If Expedia says your return flight costs $1,668, believe it. Otherwise this could happen to you.

Johnna Keen’s story of her return flight is a cautionary tale about ticket change fees and airline logic. But mostly, it shows that people don’t trust anything they see anymore, when it comes to travel. And that could be an even bigger problem.

Keen tried to change two United Airlines tickets she’d purchased on Expedia, which the online agency said would cost her $1,668. She made an assumption or two she shouldn’t have — that tends to happen a lot with the cases our advocacy team receives — and ended up paying almost double that amount for her tickets and lost the value of one segment.

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Scroll up, my friends. See the column title? OK, so you already know that our amazing advocates couldn’t work their magic on Keen’s case. But I’m writing about it anyway, because I don’t want this to happen to you. And also, because I know you like reading about other people’s mistakes, especially you travel agents out there in the audience, who are nodding your heads right about now and saying, “Told ya so!”

I feel genuinely bad for Keen, and I think you will, too. That’s because her mistakes were relatively innocent. The system is confusing. It shouldn’t be.

But let’s get to her story.

Keen says she booked two round trip flights from Newark to Los Angeles this fall. Each ticket cost $544.

Then her son and husband decided to return early.

“I went to the Expedia website, clicked on my return flight info and there was an option to change the return flight,” she recalls. “I chose an earlier time through Expedia.”

The site allowed her to buy the new tickets, and from where she was sitting, it looked as if the return flight had been changed. Expedia showed a recalculated fare of $1,668, which she assumed would be her grand total.

“I did not book two one-way tickets for $834,” she adds. “That would have been outrageous.”

Keen even called Expedia to verify that her total fare would be $1,668. A representative told her it was, she says.

And you can probably guess what happened next, right? When she received her credit card bill, it indicated Expedia had simply charged her for new tickets, rather than changing her return flight. Worse, since she discovered the error after her trip, United had marked her son and husband as a “no shows,” meaning that they lost the value of those original segments permanently.

“I’m outraged,” she says. “How can it be both a no-show charge for not showing up for the original first trip home and also be a one-way itinerary.”

It can’t. Expedia would have explained everything in the fine print of her confirmation. I’m also pretty sure that a review of her phone call would show that a representative used ambiguous language that, while reassuring her, covered Expedia. How clever.

Our advocate, Dwayne Coward, reached out to Expedia. You will not be shocked by the company’s reply:

After reviewing your case, we have been able to clarify the processes that has taken place since your original purchase. After booking [your itinerary] we show a new standalone reservation was created.

Your original itinerary was a round trip flight reservation for two passengers, departing Newark, New Jersey to Los Angeles, California on October 12, 2017 and returning on October 15, 2017. Per our records, [the second itinerary] was a one-way flight reservation for two passengers from Los Angeles, California to Newark, New Jersey on October 15, 2017.

Per your ticket record, the outbound flight for [your first itinerary] was used; however, the return flight was missed. This triggered action by United Airlines to suspend the return tickets due to “no-show”; thus, United Airlines is not willing to provide any compensation for the tickets.

We have verified within our phone system for for your itinerary. It notes it’s a non-refundable reservation and as such we will be unable to provide a refund. We apologize for any confusion you may have had regarding usage of our site as well as the exchange process.

Sigh.

The thing that gets me here is that Keen saw the confirmation in black and white, and yet she didn’t believe Expedia would charge her another $1,668. She assumed that was her grand total. In other words, she thought she’d pay a nominal change fee for two of her tickets.

Was Keen just seeing what she wanted to see or does she not trust an online travel agency when it tells her something? That’s an important question. I think it’s the former.

But what if it isn’t? What if people just don’t trust a damned thing a travel company tells them anymore? What would that say about the lack of confidence and the extent to which travel companies have lied to their customers over the years.

Has it really gotten that bad? I hope not.

17 thoughts on “If Expedia says your return flight costs $1,668, believe it. Otherwise this could happen to you.

  1. Did she receive a new confirmation with the same reservation code that said “your new flights are blah blah”? If it had a whole new reservation number on it then clearly it was a different itinerary and that should’ve set off alarm bells and could have been resolved by canceling the flight within the 24 hours and then all that have been well. But like Chris, I don’t understand why she would see the cost and assume that cost didn’t apply to her; that’s just not common sense.

    1. It is possible that the Expedia reservation/confirmation number was the same, but the United ones would be different. That may have added to the confusion. The UA confirmation would have buried in the fine print, and the Expedia number would have had more prominence.

      If all reservation contained was a domestic flight, then Expedia really serves no purpose beyond research. You find an itinerary you like and then book directly with the airline. Especially for something as simple as Newark to LA on a single airline.

  2. This is why people should use actual travel agents.

    OTAs shouldn’t even be called “online travel agencies” but rather “online booking agents.” Expensive lesson learned.

    1. This is why I NEVER use an OTA. I either book directly with the airline or hotel! Much easier to make changes when necessary

      1. Actually, travel agents can b of more assistance in a lot of cases. For instance, w do not call the same reservations numbers you do, we have sales desks JUST for agents to assist, so better trained agents, MUCH less wait time, they are there to work WITH us to remedy situations, and in weather conditions, we just get a waiver we can use to make changes ourselves, saving a TON of time and hassle. I have even handled clients inflight if a delay has caused a misconnect – a quick text upon arrival sets their mind at ease that they are good to go.

  3. Each and every time I have used Expedia, it has been crystal clear – the charges, the total charges, you name it. I can’t claim to see what she saw but I certainly don’t think this is United’s or Expedia’s fault. Some people should use a travel agent.

  4. I have not used Expedia in years. But here is what I am confused about. There is a screen that said the total was $1,688; the original total was $544 each for two tickets — or $1088. So the traveler thought the extra $600 was the change fee and fare difference? And the passengers made a change to depart earlier in the day on the 15th? UA does same day changes for a lower fee for mileage members.When I have made changes I have just seen and been charged the penalty and fare difference and the screen makes it clear what I am paying for. But as I said, I have no recent experience on Expedia.

    1. Why? She booked it – there was no error by United and no fraud perpetrated. A chargeback for something like this is fraud – it actually has a name – friendly fraud.

    2. She would lose — she booked new reservations; yes she called expedia and asked is my total $1,688. and they said — she did not ask if this was the change fee and fare difference for changing reservation XYZ123. Instead she booked a new reservation XYZ456.

  5. Why didn’t she just ask Expedia to rebook it for her while she had them on the phone instead of doing it herself? She didn’t know what she was doing, then didn’t believe the system when it told her what the charges were and went ahead?

    Do it yourself is not for everyone. These are the kind of mistakes that can be made. If she had booked with a travel agent and the travel agent made the mistake – guess who eats the tickets? Not the consumer.

  6. As to another aspect of any financial transactions these days – people really should take advantage of any and all tools ones banks/credit card companies offer as to notification of charges. I receive instant alerts about any charges to my cards so any discrepancies/fraudulent activity can be learned immediately.

    Not that this would have likely helped this OP but she would have known right away there was a difference between reality and what she thought she had done.

    I don’t know if this is a matter of seeing what one wants to see or just not reading carefully but anything I do with respect to air travel, I check and double check (and only ever book directly with the airlines (hotels, whatever) before finalizing a transaction.

    Terms and conditions are there for a reason and it is usually not for the benefit of the customer.

  7. I”m curious what the sight said when it offered the option to “change the return flight”. If it truly offered a replacement option, then she has grounds. Depends on the wording.

  8. All the trouble travelers get themselves into because they don’t want to pay a small service to their local travel agent!

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