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. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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