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

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By Christopher Elliott

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.

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.”

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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.


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. (Here’s how to get a refund on a nonrefundable airline ticket.)

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. (Related: WOW Air, where’s my compensation for that 14-hour delay?)

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.

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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.

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