Double-booked on Orbitz – but why didn’t they tell me?

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By Christopher Elliott

Chuck Harding accidentally made two reservations when he booked a trip from Chicago to St. Louis last year. He thinks his online agency, Orbitz, should have caught the problem and fixed it for him, but it didn’t.

His story offers a few lessons for those of us who want to book tickets without the help of a travel professional. And it exposes the limits of technology when it comes to airline reservations.

No, this case wasn’t fixable, and I shoulder part of the blame. Harding asked for help several months ago, and his case was temporarily lost during the latest systems switchover. By the time I got involved, it was too late to do anything, and I feel partially responsible.

Harding tried to make his travel arrangements on Orbitz. “I thought I scheduled a flight and hotel, and was told by the screen that a confirmation would be sent to my email address,” he remembers. “I was worried when I did not receive my confirmation, and figured that I had not completed the transaction correctly.”

He figured wrong

“I proceeded to book another flight and hotel — same day, same person, same credit card, same phone numbers, same everything. Only the flight was different, going through Newark instead of Cleveland for the connection,” he says. “I put in my email address and bingo, it kicked out a confirmation for me. I thought, ‘Gee, I must’ve messed up the last one, because I didn’t get a confirmation at all.”

Except that both reservations actually went through.

He continues:

Fast forward to Monday, and when speaking with my wife, she mentioned that our credit card had been charged twice for the trip to St. Louis.

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Upon spending approximately two hours on the telephone with an Orbitz ‘supervisor’ from Manila, she told me that it is the policy of Orbitz to offer no credit to me, because the airline and the hotel could do ‘nothing’ for me.

It was explained to me that the first trip was booked with the confirmation email that had a typo in it. So I asked how I could possibly know that I had a confirmation, if Orbitz hadn’t notified me of the email being sent back as ‘undeliverable’ to me.”.

I tried to explain that I would never have booked another trip, for the same dates, to the same cities, at the same time had they notified me! Chloe said she is ‘not authorized’ to issue a credit to you of any kind.

Similar to a previous case we’ve addressed, so many things went wrong with this booking, it’s hard to know where to begin. I think this reader would have really benefited by working with a human travel agent, and not with Orbitz.

Could I help him to get a refund?

Oddly, US Airways canceled one of his flights because a representative told him he “couldn’t be in two places at the same time.” So he asked me to help him get a refund.

I thought he had a good chance, and this case went to one of our volunteer mediators to handle. (We’ve since moved to a new system where I mediate every case — that way, when something gets dropped, I know who to blame.) I’ve also created this ultimate guide on how to solve your consumer problems.

For reasons that aren’t clear, Harding’s case never made it to Orbitz until he contacted me a few weeks ago to ask about the status of his refund. I asked Orbitz to look into it. It responded promptly:

Mr. Harding booked twice. The first time with an incorrect email address, so he wanted a refund, as he did not get the confirmation that we sent.

He booked on October 20, 2013. Called us on October 28th, when he figured it out, after travel date. By then, too late to do anything. As airline tickets were not mirror dupes (exact same itinerary) US would not refund.

His comments to you about US at the airport, do not match our documentation.

The representative also suggested that some of the responsibility for this screw-up rests with me, and I accept that. For what it’s worth, Harding didn’t contact me until this June for help, so we didn’t sit on the case for a year. (Related: Ridiculous or not? No credit for your nonrefundable hotel room.)

But Harding makes a valid point: Why doesn’t Orbitz try to reach out to a customer when their email notification bounces, and particularly if the credit card accepts the transaction? A courtesy call can’t hurt.

This case is unfixable. I suspect that even if I’d answered Harding last year, it would have been unfixable. But there’s no excuse for any kind of delay in answering a consumer, and for that, I’m sorry.

Should Orbitz have refunded one of Harding's bookings?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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