Orbitz charged me $4,000 for flights that it never booked

Days before the flight Deborah DiCaprio reserved on Meridiana Fly is scheduled to depart, she learns that Orbitz only booked one of five tickets. Can our advocates help DiCaprio secure a refund for the cost of her replacement tickets?

Question: I reserved five tickets on a Meridiana Fly flight from New York to Naples, Italy, through Orbitz, which charged my credit card for $3,926 for all five tickets.

Five days before the flight was scheduled to depart, I learned that Orbitz had booked only one of the tickets. I called Orbitz to straighten out the matter and was told that Meridiana was responsible for the unbooked tickets. Orbitz’s agent promised to assist me and rebooked the four tickets. Meridiana charged my credit card for the new flights, which cost $4,385. I was also charged $250 for travel insurance.

I have contacted Orbitz and Meridiana to ask for a refund of the duplicate airfares and the travel insurance, but nobody from either company has responded. Can you help me get these costs refunded? — Deborah DiCaprio, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

Answer: Your case is yet another online booking gone wrong. It might possibly have been avoided if you had booked the flights directly through Meridiana Fly’s website rather than using a third-party online travel site like Orbitz.

Unfortunately, when you reserved the tickets, you entered into an “adhesion contract,” or one-sided legal agreement, with Orbitz, which strictly limits its obligations and liabilities to its customers — even when it doesn’t deliver on the promises it makes through its website.

Orbitz makes this clear in the first paragraph of the contract, also called its terms of use, which contains this language: “By accessing, using or obtaining any content, products, or services through the Services, you agree to be bound by these Terms. If you do not accept all of these Terms, then please do not use the Services.”

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The terms of use contain this provision regarding air ticket purchases:

You agree to abide by the terms and conditions of purchase imposed by any supplier with whom you elect to deal, including, but not limited to, payment of all amounts when due and compliance with the supplier’s rules and restrictions regarding availability and use of fares, products, or services. Airfare is only guaranteed once the purchase has been completed and the tickets have been issued.

But there is no language in the terms that obligates Orbitz to book the tickets once you reserve them.

And Meridiana’s terms and conditions indicate that “Only the booking confirmed in the system used by the Carrier to register bookings on its flights, will be deemed valid. The Carrier is not liable for damages caused by the wrong or lack of recording, provided that this is not due to the Carrier’s negligence or fault.” Since Orbitz didn’t confirm four of your reservations in Meridiana’s booking system, Meridiana refused to issue tickets for those bookings since it considered them invalid.

However, even without a specific provision in its terms of use, Orbitz has an implied responsibility to book air tickets for customers once they have reserved and paid for them through its website. And when it fails to do so, as in your case, it should not be shrugging off that responsibility and pointing its finger at the airline. Nor should Meridiana be keeping airfares paid for reservations for which it refuses to issue tickets.

When both Orbitz and Meridiana ignored your request for a refund for the extra airfares, you might have used our contact information for Orbitz and Meridiana to escalate your complaint to higher-ranking executives. Instead, you turned to our advocates.

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We reached out to Orbitz on your behalf, and Orbitz “has received authorization” from Meridiana to issue you a refund for the four duplicate airfares. It will also refund you the cost of the travel insurance.

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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