Never mind! Expedia quietly voids — then unvoids — terms on refer-a-friend promo

expediaPromises were meant to be broken. And if you’re Expedia, unbroken.

At issue is a promotion that offered a £20 hotel coupon code for each referral. When the terms were changed and the codes were suddenly disabled at the end of July, it set off an email campaign to Expedia and to members of the travel media who specialize in solving travel disputes.

Here’s the form letter I received repeatedly last week:

I was one of the people affected by Expedia.co.uk’s unfortunate reneging on the terms of their “Refer-a-Friend” promotion.

Under this promotion, customers referred people they knew to Expedia.co.uk, providing them with a 20 GBP coupon code to use for any Expedia Special Rate Hotel, with no minumum spend requirement. Once this coupon was used by the referee, Expedia provided a 40 GBP coupon to the referer, with the same terms and conditions. These conditions can be found for the time being here.

In late July, Expedia changed their terms and conditions of this promo, with new referrals having to meet a minimum 200 GBP booking amount before being able to use the 20 GBP coupon. Likewise, the 40 GBP coupon now had a 300 GBP minimum spend.

For a period of about two weeks, all codes issued prior to the change in terms and conditions kept the previous terms and conditions intact, and could be use for any purchase amount. On July 31, 2009, all codes were disabled, including those that were legitimately earned by referring individuals to use Expedia’s service. Expedia has replied saying it will re-issue the coupon, with the new terms and conditions, and that such is life, things change, and they are sorry for any inconvenience this has caused. Of the members of Flyertalk.com, some have received this reply, while others were instructed to call Expedia and have the code manually applied. Others received credit card refunds of the amounts of the coupon code. We do not believe that their unequal treatment is valid.

Expedia neglected to notify its customers about their coupons being invalidated, nor did they choose to re-issue these coupons when they were approached directly with our concerns. They simply brushed us off and told us that we’ll receive new vouchers with the minimum dollar amount. Some of us have been holding onto our 40 GBP coupons to book a future trip with, and now we are having to spend over $500 USD on a hotel booking in order to use these. This is a prime example of bait-and-switch at best. Some referrers had pitched this offer through their websites – and now their very own customers blame them for not telling them about the minimum purchase amount (which did not exist at the time).

We understand that you are someone to approach, who may be able to let Expedia see the error in their ways. We would like them to honor the terms and conditions that were agreed to when we began our participation. We have earned coupon codes in good faith by referring people to their company. They have not kept their end of the bargain that we had agreed to. They have robbed us of our renumeration, and we desperately plea for you to hopefully intervene and address our concerns.

Please accept our thanks for graciously looking into this matter for us.

I looked into the matter as soon as I got the first e-mail, as a matter of fact. I heard back from Expedia almost immediately, promising to investigate.

Over the weekend, the coupon codes reportedly began working again.

Expedia’s explanation? Silence.

I have a few thoughts on this issue, though.

First of all, to Expedia: Changing your terms without telling anyone? Bad idea. A little more transparency, please.

Also, “no comment” doesn’t necessarily mean no story.

Second, to those of you who tried to bury me with form emails, and believed you were all entitled to an individual answer, here’s a little tip: If you’re going to send a form letter, at least sign it.

Most of the cookie-cutter emails ended with “-A disappointed Expedia customer.” Come on. You can do better than that!

Also, it would be wrong to assume that the nation’s consumer travel advocates don’t talk to one another. We do compare notes from time to time.

And yes, this was one of those times.

Actually, I think Expedia was well within its rights to change the terms of its offer, particularly if travelers were abusing it. And based on the orchestrated email campaign that I was subjected to last week, and the exchanges I read on a popular bulletin board for mileage junkies, I would say there’s reason to believe some of these customers were gaming the system.

(Photo: gothick_matt/Flickr Creative Commons)

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