Expedia double-charged me — can I get a refund?

Laura Pang has two airline reservations on Expedia. But she only needs one. Now the online agency refuses to refund the second charge. Is there anything she can do to persuade it to help her?

Question: I recently booked one airline ticket through Expedia. At least that’s what I thought. I paid $310 for what I thought was one ticket, but when I was using the site, it felt a bit slow. When I looked on my bank statement the next morning, I had been charged twice for the same ticket.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso. The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit Virtuoso.com.

I’ve called Expedia four times over the past two days, e-mailed two different representatives, and contacted them on Facebook and Twitter. But they claim the extra charge does not appear on their database and that therefore they have no obligation to refund me.

My bank says I should get in touch with the vendor, which I have. The subject heading for both charges is identical.

I am extremely upset having tried every method possible to get back that $310, but to no avail. I’m a postgraduate student and can’t afford to lose this much money — it goes toward schoolbooks, phone bills, housing. I’m panicking and I’m at a loss. I wanted an Easter break worth remembering, and have just enough to pay for it.

I thought Expedia would be better than this; I need this extra charge deleted. I live on a very tight budget and these kinds of things make my life far more difficult than it needs to be. Please help me. — Laura Pang, Sheffield, UK

Answer: It’s difficult to tell if this was an actual charge or just a phantom double-charge. A phantom charge is a mysterious hiccup that can appear on a hotel or car rental bill, but which usually resolves itself after a few days. I’ve experienced it a time or two.

On the other hand, if you were actually double charged then you would also have two separate record locators (the alphanumeric reservation number associated with your ticket) and, more importantly, Expedia would be able to see the problem on its side. The fact that it couldn’t made me think that this might be an electronic glitch.

The “website running slow” scenario is an old standard from the ‘90s, as far as travel complaints go. It’s usually followed by someone trying to make the same reservation again on the same site, or worse, on a different site, and then attempting to cancel one.

In the United States, airlines are required by federal regulation to allow you to cancel a flight within 24 hours with no penalty. In the UK, some airlines offer a “courtesy” cancellation if you want to change your flights within a day. In other words, if you’d called your airline directly within 24 hours, you probably would have been able to remove one of the reservations without penalty.

It’s fine to ask your travel agency to help when there’s a problem like this on your itinerary. But Expedia was right; you should have phoned your airline to get this fixed. I also list Expedia’s emails on my site.

I contacted Expedia on your behalf and it processed a refund.

Who is ultimately responsible for this double booking?

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79 thoughts on “Expedia double-charged me — can I get a refund?

  1. Why do people feel the need to state how much they need their refund? In this case, it was two paragraphs about how much she needed the money for spring break. Really, people’s economic needs have nothing to do with whether or not they were treated fairly unless their economic situation was a factor in that treatment.

    In this case, the OP was so upset with her possible loss she didn’t do the basics. Once she had been told Expedia didn’t see the charge she should have called the airline to see if a second ticket had been issued and also filled an objection with the bank.

    On the other hand, it is odd that Expedia would refund money they never received. Something is kissing here.

    1. Thank you for writing this so I didn’t have to 🙂

      As FQTVLR notes in a follow-up reply, the story and all its extraneous padding does make me think there is more to this than a simple electronic glitch.

    2. Ditto this. I don’t care if you’re a “grad student whose money goes for…” or a professional who spends his spare cash on collectibles. If you are charged twice, you deserve the money back.

      1. I think she described how urgent the problem was because for her it was alot of money. Most of us could wait a week or so and see if the situation got resolved but the money may be needed for rent or food.

    3. Circumstance dependent when the issues concern life or death. Op wanting to travel, and stuck with a double billing error, fail to pass muster. A resolution was necessary, but student status, tight on money, are non value added points.

    4. Jeesh, you guys are HARSH! Personally I don’t see the problem with the poor girl telling Christopher why this is such a huge issue for her, and why she needed it resolved fast. For some people, having $310 tied up in a double-booking is no big deal, and they can take the time to research it and get it resolved. For others, not having that $310 can mean the difference between making rent this month and being kicked out of your apartment.

      Try to find just a little bit of human empathy in your hearts, okay guys?

      1. Not only that, but a large part of the appeal of these columns are the human interest angles. The person’s name, the location, the exact details. And personal notes like this are a part of that. Minus all that you’d be left with: Unnamed, genderless human A had a generic transaction of some sort where an unspecified amount of money was spent with an unnamed retailer… Nobody would read that.

        1. My point exactly.

          Y’know do I hear what they’re saying…sort of. I too find myself rolling my eyes when I read yet another person complaining that they are a “senior on a fixed income” to try to make their situation sound more compelling. I’m not a senior (yet!) but hey, I’m on a fixed income too! My paycheck is what it is, and ain’t getting any bigger, so why is it only seniors that are allowed to complain they are on a “fixed income”? 😉

          Just because somebody is struggling financially, or is dealing with some personal life trauma, doesn’t make them any more entitled to get their situation resolved. I get that. I used to laugh at the snark over the sob stories too.

          But I think it’s gone too far. Do these guys really want Christopher to delete all human interest from his articles? Have we all become so hard-hearted that the impact these issues have on the writers don’t mean a damn thing to us?

          Christopher, don’t take out the details of the writers. I for one (and clearly I’m not the only one) like to know that these are real people you are helping. Personally I enjoy knowing that you helped a struggling college student afford her books and things. And if you also are able help some 1 percenter be able to get his money back so he can buy more Ming Dynasty vases for his museum-quality collection, that’s good to know too!

          1. For the record, I don’t think anyone here has suggested that Chris edit out any information from his posts. I was complaining about the writers who feel that adding such information helps their case. Really, it is just ‘more clothing ‘ on the laundry list. and we all know how Chris feels about laundry lists.

        2. I guess I read Chris’ and similar sources to learn what went wrong, how the issue was dealt with and how it was resolved and to see if I can learn from that experience. For human interest I like Miss Manners (but can’t take the new Ask Abby). A little context is always nice. But, in this case, the amount of “human interest” was greater than the factual content.

          I guess I see this as: If a poor nun and a rich mafia hit man both encountered the exact same bad, or even dishonest, service, would their personal circumstance make any difference? To me, the answer is no.

      2. I totally agree with LeeAnne and Joe! Of course, whenever there is a billing error, no matter what your financial circumstances, it should be fixed quickly. But for some people, that lost money might be devistating.

      3. I agree. However, it should be sufficient to note “I do not have a lot of money and would really like to get this fixed as soon as possible”

    5. Yeah yeah, we know that the OP is a stinking passenger (ptui!) and as such earns nothing but our bemused contempt by her failure to be as well off as we are. And yes, she should have known better than to use an online booking site instead of a flesh-and-blood TA. We have seen enough horror stories on this site to stay away from the likes of Expedia, but she is not well enough acquainted with the travel world to understand this.

      The fact remains, unless her whole story is a lie, that she got double-billed. This happens on occasion and is the kind of thing you could once clear up with a call to Customer Support. But the more sites like Expedia run on autopilot, the more personnel are cut from the back office. When you call that CSR number today, the phone just rings and rings. If you do get through to a person, it will be an offshore call enter that has no power to actually get things fixed.

      We need to get the word out. Meanwhile, the OP should dispute the extra charge on her credit card bill.

  2. The website was running a bit slow tells me she might have clicked the buy button again to speed it up. Since there is no second ticket mentioned at all it is impossible to answer the question about who is at fault here. But I too wonder why Expedia would refund money it says they never received.
    And once again, too many non-relevant details from the OP tell me that there is a bit more to this than what she says in the letter.

    1. It’s not impossible to tell who was at fault, as even Expedia doesn’t claim the OP was at fault. Their original claim was there was no second charge–meaning they were saying neither themselves nor the OP was at fault. And since they eventually issued a refund, they clearly later concluded the fault lie with themselves.

    2. she might have clicked the buy button again

      Ditto what Joe said. Furthermore, only the most amateur shoddily designed websites will double charge visitors who double click on the buy button. I’m very confident that Expedia isn’t in that category (and if they were, they would deserve blame).

  3. Yet another reason why I’ve not used an OTA since about the year 2000. Too much finger pointing when there’s a snafu.

    1. Well I’m happy to report I used a site called Booking.com for first time ever. Results? The hotel dropped their price & Booking.com refunded the difference to me.
      Just in case: No I have no personal or business interest in this company. As I have said in the past, normal for me go direct to source.

  4. Can someone explain why she needed to contact the airline to see if a 2nd ticket was issued? She booked through Expedia, so they are the ones who made the booking for her and processed her payment. If Expedia didn’t see a 2nd transaction, it stands to reason it shouldn’t exist.

    I completely understand why Expedia wouldn’t refund monies they didn’t receive. So why did they process a refund after Chris was involved? Did the transaction eventually go through, in which case this is a problem with Expedia? Is that why she was told to contact the airline directly, just in case a 2nd ticket was booked and to slide under the 24-hr rule?

    1. Because an airline can see ALL tickets held and issued for a passenger, whereas if their system was at fault, it might only show the one.

    2. For airline tickets, the charge for the ticket is pretty much always processed by the airline directly, so they’d have information on any and all charges. It’s done this way because usually the TA doesn’t get paid anything for an airline reservation, so they certainly don’t want to foot the bill for the credit card fees. A TA is supposed to help you out fixing these snafu’s, but if you want the right answer fast, going to the airline directly is probably best.

      I expect Expedia didn’t issue the refund; they worked with the airline to get it straightened out, and they processed it. (Which is what a TA is supposed to be doing on your behalf.)

    3. So, how you would have handled it? You see a second charge (which your bank confirms) yet Expedia says you’ve only been charged a single time. You’d sit back and do nothing assuming your bank was wrong and Expedia was right? Or would you be proactive and try to figure out what happened, including attempting to double-check Expedia to see if you actually bought two tickets? And, of course, “it stands to reason” there shouldn’t have been a second charge. But it would also stand to reason your bank wouldn’t be telling you there was a second one if it didn’t exist. Why would you take Expedia’s word over your own bank’s?

      1. Perhaps it’s my confusion about Chris’s response that’s mixing me up. Chris mentions a possibility of a “phantom charge” which would make sense if Expedia shows no record of the transaction. The OP says her bank told her to contact the vendor, but there’s no clarification whether the bank saw this as a pending authorization (possible phantom) or an actual double-billing. Did she receive two booking confirmations from Expedia? Does she remember double-clicking? Did Expedia simply tell her “no” or did they suggest she call the airline directly, which wouldn’t necessarily occur to me to try, since my purchase was made with Expedia and not directly with the airline. It’s not a matter of accepting Expedia’s opinion over my bank’s, it’s that I’m unclear on the exact scenario. Depending upon the details, I may either wait for a phantom charge to fall off my account or I’d going into panic mode.

  5. Chris wrote…” if you were actually double charged then you would also have two separate record locators (the alphanumeric reservation number associated with your ticket) “. Not necessarily true. Duplicate e-tickets can be issued on the same record locator. if you were actually double-charged, then you’d have two electronic ticket numbers.

    1. But that is when there are multiple names in one record — one name booked for the same flight – generates a separate record locator/ticket number.

      1. It’s entirely possible to have a reservation for one traveler in one reservation, and issue multiple tickets for that traveler. It’s unlikely, but possible.

        1. Yes, this is possible in two ways. One, you can issue a ticket even if it has been issued before, but you do get a new ticket number. I had this happen by mistake once and was surprised that the GDS allowed. Two, you can have a reservation, with each segment being one way fares and issue each segment separately.

    2. But if it was only a billing glitch, the system would only issue one ticket. The backend of the system may have run the charge twice and not issued a second ticket sice that part is handled by a separate system.

    3. I had dupe tickets issued from the same record once. It can and does happen. In my instance my travel agent inadvertently did it. I had two identical itineraries except for the dates. She issued a ticket twice on the same record locater. Not a frequent problem but one that was easy to solve.

  6. Expedia dropped the ball by failing to issue a prompt refund. End of story.

    Op being a student, and tight on cash, are all filler points. Taking a vacation on a “tight budget” isn’t a matter of life or death. You’re owed a refund not because of being a student, but on the basis of a double billing error.

    Life happens to us all. Sticking to the facts is the best option for “Sounding Alarms” or appealing for help.

    1. On what basis should Expedia have issued a refund? As far as their records were concerned they only charged her once. That may be a problem with their records, but until given evidence to the contrary, that is all they have to go by. Had I been Ms. Pang, I would have insisted on sending in a print out of my bank statement showing the duplicate charge after requesting to speak with a supervisor or higher.

      1. I presume the OP emailed / Faxed / Mailed Expedia a copy of the bank statement. Expedia couldn’t find the double bill in their system and denied knowledge. I.E. Pass the buck.

        1. If she’d done that they would have been legally obligated to refund it. It just says she called the bank and they told her it was the vendor that’s when you physically go to the bank and ask for a supervisor and poof it would’ve been solved without the need of an omnibudsman. I’m assuming all her steps are listed I assumed she did not in fact send them anything from her bank.

          1. This is true. Glad she got a refund too hopefully if it happens again for anything she’ll do so without such a hassle.

          2. Keep in mind that she doesn’t appear to be in the US. Can’t assume other countries banking processes are the same as in the US.

      2. All agencies in the world report airline tickets weekly. Expedia dropped the ball, as this was in their records for the week the ticketed were issued. This information is found in the OP’s PNR as to the ticketing date, ticketing office, even the ticketing agent. A very easy problem to solve that was made difficult for the OP by very incapable people at the agency she used!!

      3. That’s what I said. Why would she not immediately physically gone to the bank and sent proof to Expedia? Poof problem solved they’d refund it. Not knowing how to help herself scares me for how some people function on a day to day basis. Has she been sheltered and just not had to handle money before? Maybe and I’m being harsh but this seems pretty simple to me

    2. Once again I have to disagree that Christopher should remove the “filler points”, as you call them. She did not claim this was a matter of life or death. She simply wanted to impress upon Christopher that, while $310 might sound like pocket change to some people, to her it is not…it was having a serious impact on her life.

      As Joe Messina says above: “Minus all that you’d be left with: Unnamed, genderless human A had a generic transaction of some sort where an unspecified amount of money was spent with an unnamed retailer.”

      Many of us want to hear the human side of the story. If you don’t want to, well then by all means, skip over those parts!

      1. If the story is a really good one, the facts should speak for themselves no matter how much the writer needs the refund. And if the facts indicate that the writer is entitled to one, s/he should get one whether or not s/he is the top earner in the US or a struggling unemployed person.

      2. I don’t think it is a case of including it here or not. If the writer included them, then they are part of the letter. It is the letter writer that is in question when they add the emotional details that we can see through and causes comments to be made.

      3. @LeeAnneClark:disqus

        Remove college student and insert wealthy billionaire. Does the story change? – No. Op is entitled to a refund because of a double billing error. Sweet, simple, and to the point.

        The remainder is “fluff”, “filler”,and lacks value added content. I’m glad to read the OP is pursuing a career and I wish her success.

        1. I call BS.

          If the story was Bill Gates was upset because he was double billed out of say, $10 and wrote to Chris, the entire discussion would be why is Bill Gates concerned about $10 and not having one of his legions of staff attorneys handling it if it were so important to him

          1. Principle of the situation. Bill Gates is entitled to same $10 as the OP. So I disagree with you 100%.

          2. That’s not the point. The principle is the same and of course he would be entitled to his money, but the story and the responses change radically.

          3. I don’t think the socio-economic status of a person cheapens the fact he/she was ripped off by double billing.

            So what if Bill Gates has 40 or 50 billion dollars? The story and scenario remains the same. People who want to fault Mr. Gates are shallow and hypocritical.

          4. Again, that’s not the point that I am making. I don’t disagree with anything that you said.

            However, if Bill Gates wrote into Chris over $10, his wealth would be a distraction. It would dominate the conversation. It shouldn’t, but it would.

            That’s the point that I am making, not whether he should get his money, and yes he should.

          5. True. celebrity and notoriety are distractions for some. I for one don’t give a flying crap about either. Just because a person can act, hit a ball, play sports, or has boo-koo bucks, doesn’t make them a pariah.

          6. P.S. I doubt Mr. Gates wastes his legal team on a few hundred dollars. If there were several 0s behind the 100, the tune might change.

            I doubt you work for any less than 200/hr.

          7. lol. That’s why I mentioned staff attorneys. They’re salaried by the corporation and don’t bill. They’re like any other employee. You’d be surprised at what corporate officers do. It’s a waste of money and resources, but it’s not unheard of for someone to try to turn staff attorneys into their private attack dogs.

          8. Intriguing. I want a slew of attack dog attorneys that are salaried and pounce on my beck and call. Where do I sign up?

  7. Computer go berserk sometimes for any reason (more times than you can immagine), mostly in case of power shortage, attack or high traffic on Internet cause times-out on transaction, synchronization and rollback felt on transaction unfinished . Of course there are trace for that, but the customer support on the phone on the other end of the earth is no computer specialist and don’t care you are student or millionnaire. They have your money hostage and let go at the last resort only.

  8. I went with travel agency this time, but its hard to say, if the OP clicked twice, it could very well be her fault too, but I till think it’s Expedia, or their payment processor which still falls on Expedia as begin responsible. Having worked with a lot of companies implementing online and POS systems, I have seen similar glitches in the external merchant processor (Not sure if Expedia uses one, but they likely do). For example, OP could buy one ticket, Expedia could process the card through the external merchant, and issue the ticket via the airline, and a hicup causes the merchant processor to charge the OP twice. And of course, no one has access to talk to the processor, or to look into their system, except Expedia. Expedia would see one charge as they stated, and there would be one ticket issued, but the OP would have been charged twice. Its rare, but it happens. Usually the merchant catches it on an audit (run nightly to weekly) and it’s automatically fixed. When I trained people, it was always SOP in these situations to check the merchant processor system, where they could easily fix it with the OP still on the phone. Anyway, that’s my 2 cents, and what I think might have happened. Glad it’s resolved, and I think Expedia needs some better training.

    1. It almost had to be Expedia’s fault. They never even claimed it was the OP’s fault. Instead they went from saying there was no second charge to eventually issuing a refund. Some glitch happened someplace and they eventually accepted responsibility–if they could pin it on the OP, they would have.

      1. Yes, that is my feeling, too, that this is Expedia’s fault. When an airline ticket is issued and it is purchased through an agency, a weekly report is done per issuing office. Accessing the OP’s PNR by the agency would show which office handled her report and they go from there. While Reps who handle phone calls are order takers, emails to customer service should have handled this better.

  9. On another note, I’ll repeat my standard advice of “Friends Don’t Let Friends With Any Access To Credit Carry Swipe-Debit.” Now, I know that a starving college student may not have any access to credit (because of the sorely-needed new credit laws), therefore the advice may not apply to her, but most of the general population should never, ever, have a use for swipe-debit. A credit card you pay off in full every month is a vastly superior form of “debit” card.

    If a double-charge pops up on a credit card, the BANK’S money is missing while you investigate and argue. If a big double-charge pops up on a swipe-debit, your checking account is empty, your rent/mortgage is bouncing, etc., because it’s YOUR money that’s missing while you investigate and argue. Guess which sort of dispute receives more attention?

    And while banks have pledged to treat debit card disputes just like credit card disputes, the law doesn’t require them to do so, as swipe-debit is covered by the considerably-looser ACH laws vs. credit-card laws.

    Every time a bank sends me swipe-debit, I cut it up and demand they send me an PIN-only card instead.

    1. Good information that I completely agree with.

      Unfortunately, more and more banks only issue the type of debit card that acts like a credit card. My bank just cancelled my ATM PIN only card (after my having it for 25 years with no complaints from me) and sent me one of their new cards “for my convenience.” But it is actually for their income potential. I will never use it for anything other than to get cash from their ATM machines.

      1. If you specifically ask them for an ATM card, they may relent. Many moons ago, First Union did the same thing to me. When I called and requested they send me an ATM card again, they did so. (Just do this when you won’t need it for a couple days; when I did this they canceled my new debit card right then without telling me and I was nearly stranded on a visit to NYC.)

        1. I have several friends who use debit card because is easier for them to control their monthly expenses (according to them, the reason is if there is no balance, they stop spending).

          In my case, I prefer to use cc for all purchases, and my debit card sits in the bottom of a drawer.

  10. Several years ago I read about research finding that computer users become impatient if there is as little as a 0.4 second delay by the computer. Since then, when experiencing a delay I take two breaths before touching the keyboard.

  11. Hey Chris, Can you help me understand a similar process I find with Hyatt hotels. When I book on their website the total amount is taken out of my checking account. When I check-in for a multi night stay they will run my card again, for incidentals. The next day the initial charge is removed from my bill. When I check out, I do it online and generally it takes 3 days before any charges are shown on my account. I don’t mind not having to pay until days later, but it seems like a very complex process.

    1. I surmise hotels process nonrefundable bookings within 24-48 hours. Otherwise, there might be a “test charge” to ensure the validity of the credit card. Gas stations often use a $1.00 test fee that is then refunded.

      1. Depends on the hotel chain. Hilton didn’t complete the booking until the credit card was fully charged. Vegas strip hotels often run at least one night’s charge immediately, even for refundable reservations. Many Starwood chains generally don’t run the number at all until check in.

        But I think all hotels verify that the card is in the correct format, i.e. you couldn’t input any random string of numbers

        1. I can’t recall what the Excalibur did when I stayed in Vegas. Only stayed a night as I cruised on through.

          I’m a lowly peon who usually shacks up at Comfort Inns, Clarion Inns, or Redroof Inn. Choice Hotels (Comfort inn, Clarion etc) arent’ refundable if booked online for their 20% advanced discount rate. Credit card is charged within 24-48 hours.

          Redroof doesn’t charge but per night stayed.

          At this juncture, I’ve already accured probably two dozen stays in a hotel over the last few months.

          Loyalty pays off. I alternate between the two depending on the area I’m in. Had 2 weeks I cashed in last year for Choice Hotels and already have another 7 more days racked up. Got 1 Courtesy stay owed to me from Red Roof soon.

          Op complains about $300 bucks… I think I’ve made Hotels rich with my slew of health problems + recent events of grandparents passing.

  12. A little bit of important information is missing. What credit card was she using? I have never had a representative remove a duplicate charge. It happens!

  13. Off topic a bit, but am I the only one who, as a routine air passenger, finds the image associated with this article a bit disturbing?

    1. I’ve actually read some background on that image somewhere or another. Those planes are much farther apart than it looks.

  14. Why doesn’t she just have her bank send them proof poof problem solved. All she has to do is physically go to her bank ask for a supervisor and have them send both debits to Expedia. Not hard.

  15. Great that she got the refund. Things like that are very stressful and upsetting. Way to go, Chris. I hope she has a nice holiday now. Would be nice to know what caused it so this can be avoided in the future.

  16. I’m thinking about remedy.

    1. She should keep records of all the attempts to correct the error.
    2. I’d immediately call the credit card company and have them deny one of the charges.
    3. With today’s security in place, I don’t believe it’s possible to book a flight for someone else in one’s own name. Two seats on the same plane should have alerted the airline to question the agency about the name of the person in the second seat. That line of inquiry would have uncovered the error.

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