquire about canceling our hotel reservation, but was told by Orbitz’s agent that I would need to cancel directly with the hotel. Yet when I called the hotel, its representative told me that nobody at the hotel could process the cancellation “and there was nothing [the representative] could do.” For the next two nights, I called the hotel but had no success in securing a refund. I then called Orbitz and gave this information to its agents, who refused to assist me.

Then my best friend’s mother died of cancer, and her funeral was scheduled for the day our vacation was supposed to begin. Instead of going on our vacation, we went to the funeral. Between the runaround from the hotel and Orbitz and the funeral, I felt so frustrated that I called Discover and initiated a chargeback. But Discover reversed the chargeback after contacting Orbitz, which told Discover “that it never received a phone call from me to cancel.” This is completely untrue. My calls to Orbitz were recorded.

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I spoke to a supervisor at Orbitz who confirmed that there are recordings of my calls. However, Discover refuses to accept the recordings as evidence that I called Orbitz. It is continuing to side with Orbitz and won’t restore the chargeback. So I’m out over $500 for a trip I never got to take. Can you help me get it back? — Michael Shansky, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Answer: How wrong it is that three different parties — Orbitz, the hotel and Discover — are all giving you a runaround instead of helping you.

If you never stayed at the hotel, it should not be allowed to keep your room fee. A hurricane and a funeral seem like excellent reasons to have to cancel at the last minute. Those recorded calls — not to mention the hurricane — should have convinced both Orbitz and Discover that you should have received a refund rather than a runaround. And the hotel needs to authorize an additional person on its staff to issue refunds to guests who are forced to cancel their reservations. You shouldn’t have been kept waiting for the manager to show up to issue the refund.

Unfortunately, Orbitz’s terms of use disclaim responsibility for issuing refunds to its customers who cancel reservations made through its website:

The carriers, hotels and other suppliers providing travel or other services on this Website are independent contractors and not agents or employees of Orbitz. Orbitz is not liable for the acts, errors, omissions, representations, warranties, breaches or negligence of any such suppliers or for any personal injuries, death, property damage, or other damages or expenses resulting therefrom. Orbitz has no liability and will make no refund in the event of any delay, cancellation, overbooking, strike, force majeure or other causes beyond their direct control, and they have no responsibility for any additional expenses, omissions, delays, re-routing or acts of any government or authority.

So Orbitz’s sending you to the hotel to claim your refund is consistent with this provision in its terms of use, but it was also bad customer service in your double-emergency situation. And it’s unclear at best why Discover thinks that it was appropriate to reverse your chargeback when neither Orbitz nor the hotel would help you get a refund for the unused room that the charge was supposed to pay for.

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You could have used the executive contacts on our website for Orbitz, Carlson Rezidor (the parent company of Country Inns & Suites) and Discover to escalate your complaint to higher-level executives, but given the runaround you’ve received thus far from all three companies, it’s no surprise that you asked our advocacy team for help.

Our advocates reached out to Orbitz on your behalf, and after reviewing your phone records and weather reports for the dates of your scheduled stay, Orbitz’s agents agreed to process a full refund of your hotel fee “as an exception” because of your extenuating circumstances. You have received the refund and are happy with this resolution.

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.

  • Rebecca

    “And it’s unclear at best why Discover thinks that it was appropriate to reverse your chargeback when neither Orbitz nor the hotel would help you…”

    All that matters in terms of the dispute is language in the contract. Feelings have nothing to do with it. They don’t have to help you. They have to abide by the terms of your contract with each. If it’s a non-refundable room, and the hotel wasn’t closed/damaged by the hurricane, that’s all that really matters in terms of the dispute. I’m not saying it’s necessarily good business to deny a refund. But to claim the OP should have won the dispute because both companies should have helped due to the circumstances is ridiculous. Their duty is to fulfill their legal obligation, not to decide the outcome of a chargeback based on feelings.

    If the argument is that the customer should receive a good will refund, fine. But it’s disingenuous to claim the chargeback process should be dictated by feelings.

  • Alan Gore

    Was the hotel even open during the hurricane?

    In any case, thus should have been a direct reservation.

  • Michael__K

    If that’s the case, and if the contract terms support Orbitz, it’s bizarre that they instead responded to Discover’s chargeback inquiry by claiming “that it never received a phone call from me [the OP] to cancel.”

  • Lindabator

    no necessairy – they do make you cancel directly with the hotel, and the hotel refused to do so — did he ACTUALLY tell Orbitz he wanted a supervisor to cancel their space? Can just be a matter of semantics here

  • DReid

    When booking a room on an OTA, your contract is with them, not the hotel. When you cancel, you must cancel with the OTA. This is one of the many reasons why you should always book direct. It seems that Orbitz was being dishonest by telling the OP to cancel with the hotel directly and using the bogus excuse of not having been called.

    Now, whether the OP really deserved a refund is another issue. There’s not enough information given regarding whether this reservation was non-refundable or whether the hotel was actually open and/or affected by the storm for an informed decision.

  • greg watson

    If you have read this forum even once, you should have learned to check booking.com, expedia,travelocity, etc etc. for the best deals…………………….then deal direct for the service you want.
    No one wants to easily refund your money, & the more players involved, the worse it gets.

  • Kairho

    A lot of information is missing. Where in NJ (not all of it was severely affected by the weather)? Was the hotel open and operating? Was the reservation nonrefundable?

  • cscasi

    Does it take a supervisor at Orbitz to cancel one’s reservations? I owuld think that if a customer called Orbitz, who he used to make the reservation, and told them he contacted the hotel and was told there was no one there to authorize the cancellation, would Orbitz do it, perhaps it could have helped at that point. Or perhaps not, because of the way it has written its rules
    The part that concerns me is that Orbitz responded ot Discover that it has no record of Mr. Shansky calling them (probably did not want to bother to check the recorded calls) and then finally with assistance from the Advocates, Orbitz’s agents found he had indeed made those calls. I guess you can’t trust anyone these days.
    Glad he finally got his money back. Guess he will not be staying at that hotel in the future.

  • Maxwell Smart

    it’s not up to the customer to decide if hurricane will effect holiday. If so, people would use the “oh there’s a hurricane 3,000 miles away, I need to cancel & get a refund” all the time

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