When a flight is canceled because of bad weather, passengers can expect to be rebooked — or a prompt refund. But that doesn’t always happen.
Consider what happened to Scott Shell when he booked a one-way flight for four to Nantucket.
He made reservations on Hahn Air for July 8 through Expedia and paid $808. When inclement weather grounded his flight, he requested a refund from Expedia. He soon realized that getting his money back would be a difficult ordeal.
Shell contacted Expedia multiple times by phone and email, inquiring about the status of his refund. Expedia informed Shell that it had requested the authorization for reimbursement on July 22 from Hahn Air and was awaiting confirmation.
That’s 14 days after the flight was canceled.
Expedia warned that the process could take an additional eight weeks, depending on the airline and his bank. This, however, differs from the “refund timelines” spelled out in Expedia’s customer service policies.
Shell complained to Expedia that waiting eight more weeks was excessive, and understandably so. $800 is a lot of money, and the flight being canceled was out of his control. He not only missed out on the flight, but the cancellation also caused unplanned expenses and a major disruption in his travel itinerary. Shell had booked the flight through Expedia and believed it was Expedia’s responsibility to issue the refund, rather than waiting on Hahn Air.
On July 29, Hahn Air gave Expedia approval to process the reimbursement. Expedia sent a confirmation email to Shell informing him that it was issuing the refund on August 10, extending the delay even further.
By early October, Shell still had not received his refund.
This case offers a few practical lessons for the rest of us. If the charge is on a credit card and obtaining a refund proves to be difficult, dispute the charge with the credit card company. It will contact the company in question and will not charge interest while the transaction is under dispute. Be sure to check with the credit card company for any restrictions that may apply.
Second, even though the ticket may have been purchased from an online booking agent, it is true that the airline has to initiate the authorization before the refund can be processed. However, the booking agent should advocate for the refund on behalf of the customer to ensure it is done in a timely manner — or better yet, issue the refund and then negotiate its reimbursement with the airline.
And last, it seems as if Expedia has a mixed philosophy on how it prefers to be contacted by its customers. In an email to Shell, Expedia stated,
we cannot provide the following services over email: booking, changing, or canceling reservations, refund requests, price quotes, or urgent requests regarding travel within the next 5 days.
What’s interesting is that Expedia had no record of the numerous phone calls made by Shell (requesting the refund). It indicated that his first contact with Expedia was when he sent an email.
This can be confusing because on Expedia’s site it repeatedly states that it will contact customers via email or phone regarding flight changes, options, and refunds. When customers are unable to reach Expedia by phone or are subject to long wait times on hold, they resort to communicating via email. Is Expedia saying that it has the option of emailing, but the customer does not?
After reaching a point of frustration, Shell filed a complaint with the Department of Transportation. Shell also could have addressed his grievances with the management level at Expedia. A list of executive contacts and a link to the appropriate page is provided on our company contacts section.
Instead, he sought help from our advocates. They stepped up on his behalf and began their intercession with Expedia.
After waiting over three months, Shell finally received his refund in mid-October.
That is a long time to wait for a refund on a canceled flight, and it does not line up with Expedia’s refund timelines as listed on its customer service page at . It states
Expedia may take up to 5 days to process your refund. Once your refund is processed, your financial institution may take up to 7 days to post the credit to your account.
To recap the time frame, the flight was canceled on July 8, and Hahn Air gave Expedia authorization to process the refund on July 29, which was 21 days from the initial request by Shell. Expedia informed Shell it had issued the refund on August 10. Shell did not receive the refund until mid-October.
Shell’s fortitude and patience are commendable.
So the question remains, why did Expedia take over three months to issue a refund to Shell?