“It’s a laughing joke that Expedia says they offer great customer service”

Last December, Caesar Ho booked a night at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport Hotel through Expedia. But when he couldn’t reach the hotel because of inclement weather — snow on the 5 Freeway and dangerous winds on the 101 — he phoned the hotel to see if he could cancel his room.

A hotel representative said he couldn’t help, and that he needed to contact Expedia to cancel his stay. Expedia refused.

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Because they were unwilling to do anything, we filed a dispute with our credit card company. Visa investigated the issue and sent a notice to Expedia.com for mediation.

Expedia was given a full 45 days to respond to the dispute, but according to Visa, they received no response from Expedia.com and the case was then closed. We received a notice from Visa stating that our account had been credited the full amount and the case solved.

End of story? Not quite.

Six months later, Ho received a notice from Expedia’s collections agency, RMS, billing him $131.

Upon receiving this notice, we sent RMS a letter stating that we do not accept this charge and that it had already been disputed and solved. We also send a handwritten letter to Expedia regarding the matter.

Both letters were met with zero response from either company. RMS simply sent another two collection notices with zero explanation and Expedia ignored our correspondence.

Finally, RMS sent him a notice saying that his account had been formally sent to it for collection. Ho made several efforts to contact Expedia in writing and by phone, but was told there was nothing the company could do. He had only one choice: to pay up.

Ho is at his wits’ end.

It’s a laughing joke that Expedia says they offer great customer service. I thought they were a great company, but I’m just disappointed in their response – or lack thereof. They’ve offered zero help on all accounts and have ignored our written letters.

They did nothing when the account was disputed and waited six months to send a collection agency to harass us. Not only have they wasted countless hours of our time, they’ve also lost this family’s business. If a written letter of complaint doesn’t get through to them, I’m not sure what will.

Well, I’m willing to try. I contacted Expedia on his behalf. Here’s what it had to say in its response to Ho:

Our records show that on December 12, 2009, you contacted our representatives to inquire about cancelling your reservation at the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco, California for that evening and the possibility of receiving a refund. At the time of purchase, your itinerary stated that any cancellations less than 72 hours prior to check-in would incur a hotel-imposed penalty equal to 100% cost of stay.

When plans change for any reason, including extenuating circumstances, hotels often do not make exceptions to the policies they state. Regardless, as your advocate, we reached out to the hotel on your behalf and asked for an exception. The hotel manager did not waive their cancellation penalty due to the late date of the request. We have since contacted the hotel to further inquire about the reason for the denial of your request, and they have stated that since the reservation was already in the penalty window, no refund was allowed.

Your letter states that you disputed the charge with your credit card company and received a refund for your reservation, and that your charge has since been sent to a third-party collection agency. Although we received a chargeback from your bank, because we determined that the charge was still valid, the account was sent to collections.

When your sister Ms. Ho contacted our customer service representatives on July 27, she was informed that Expedia was no longer able to handle this charge and that further action must be pursued through the collection agency. Ms. Ho spoke with one of our Tier 3 Customer Service specialists, who reviewed the information provided by the hotel on December 12 and informed Ms. Ho how to contact the collections agency with her questions and concerns.

Because the charge has been sent to a third-party collection agency, any further action will need to be pursued through the collection agency. You may refer to the instructions they have provided you in the collection notice you received.

In other words, no.

I have a few problems with the way this was handled. Did anyone bother to tell Ho that there was no way he could cancel his room at the Hyatt? It seems to me that if the non-negotiable 72-hour cancellation period had been carefully explained to him when he tried to cancel the reservation, he might have done things differently.

I think it’s great that Ho’s credit card took his side in this dispute, but shouldn’t it have checked on the terms of his hotel room before filing the dispute on his behalf? If it had, maybe it wouldn’t have taken the case.

Expedia shouldn’t have ignored the dispute. If it hadn’t, then Ho might not have prevailed, and the matter wouldn’t have been sent to a collection agency. I’m also having some trouble believing Expedia’s suggestion that it can’t stop a collection process. I think “won’t” is more like it.

So here’s the big question: What do you do if you’re Ho? Do you ignore the collection requests? Do you appeal your case to the collection agency, hoping for a resolution? Or do you pay the bill?

Update (6:30 p.m.): Expedia has sent me an update:

You mention that you had a few problems with the way this was handled, and I wanted to take the opportunity to address the specific concerns that you had:

Mr. Ho booked the hotel on our site, and the rules and restrictions are presented as part of the booking process. In fact, he had to agree to them in order to submit his purchase. Further, it is Expedia policy for agents to quote upon cancellation any rules and restrictions associated with rebooking, or details around any lost value upon cancellation. In this case, that would be the hotel’s non-negotiable 72-hour cancellation policy that you reference. In reviewing our notes, we don’t see any indication that our agent didn’t follow this policy.

Expedia didn’t ignore the dispute. In fact, we attempted to get the dispute by the credit card company reversed because our customer service department determined the charge was valid.

We are certainly not saying that we can’t stop the collection process. We believe the debt is owed to us and we contracted with the collections agency to collect the debt on our behalf.

(Photo: Ra Gardner 4/Flickr Creative Commons)