This all-inclusive vacation really headed south, thanks to Expedia — or did it?

Tammy Wellendorf’s vacation is falling apart and Expedia won’t help her pick up the pieces.

Her grievance raises an age-old question that resonates almost every day on this site: Why bother using an online travel agent if it won’t stand behind the product it sells?

Before we answer that question, let’s hear from Wellendorf. She’d saved up for years for an all-inclusive vacation with her adult family. All told, there were seven people, including her son, Cole, and his fiancee, Amber.

“Cole and Amber had been together for four years and were now engaged. All was set for their wedding,” she says.

And you can probably guess what happened next. Wellendorf booked the vacation and just before their departure, the couple broke up.

But Wellendorf wasn’t worried. After, all she’d purchased travel insurance through Expedia. Surely, it would cover an unanticipated event like this?

Actually, no.

“I called Expedia repeatedly, as did both of my sons. Each of us was put on hold for
for 30 minutes and then disconnected,” she says. “It seems this is Expedia’s common method of operation.”

But finally, they did connect with an Expedia representative, who informed the family that a breakup wasn’t a covered reason.

Hang on. Didn’t Expedia sell her a “cancel for any reason” policy?

No, said Expedia. It sent her the policy. It was a garden-variety “named exclusion” policy.

“It was completely false advertising. The policy didn’t work as they claimed it would when I purchased it,” she says.

It’s important to note here that both Expedia and Wellendorf are right — and wrong. Expedia knowingly leaves customers like her with the impression that she’s “protected” while hiding important exclusions in the fine print. But technically, the online agency is correct.

Wellendorf, on the other hand, had no reason to suspect there’d be a lot of fine print — indeed, that her insurance wouldn’t protect her purchase. But she should have read the fine print, and technically, she’s out of luck.

How about their airline? Maybe Expedia could pick up the phone and deal with the airline’s “waivers and favors” specialists. Nah.

She contacted American Airlines and of course it sent her the following form letter:

Airline tickets are not transferable and may only be used by the customer whose name is reflected on the electronic ticket and/or the printed itinerary/receipt. The nontransferable restriction is clearly specified on each ticket.

Ms. Wellendorf, I’m sorry that we are unable to comply with your request on this occasion.

Yeah, thanks American.

Incidentally, the ticket transfer restrictions have nothing to do with security and can be waived if the airline wants to. In this case, American simply didn’t want to.

Wellendorf wants a refund of $1,316 for the tickets and the share of her son’s fiancee’s vacation. She wonders why Expedia won’t help her.

Why not? Well, let’s take these issues one by one. The insurance is a well-known “gotcha,” and if Wellendorf booked on her own, she should have had an awareness of the problem. Expedia can’t just change its policy; it would have to deal with underwriters and insurance companies who raise a fuss. (I’ve seen it.)

Expedia should have seen the situation — a trusting customer taken in by its promotional language — and at least tried to make an effort to help.

In order for American to refund the ticket, it would have to be something more dramatic than a breakup. Having the bride walk away at the altar would probably do the trick. Remember, there are real people on the other end of the line when you ask for an exception to the rules, and they are suckers for a good human drama. (But don’t lie — they can tell.)

So what’s the benefit of booking through Expedia? I think that is something Wellendorf is wondering about right now. I’m not sure if I could make a convincing argument for using the online travel agency again. But I could always advocate her case and see if it will try to help her, even though this case looks as hopeless as any I’ve seen.

Should I take Tammy Wellendorf's case?

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