Did United Airlines make this costly mistake or was it Expedia?

A United Airlines mistake. Two tickets for her -- none for her husband

Andrea Smith believes United Airlines made a mistake by allowing her to book two identical tickets — or maybe it was an Expedia glitch. She isn’t sure how it happened, but that mistake cost her $915, and she wants a refund.

But could the error actually have originated somewhere closer to home?

Smith’s case is yet another cautionary tale about the importance of self-booking vigilance. However, there are additional lessons for the companies involved as well. In this case, mistakes abound — with United Airlines, Expedia and with Smith.

Booking basic economy tickets on United Airlines through Expedia

Smith’s troubles began soon after she planned a trip to visit a terminally ill friend in Chicago. It was a somber trip, as she realized it might be her last visit with her buddy.

Smith found a great rate on United Airlines through the Expedia website. She booked the basic economy ticket and soon received a confirmation.

“Two days later, my husband decided that he would join me,” Smith recalled. “And so I logged back onto Expedia and booked him a ticket on the same flight for $196.”

Or so she thought.

The day before their trip, Smith suddenly realized there was a giant mistake with her second United Airlines reservation. Using the record locator for the first ticket, she easily checked in for the United Airlines flight. But when she entered her husband’s record locator, her name popped up as well.

A terrible realization hit Smith; United Airlines had issued two tickets for the same flight in her name. Her husband had no ticket to fly to Chicago.

But how did this mistake happen?

Two United Airlines tickets for me. None for my husband!

That day, Smith says that she spent hours on the phone with United Airlines trying to correct the error. And she also spent hours with Expedia hoping to get the second ticket changed into her husband’s name.

I spent several hours on the phone with both United Airlines and Expedia. United kept telling me it was up to Expedia to fix. Then Expedia told me only United Airlines could fix this mistake. I realized that the only option we had was to book a new plane ticket. At that point, the price of the flight was $915. Expedia refused to give me any sort of price break or credit.

Unfortunately, at that point, there were no other options. As our publisher, Christopher Elliott, explains in his article on the topic, the first 24 hours after making a flight reservation is when travelers can correct most mistakes without penalty. That is as long as they’ve purchased the tickets directly through the airline. Once those 24 hours have passed, the passenger will be required to pay a change fee and fare differential to make any changes. And, unfortunately, basic economy tickets are ineligible for any changes.

The good news for Expedia users, though, is that Expedia has voluntarily adopted its own 24-hour rule. It’s not quite identical to the DOT’s. But if you want to cancel an airline ticket within 24 hours of purchase on Expedia and the airline allows it, Expedia likely will, too. The booking error will be corrected by canceling your reservation and then reissuing a new ticket.

No way to change the name on this basic economy ticket

Unfortunately, Smith never looked at the confirmation that she received for her “husband’s” ticket. If she had, she would have seen that it was her own name on that reservation.

As Smith soon discovered, neither United Airlines nor Expedia was willing to change the name on the ticket. In fact, no U.S. airline allows tickets to be transferred from one name to another. Even simple spelling corrections can turn into a financial nightmare if you don’t catch them within the first 24 hours.

But this problem was not a simple spelling error. To correct this mistake, a complete name change on this basic economy ticket was needed. And United Airlines was not going to let that happen.

Seeing no other choice, Smith paid the $915 and bought her husband a ticket. The couple flew to Chicago and visited with her friend. But when she got home, she turned her sights back on forcing one of the two companies to take responsibility for this mess.

And that’s when she contacted the Elliott Advocacy team.

An Expedia error or a United Airlines’ mistake?

When Smith contacted our team, she initially thought that this fiasco was Expedia’s problem to correct.

I am positive that I entered my husband’s name and birth date, and that somehow the Expedia system defaulted the name to mine. In fact, United Airlines verified that the ticket I booked for my husband had his birth date attached.

I don’t understand why the Expedia website would even allow someone to book two identical tickets. Their website should have safeguards to prevent this problem from happening in the first place. I have to think that I can’t be the only person that this has happened to. Expedia responded that I shouldn’t have booked a basic economy ticket if I had wanted to make changes.

I went through Smith’s paper trail and that same question occurred to me as well. The Expedia system should not have allowed her to book two tickets for the same flight. And United Airlines should not have accepted payment for and issued, the second ticket in her name.

Smith explained that she did recall that during the Expedia booking process, she saw one warning.

As I was booking my husband’s United Airlines flight, a popup alerted me that I was making a second reservation in my name. I was surprised to see this, as I had definitely entered my husband’s name. So I went several screens back. Then I saw that my name was there and changed it to his name before finishing the booking. I didn’t think I would have any further issues with this.

But of course, she did — very expensive issues.

Expedia: The passenger overrode the duplicate ticket warnings

To find out what went wrong here, I contacted our friends at Expedia. The IT department at Expedia can track user keystrokes and pathways through its site. And so when a consumer believes that a “computer glitch” has occurred, their team can often determine if that is the case.

Soon our executive contact had some surprising news about Smith’s second reservation.

Hi there Michelle, thanks for your patience on this one. A quick recap of our findings:

Our records indicate that on February 14th, 2019, the customer attempted to create a flight reservation to accommodate Mr. Jason Smith for travel from Newark, New Jersey to Chicago, Illinois.

During this interaction, our findings show that after a warning notification the user scrolled to the top of the page. She modified the traveler’s name from Andrea M Smith to Jason D Smith. But then changed it back to Andrea M Smith before the confirmation of the booking. Expedia did not initiate this change, but rather the user.

If our website had implemented this change, the passenger’s date of birth and gender would have automatically updated to match the traveler information saved to the account.

She went on to underscore the importance of travelers carefully reading any warnings that pop up during the booking process. Lastly, she reiterated the value of thoroughly reviewing the confirmations that arrive just after booking.

“The 24-hour flight cancellation policy available through Expedia is in place to help avoid circumstances such as this,” she explained. “So we remind customers to take advantage of this policy as required.”

Why did Expedia’s system allow the identical bookings?

But I wanted to know why the system ultimately allowed Smith to book an identical flight for herself. Our Expedia contact explained:

Our system is designed to warn a customer of a potential duplicate booking, as it did in this case. However, a reservation will be confirmed should the customer choose to continue with the information they entered. The responsibility for the accuracy of the information provided in the booking process is ultimately the customer’s responsibility. We have triggers to note possible duplicate bookings and provide the customer with warnings. But again, accuracy of passenger information is first and foremost the customer’s responsibility.

Our Expedia contact wasn’t sure why the United Airlines system didn’t catch this mistake. But it likely happened because Smith had successfully entered her husband’s birth date. That would have made the record not identical in the “eyes” of a computer reader that issued the ticket.

Should United Airlines correct this expensive mistake?

But some good news was coming Smith’s way. The Expedia resolution team decided to bring this case to United Airlines for review again. Ultimately, United Airlines decided to refund the $196 for the second ticket that Smith mistakenly purchased in her own name on the Expedia site.

Unfortunately, Smith was on the hook for the last minute, walk-up fare of $915.

Smith continues to question how this happened. Perhaps she was distracted, with her friend’s health crisis. She isn’t sure, but she knows this type of booking mistake will never happen to her again.

Michelle, Thank you so much for looking into this and for the detailed response. I am still absolutely sure that I entered my husband’s name. So it seems most likely that something on my end auto-filled my own name. I should have checked more carefully and I can chalk this up to a learning experience!

How to make sure an expensive flight mistake doesn’t happen to you

  • Book directly with the airlines: It’s always easier to correct problems without a middle man. Booking directly with the airline can eliminate one layer of confusion when a problem occurs. In fact, when you use a third-party booking agent, you are putting a barrier between you and the airline. And remember the Department of Transportation’s 24-hour rule does not apply to your ticket if you don’t buy it directly through your airline carrier. To minimize problems, it’s a good idea to buy your flights directly through your preferred airline.
  • Always promptly review your confirmations: No matter where you purchase your airline tickets, it’s critical to immediately review all of the information on the confirmation for accuracy. Smith could have avoided this problem entirely if she had taken even a quick look at the second confirmation when it arrived. Remember, you can correct most ticketing errors without penalty in the first 24 hours after purchase. You’ll be on the hook for the financial penalties for any mistakes discovered after those 24 hours.
  • Carefully consider basic economy tickets: It’s important not to be mesmerized by the low cost of a basic economy ticket. Keep in mind, along with those low prices, (which are often only a few dollars less than economy) come a myriad of restrictions, additional add-on costs and penalties. And remember should you need to make any changes to your plans later, basic economy tickets are nonrefundable and unchangeable. For this reason, these tickets are always a bit of a gamble.

Should United Airlines have refunded the $915 ticket that Smith was forced to purchase at the airport?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirportParkingReservations.com

With nearly 20 years in the industry, over 128 airport covered in the U.S. and Canada, and over 1,000 Hotel and Parking Partners-we provide travelers the best options on how to get to the airport when flying. Whether you want to; drive yourself and park near an Airport (Airport Parking), stay the night before your flight at an airport hotel and leave your car (Hotel and Parking Package), or take a shared Shuttle/Private Car/Limo to the Airport- we got you covered. The best deals can be found online, and booking a reservation has never been easier. You can explore all of our options by visiting us at AirportParkingReservations.com, ParkSleepFly.com, AirportParking.com, and ShuttleFinder.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Generali Global Assistance

Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by G1G.com

Since its inception over three decades ago, G1G has continued to revolutionize the travel insurance industry by being the only aggregator to operate a customer portal, placing all of the user's primary needs in one place. We have continued to innovate and disrupt the market by reimagining the way travel insurance can be delivered to the end user in ways no competition can. Simply put, no one knows the market as well as its founders and no one else shares G1G values and mission.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

VisitorsCoverage is one of the world’s most trusted providers of travel insurance for millions of global travelers in over 175 countries. Working with top-rated travel insurance partner providers, VisitorsCoverage’s award-winning search, compare and purchase technology simplifies the travel insurance process and finds the best deals for the coverage you need to explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at VisitorsCoverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.