Expedia has horrific customer service. My last experience with Expedia (which will truly be my LAST experience) began almost a year ago, on April 20, 2010. I was closing in on the end of my Masters journey and we booked a family vacation to Honolulu for August 2010 to celebrate the end of what I put everyone through for the previous couple of years. Writing a thesis is, by far, a better activity for single people than married ones.
I had used Expedia a couple times previously and the convenience of doing air and hotel packages was the clincher. We would fly via Westjet and stay at the Hilton Hawaiian Village on the beach in mid August. Figuring almost anything can happen in four months, we also bought trip cancellation insurance. This was no cheap trip, with hotel, air and insurance for four clocking in at about $8000. Expedia sells cancellation insurance policies for Mondial and the traveler is supposed to get an email confirmation from Mondial, with a PDF policy attached, within 72 hours or so. Our itinerary showed an Expedia reference number but no confirmation ever came.
From this point forward dealing with Expedia would prove not only to be the most frustrating customer experience I have ever encountered, but ultimately pointless, as they were never able to provide any kind of resolution to issues that their own policy and service contradictions created in the first place.
Strike one – Finger pointing and apathy
The few times we called either Expedia or Mondial between May and July, we got bounced back and forth between the two, with nothing but finger-pointing from either of them to the other. Expedia assured us we had a policy and it was Mondial’s responsibility to confirm it, while Mondial assured us no policy with our Expedia reference number had ever been purchased in our names. While you could easily blame one or both of them, since the purchase was made through Expedia it was always our contention that they should have escalated and resolved this for us. Sure enough, we had to cancel our trip a mere two weeks from our departure date due to my being barred from US entry, an experience which I won’t reiterate here.
My wife has a background with call center procedures and, due largely to her persistence, we were finally able to get our refunds and credits. After multiple calls to both parties over the previous few months getting us nowhere (and many Expedia “accidental” disconnections while on hold at different times), when the time came that we needed to cancel, it took my wife three straight hours of Expedia call center purgatory to connect with a tier 2 support manager and get it done. Between the two of us, we easily spent ten hours on the phone between trying to confirm that we had insurance and getting our trip refunded.
We got $5800 for our hotel refunded, $2360 in Westjet airfare credits, and even the $240 we paid for the trip cancellation insurance. We ended up booking a family trip to Playa del Carmen at the wonderful Royal Playa del Carmen. $6000 didn’t nearly cover the trip, but we celebrated the end of the MA, and had likely a far better time than we would have in Hawaii. It is, however, with the Westjet airfare credits where my story truly begins.
Strike two – Contradictions and barriers
Thankfully, the policies regarding the airfare credits were articulated in an email, because apparently Expedia loves to put one policy in print and train their reps to tell customers something entirely different. We obviously didn’t want to think about taking a trip for a while after dropping well over $10,000 on our Mexican trip, but we knew that we’d have to do something within a year based on the Westjet policy for using the credits.
This time constraint is unfortunate but understandable, so once we got past the Christmas season we began thinking in earnest about where we might want to go before July. It added a little complication that we really had very little additional budget and I couldn’t travel to the US. A little research suggested that we might be able to bypass Expedia altogether and rebook our flights directly through Westjet, since they held the credits. Given the problems we’d already had with Expedia, we were hoping to avoid dealing with them again.
Halifax Marathon? Fail
Since I was trying to do a fair bit of racing this year I thought it might be nice to coordinate the new trip with a destination race somewhere neither of us had ever been, and with the Halifax Bluenose Marathon was in late May, we thought we’d hit that and see the maritimes, head back to Toronto to visit some family and friends and then return to Vancouver over a two-week period. We made three separate calls to Westjet back in January to determine the possibility of using the credits directly with them.
The first rep said that changing the tickets from four return to two round trip tickets wouldn’t be a problem, but couldn’t find our Westjet ticket numbers using our Expedia reference numbers. The second call managed to locate our Westjet ticket numbers, and it was here that we came closest to solving our problem early. We got a pretty helpful rep who said he’d be able to take care of things for us. After being on hold for about ten minutes he had apparently verified with a supervisor that he could book our trip for us and actually set up a new round trip itinerary for the two of us to Halifax, then to Toronto and then back home.
All we needed was our kids to permit transfer of the airfare credits. They weren’t around of course and he assured us this was no problem. He made notes on the file, gave us our itinerary number and said that, as long as the kids called in by midnight Calgary time, we could then call back and complete the re-booking. I had to call both kids at work, give them all the details and they both took the time to call Expedia, well before the midnight deadline. In both cases, when they did so, the reps they reached could find no itinerary and do nothing for them. This is really the only time that Westjet has ever failed us and, since they found our booking numbers and made an effort to provide good customer service, they get marks for the effort – something Expedia clearly doesn’t make.
A couple days later we called Westjet again and the third rep said flat out that the credit transfers were possible but that turning four return tickets into two roundtrip tickets wasn’t possible, in spite of the fact that a couple days prior we had an itinerary for exactly that. Since the transfer had never taken place, though, who knows what kind of issues would have been encountered actually completing it. The conflicting answers suggested that between the credit transfers and new round trip plans, we might need to go back to Expedia after all. This would beget several more frustrating calls to Expedia over several hours.
Calgary and Toronto? Fail
Calling Expedia again, they also told us that re-booking the four return tickets into two new round trip tickets was not going to be possible, so facing this reality, we took a new look at destinations. Both my wife and I have family in Ontario and this became the key trip we wanted to do. I’m originally from Calgary and so we thought that if we needed to take two return trips, we’d try to do Calgary at the end of May so that the Calgary Marathon was an option and then do another trip to Toronto at the end of June. We looked up flight options and while return flights to Toronto were a tiny bit more than the ones to Honolulu, this would be offset by the cheaper flights to Calgary and, dollar-wise, we shouldn’t be out any new money. We already sensed we’d get no cash value for any leftover credits we couldn’t use.
We were happy to travel with Westjet again, we wanted to transfer my kids’ tickets to us for our use, we were going to both Calgary and Toronto using four return tickets, and we wanted to use the value of the tickets and apply the leftover balance from one set of tickets to another. This should have been completely doable, based on the following primary conditions – set out in the credit confirmation email – for using airfare credits purchased through Expedia:
Thank you for contacting Expedia.ca regarding the cancellation of your airline reservation. Although the original tickets purchased are non-refundable, the Airlines allow you the option to use the value of these tickets towards a future reservation. Your future itinerary must comply with the following conditions:
- The new itinerary must be booked with the same airline; the airline you are booked with is WestJet Airlines.
- The tickets are transferable but the original ticket holder must give authorization for the name change. The name of the original passenger is xxxxx and xxxxx.
- The new itinerary must be rebooked and ticketed within 1 year of the cancellation date. Your date of cancellation is 20jul10.
- You cannot change your departure country. Your Departure country is Canada.
- You may partially use your credit and the remaining balance is valid with the above conditions.
You’d be forgiven if, like us, you thought this is where the story would end with a new trip booked. By this point, in just trying to rebook our airfare credits we’d made three calls to Westjet and one call to Expedia and it was now late January. The next call we made actually reversed our progress, because this Expedia rep tried to tell us – once again – that we weren’t going to be able to transfer the kids credits to us and that he could only book tickets in the original ticket holders names. Despite my reading the above conditions to him over the phone, he was unshakable in his belief to the contrary, and I now deeply regret wasting so much time explaining something to him that he clearly didn’t care about. I did, however, get him to assign me a case number and make notes on the file, though actually getting the information from him proved very challenging with his awful broken English. The process for handling these escalation cases? A faceless customer service email inbox. Nice. We needed to escalate an issue that was essentially created by Expedia’s continual contradictions.
I forgot to mention that I had already sent a detailed note about our flight credits through the customer service form on the Expedia web site. Even though I supplied an email address and my cell phone number, to this day, not only have I never received a response, but the system never even confirmed receipt of the email. I sent a similar note to Westjet and at least got confirmation of receipt. Nonetheless, willing to try anything at this point I wrote a clear email articulating our issues, case number, itinerary numbers and fired it off. You can probably imagine that this also has netted no receipt confirmation nor response to this day.
Doing the math? We are now at three phone calls and one email to Westjet and two phone calls and two emails to Expedia and no closer to using our credits than we were when they were issued six months earlier, except that it’s clear we’ll have the major inconvenience of taking two trips instead of one. My wife decided to call a couple days later and it happened to coincide with the recent blizzards on the east coast. Due to high call volumes she just happened to connect with an Expedia tier 2 manager to whom she told our entire story, including the escalation case number (which he couldn’t locate) again. Their system was so backlogged dealing with snow issues that nothing could be done about our credits then, but the manager made notes confirming we’d be able to transfer the kids credits and gave us his name to use when we called back. I guess it’s progress of a sort that, after this third Expedia call, we now knew two things for sure – we’d be taking two trips, but we would be able to transfer the credits from the kids for our use.
By now it was the week before last, six long phone calls, three emails and several hours on the road to nowhere. We called again, armed with a tier 2 manager’s name and notes on our file confirming that we could transfer their credits. At least from this point forward, this issue was never debated again. The interesting thing, though, is that each and every time you call Expedia, when you tell them you have flight credits in another person’s name and you want to transfer them, the reps are trained to tell you that credits are non-transferable. This, despite written conditions to the contrary in email confirmations. This happened without fail every time we called.
Strike three – rudeness and dishonesty
It was the fourth call to Expedia that was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. As before, we got the spiel about not being able to transfer credits, and we successfully argued our case with the tier 2 manager’s name. We then explained that we wanted to book one pair of tickets to Calgary with our credits and another pair of tickets to Toronto with the credits we were transferring from the kids. He said that would be no problem and we began figuring out flights for our trip. What happened next defies all logic.
I’d already gone through the entire process of purchasing tickets to Calgary, with the exception of finishing payment, so I’d know what the general cost was going to be. A pair of return tickets would cost about $780, all in. Allowing for the $50 transfer fee per ticket, the same tickets should have used about $880 of our credits, leaving us a difference of just under $1300 to apply to the pair of Toronto tickets, or so I thought. As we were getting ready to finalize the Calgary tickets, the rep informed me that with the transfer fees and extra taxes, we would owe them $140 per ticket, or nearly $300 for the pair.
We then went through a back-and-forth exchange where I continually repeated the math above and asked him to break down the ticket costs for me, as the cheaper Calgary tickets should mean that he could take these fees out of the difference. Not only did refuse to, he went on at some length in very broken English about how the new tickets were domestic and the old ones were international and the fees and taxes came out to $140 per ticket. He was speaking in circles and when I told him he needed to clarify how it worked, he huffed that he couldn’t be any clearer and that the misunderstanding was my problem, not his.
It took me about three tries going over the math before the rep finally said that he had no access to the breakdown of the ticket cost and that, further, there was no dollar value to the tickets. I’d imagine there would have been if my new tickets were more than my old tickets. According to him, regardless of what the new tickets cost, it was a simple exchange and the new fees were aside from the credits and had to be paid by credit card. He refused to understand that the ticket has a very real dollar value to the customer and when I repeated the email policy I alluded to earlier which clearly stated we could use the value of our credits, he said that I was wrong and that I clearly didn’t understand how it worked. I then tried explaining that, value-wise, it effectively meant that two return tickets to Calgary was going to cost me $1440, the total of my credits and the new fees. He repeated that I didn’t understand how it worked and that he couldn’t make it any clearer to me.
Given that I understood completely how it worked and that I was not about to submit to what amounted to theft, I told him he needed better training, was being a complete asshole and hung up. We were at our wits end and needed a new strategy and quickly. Since we nearly had success early on with Westjet directly, we figured we’d give it one last shot with them.
Westjet comes through
It was really only our desire to use the kids credits that caused issues the first time we went directly to Westjet. Not wanting this to drag on, we figured that we could either bang our heads against a wall for little gain, or the four of us could visit family and friends together and get our tickets. We did a quick search of Westjet flights in late May and came up with something that worked. I could even zip down to Ottawa during this time if I was desperate to do a marathon on the trip.
We called Westjet back and got a great rep – friendly, helpful and accommodating. We didn’t go into any of the sordid Expedia details, nor our previous attempt to get Westjet to transfer the credits. We said we had credits and wanted to arrange new return flights to Toronto for the four of us. Within ten minutes we had new flights booked to Toronto and an email confirmation to that effect. The $50 fee and $60 difference in price was paid and we could access our credits dollar for dollar, something Expedia was unable or unwilling to do. While this wasn’t what we wanted to do originally, we marveled at the difference between the two customer experiences. Expedia employs a method seemingly designed to erect barriers, while routinely contradicting their own policies and not making the slightest effort on the part of their customers to understand or help them. Westjet does pretty much the exact opposite.
As for the new fees? It’s entirely possible they exist and are simply part and parcel of the cost of flying to Toronto, which may be why a flight to Toronto is slightly more expensive than a flight to Honolulu. It’s also entirely possible that Expedia adds fees they can’t or won’t explain to ensure they’ll make money no matter what. Given that the rep refused to explain how the fee breaks down, I can only surmise. Frankly, if you provide a service on behalf of a supplier then you should be able to explain the issues inherent to your customers.
The process with Expedia was such a grind that the fact we ended up going directly through Westjet to use our credits – something Expedia would never tell you was possible – was kind of like finally flipping Expedia the figurative bird. It felt very good to have the last laugh on the company from hell. Oh, and just in case you don’t believe how bad Expedia’s customer service is, a quick Google query might help convince you.