An Expedia cancellation is free, except for you

A free Expedia cancellation?

Susan Veazey took Expedia at its word when she booked her hotel room in New Orleans recently.

The online agency promoted a free cancellation, so Veazey figured she could make multiple reservations and then cancel the one she didn’t want.

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She figured wrong — and now she’s stuck with several rooms she can’t use.

This case is a teachable moment for those of us who take a company’s offer at face value. It turns out there is no such thing as face value when dealing with a slick corporation. Veazey’s failure, and mine, are proof.

A free Expedia cancellation?

Let’s go straight to the playback.

Last month, I booked 3 hotels in the French Quarter using Expedia. All of the hotels were marked as having free Expedia cancellation, and I wanted to consult with my husband as to which hotel he thought looked best.

We have never been to NOLA. I held onto the reservations for a couple of days. We booked for the week after Christmas — several months away.

So far, so good

So far, so good. Except that booking hotel rooms in this way is a little unorthodox, especially when you’re dealing with an online travel agency. But let’s continue.

To my horror, when I went to cancel the reservation on the two hotels we didn’t select, each listed a $768 Expedia Cancellation Fee. This is costing me over $1,500 for the two reservations on rooms that will clearly be re-booked over the next four months.

I did not panic, initially, because my assumption was I would find someone reasonable at Expedia to address this problem. Boy, was I wrong!

Twice, I spent well over an hour on hold and speaking with a customer service rep who clearly read from a script, and when I asked for a supervisor, I was left on hold for an extremely long period of time.

I did speak with one woman who said she was a supervisor, and she would do something, but nothing ever happened.

A nonrefundable Expedia reservation

Using our company contacts for Expedia, Veazey switched to email, but the response was the same.

“Expedia just kept telling me the last two nights on the reservations were non-refundable and that was hotel policy,” she says. “I would tell them that the Expedia cancellation policy on the website did not indicate they were non-refundable; in fact, they said just the opposite.”

This seemed like a slam-dunk. The site offered “free” cancellations, but Expedia wasn’t honoring its word. So I checked with the company.

Expedia responds

Here’s how it responded to her:

According to our research, you were advised during each booking, “free cancellation before December 23.”

Further research indicates that upon completing the booking of the first itinerary, Place d’Armes Hotel, you were advised to click the link to access the Rules and Regulations for the reservation. Above the “Complete This Booking” button was the phrase, “By selecting to complete this booking I acknowledge that I have read and accept the Rules & Restrictions and Privacy Policy.” Regrettably, the link to the Rules and Regulations was not clicked, and the terms of the reservation were never displayed before credit card details were submitted and the purchase completed.

A review of the second booking indicates the same phrase and link were displayed, but again, the purchase was completed without a review of the required Rules and Regulations. Our research indicates that had the link been selected as required, the following important reservation details would have been displayed:

Reservations are non-refundable on the following dates: December 29, 2015, December 30, 2015. Cancellations or changes made after 2:00 PM local hotel time, Wednesday, December 23, 2015 are subject to a hotel fee equal to 1 night(s) plus taxes and fees. Cancellations or changes made after check-in are subject to a hotel fee equal to 100% of the total amount paid for the reservation.

Please note, these terms appeared on each of the pre-purchase itineraries and were carried over to the confirmed itineraries currently located in your account.

Some restriction apply to your “free” Expedia cancellation

I see. So Expedia advertised “free” cancellations, but as they say, some restrictions apply. Gotcha.

Here’s where the true-blues and the rules-are-rules readers will have a polite disagreement. The true blue advocates like me will say if you advertise free changes, you should actually give them.

The rules-are-rules crowd will say: If you’d bothered to read the fine print, you wouldn’t have made these stupid reservations.

I think everyone knows which side I’m on.

I’m disappointed that Expedia can get away with this. But I’m fighting for a travel industry where this kind of thing won’t happen. If you’re with me, please join our group of advocates now. If you’re not, I’m sure I’ll hear from you in the comments.

Sigh.

Should Expedia have allowed Susan Veazey to cancel her reservation?

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21 thoughts on “An Expedia cancellation is free, except for you

  1. This seems that a credit card charge back would be warranted. If the ‘free cancellation’ didn’t have any disclaimer easily visible then one can certainly make a good case that they were defrauded.

    I would like to know the names of the hotels, if the hotels were contacted they could garner some good will by refunding those nights if the rooms are resold, and even more if they don’t wait for the rooms to be resold to refund the customer.

  2. Hiding additional restrictions behind a link when the booking page clearly states Free Cancellation until Wed Dec 23, is nothing short of deceptive! They don’t even put a * to indicate any fine print! How about contacting the FTC and doing a follow story on their response.

  3. Oh, the rules apply all right, but in this case, the rules are binding on Expedia. THEY should have read the “fine print” submitted by the hotel before promising Free Cancellation to the customer.

    Expedia cannot say “Free Cancellation Until Dec. 23rd” in big print, and then say “Except during the time you actually booked” in the fine print; that’s not the way contracts work. If they had something like “Free Cancellation *(see restrictions)” BEFORE Expedia knew what dates she wanted, that would be one thing. But you can’t say “Free Cancellation” AFTER you already know what period the reservation is for and should know that it doesn’t actually apply.

    It’s certainly very routine for the large print to giveth, and the small print to taketh away, but the small print can’t simply directly contradict something explicit in the large print, which is what happened here.

    I’m willing to believe this is incompetence instead of malice (nobody at Expedia thought to actually read the restrictions themselves and program the booking engine accordingly) but that doesn’t mean it’s not up to Expedia to fix.

    What to do? That’s a tricky one. I’m assuming the charge on the card is from the hotel, not Expedia. A charge-back should certainly be tried, but if I’m the hotel, I’m going to state that the customer’s lousy travel agent is not the hotel’s problem. (Whether or not that is the case is a matter for a contract lawyer, not an internet commenter.)

    If that falls through, that leaves the court system (this is the sort of case Small Claims was designed for), but Expedia may or may not actually have a presence in the OP’s state for the purpose of subjecting them to the jurisdiction of the local courts; the agency that regulates corporate registrations in her state should be able to help with that. (It’s usually the Secretary of State.)

    If Small Claims is of no use, it may even be worth engaging the services of a consumer lawyer in Expedia’s home state to write a NastyGram.

    She should file a complaint with the FTC, but it’s just going to go into a statistical file; they explicitly do not deal with individual cases.

    P.S. You seem to have something of a persecution complex here; rarely after a clear-cut case like this one do I see a torrent of comments actually siding with the company.

  4. This seems like a fairly clear case of false advertising, assuming that there was no * with a link to small print. And the screenshot posted by Realitoes seems to confirm that.

    My advice would be that she document this now ASAP and use it as leverage. This seems the perfect case to advocate.

    p.s. I don’t think the stereotypes of readers contribute to a fruitful dialogue.

  5. It is very simple to program a website checkout to prevent a payment click until a “terms and conditions” link has been clicked and an acknowledgement link at the end of the T&C’s has also been clicked. I see it all the time on the internet. The lack of a magic asterisk on the “free cancellation” statement plus the lack of an obligatory reading of the T&C’s is to my mind negligent programming. Correct programming would eliminate every case like this. So I wanted to vote “yes” on the poll.

    Then I realized that I find the practice of making multiple cancellable reservations to be extremely selfish, whether for a hotel room, for a restaurant reservation, or for anything else. The perpretrator unfairly removes multiple (less one) items from salable inventory without any consideratiion for the rest of the public or for the sellers of reservable services. For this reason, I would have voted “no” if the poll question involved taking the OP’s case. It’s about time one of these reservation hogs the got the punishment she deserved. Karma rules.

    1. I agree that while making multiple reservations is a bit selfish, it’s no more selfish than still charging a full one-night fee even if the room still sells for the original price months in advance. So while it might not be very nice to the hotels to engage in this practice, I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s unethical or deserving of the mighty hammer of Karma.

      Of course, behavior like this is why there is such a thing as non-refundable hotel rooms that are sold at a slight discount; you agree not to do things like this, the hotel cuts you a break on the price.

  6. I’ve been called an apologist or a “rules are rules” person on occasion. But to me this one is unique as it is not typical practice. If expedia advertises free cancellation within this specific hotel, then blackouts just a few days per year and doesn’t disclose that, it is wrong. This is too small of an exception and needing to click a link to review (vs. a rental car where you sign and then get a printed copy, for instance) seems deceptive. Worse, she is trying to cancel far enough in advance and close enough to original booking time where there is no malicious intent.

    Advocate, Advocate, Advocate. And I would even take this up to a higher government level as it is clearly deceptive given that expedia knew her dates when it served the “free cancellation” offer that didn’t apply. I also think this is where Chris you can add most value – advocate for a process change, not just an individual refund.

    1. Well, not only are there blackout dates, Expedia still advertises “Free Cancellation” even AFTER you tell them the dates of your stay and it falls on one of those Dates of Doom.

  7. I’m one who usually is a “rules” person but the restrictions should have been shown without clicking a link -otherwise it is deceptive advertising. At the very least thete should have been an asterick where it said “free cancellations” so the consumer would realize there was a caveat.

    I also say “chargeback”. And the consumer might want to report this deception to they Consumer Affairs Dept. in their state of Expedias home state.

  8. As long as there are restricted dates within the search criteria, then there should never be a “free cancellation” tag showing on any online reservation for Expedia or any hotel website.

  9. She’s violating the spirit of the deal. And when you are violating the spirit of the law, you better be following the letter of the law.

    She intentionally grabs a few rooms for peak season, holds it for a couple of days and then picks the one she wants. Does anybody honestly think this is what Expedia had in mind for their free cancellation policy?

    She was trying to get a free lunch.

    1. Firstly, it’s not Expedia’s free cancellation policy (or blackout date’s), it’s the hotel’s. Expedia simply failed to program the system to not display the “free cancellation until XX” logo when the stay fell on the blackout dates.

      Second, if we put the blackout dates aside, the hotels explicitly allow this, and it’s “baked” into the cost model. The economic harm from blacking out a couple of rooms four months before the stay date is minimal. Hotels DO commonly offer a way to not “pay” for other people cancelling reservations by selling pre-paid rooms (usually at a discounted rate.)

      It’s not a “free lunch” to lock in rates and shop around like this any more than it’s a “free lunch” for the hotel to charge a steep cancellation charge on dates when the hotel is likely to be booked solid.

    2. I would agree with you if she wanted to hold them for more than a few days. We are still months away, its not like she is waiting until day before to cancel.

  10. “Free cancellation until December 23rd” is a clear statement and was prominently displayed at the time of booking. If Expedia advertises a hotel and lists a pool or gym as an amenity, I should be able to expect that they’re right. If they say I can cancel before a certain date, I should be able to expect that to also be right. The only take-away I see here is that you should operate under the assumption that, once your card is charged, it’s going to be hard to get the money back. If you need to make a reservation that you’re certain to be able to cancel, make one that doesn’t involve paying up front.

  11. And this is why people should not use the likes of Expedia, Priceline, Travelocity, etc. So shop around, okay, then just BOOK DIRECTLY WITH THE AIRLINE, HOTEL CHAIN, CAR RENTAL COMPANY etc. These “travel agent” websites are deceptive third party (lack of) information givers. They need only highlight “exceptions apply” if there is important differences when booking that people need to click on to. But of course they withhold information.
    Really, why bother using them when you can do the individual research yourself ?

  12. Wait a minute. All the reservations were made through Expedia. They were for the same dates, right? So it would be impossible for the same person to use more than one, meaning all but one would be cancelled. There is no benefit to Expedia in allowing free cancellation of clearly conflicting reservations unless they EXPECTED to get their cut of cancellation fees falsely proclaimed as free cancellation. No rational programmer would allow overlapping reservations unless ordered to do so.

    I now call shenanigans on Expedia.

  13. There’s nothing wrong with making multiple reservations several months away for a good reason like letting your spouse chime in, holding them a couple of days, and cancelling the ones you don’t want. It’s important to understand the cancellation policies of each property, not just accept a headline on a website. Expedia is clearly misleading its customers … not the first time and won’t be the last. Susan should document her case and file a dispute with her credit card. People need to book directly with hotels. People need to book directly with airlines. Using an OTA makes everything more difficult when there’s a problem.

  14. If those hotels really did offer “free” cancellation then she should have been able to cancel the rooms without being charged fees. Any blackout dates should have been made clear without her having to click an “I agree to the rules and regulations” button to find them.

    That said, I don’t like the idea of making multiple reservations that one plans to cancel just for comparison shopping purposes. It does waste the time of those personnel who have to process them along with the cancellations, and I think it can cost the properties in question expected revenue. Basically it just seems dishonest.

    1. She purchased a room (multiple rooms) reservation on the condition that any or all of them they could be cancelled with no fee (free). She freely disclosed that she was reserving multiple rooms for the same dates. There were no restrictions that “free cancellation” would only apply if she booked no more than one room, and that is not the reason that she was charged the cancellation fee.

      Hotels offer the same room at different rates. For a certain rate the reservation cannot be cancelled (for free), and another (higher) rate for a reservation that can be cancelled for free. Various specials and promotions may blur the difference between those two normally different rates.

      She chose the rate offering “free cancellation”, and presumably could have gotten a lower cost rate by choosing a reservation that did not offer “free cancellation”. She paid the “free cancelable” rate and they should honor that.

      Particularly since the purchase was made online, and presumably the cancellation was also made online, and especially since the cancellation was done within a few days, and still months in advance, then everything was likely handled “automatically” without (or perhaps minimal) involvement of personnel.

      It’s really no different than, for example, you go to a store and buy 3 near identical items, and store policy allows returns within a certain period of time. You take them home, decide which one you will keep, and return the other 2 items. Just like the hotel, the items are not available in the store’s inventory for that period of time, a store employee has to “handle” the purchase and the return. How is this different?

      1. Sorry, but “free” should mean just that-free-no cancellation charges whatsoever. No charges and then rationalizing that “free” means “Oh, we’re going to charge you for this, that and the other thing because we can.”

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