Did Expedia make an error and leave this traveler stranded?

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By Christopher Elliott

Could Expedia make an error that leaves you stranded somewhere? In this case, it appears so. Joanna Heath says Expedia canceled her return flight to Los Angeles, forcing her to buy a new ticket. Now the online agency refuses to give her a refund. What’s happening here?

Question

I recently booked a flight from Los Angeles to Philadelphia through Expedia for my family. A few weeks later, I contacted Expedia to make a change for my return flight. The agent made the booking and sent me confirmation and the attached travel documents. But I’m certain that the Expedia agent made an error.

When I tried to check-in for my return flight — the one I had changed — I got a message “check-in not available. Please contact an agent.”

I contacted American Airlines. An agent told me that the flight was delayed and that the delay would cause us to miss the connecting flight. But when they went to give us an alternate flight, they discovered that we actually had no tickets. According to American Airlines, Expedia had made an error and never paid for the flight or completed the booking.

We now had no flights home at all. We were advised by American Airlines to call Expedia immediately.

After a lengthy call, Expedia conceded that it made an error. There was now no alternate flight they could get us on for that day via American Airlines. A representative said there was a Delta flight, and that Expedia would pay for the tickets but we would need to book them directly through Delta on our credit card and submit that receipt via this email for expedited reimbursement.

We paid $1,489 for our tickets. Now Expedia is refusing to refund us even though this was all the result of their mistake. Can you help? — Joanna Heath, Langhorne, Pa.

Answer

You should not have to pay extra for your return flight. Expedia made a mistake, and it was aware of the error. So it should have found a way to get you and your family back home without incurring any additional expenses.

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Here’s the problem, as far as I can tell: Everything is automated. Maybe a little too automated. Expedia’s systems worked to cancel your original booking and issue a new ticket, when you asked for change. When something glitched, the system suggested an alternative that was impractical. When you asked Expedia for a refund, the system didn’t quite understand what was going on. (Related: Help! My bed & breakfast doesn’t have a bathroom!)

Bottom line: Expedia thought it had done nothing wrong because, according to its highly automated systems, nothing had gone wrong. We’ve seen an uptick in cases like this because, during the pandemic, online travel agencies relied more on automated systems and artificial intelligence.

The only way to fix this is for a human to look at your case. But as far as I can tell, no Expedia representative took the time to carefully review your ticket issue. Again, I suspect that the system scanned your correspondence and automatically suggested a resolution. (Related: Norway stopped us from visiting. Will Expedia extend our travel voucher?)

The good news: Expedia corrects its error

This isn’t the first time we received a complaint about Expedia. I think a brief, polite email to someone higher up at Expedia might have helped. You can always find the names, numbers, and email addresses of the Expedia customer service managers in our company contacts database. But you never know — Expedia might have figured out a way to automate those responses, too. I hope not.

My advocacy team and I contacted Expedia on your behalf. It reviewed your case and issued a refund, as promised.

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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. He is based in Panamá City.

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