Sometimes I agree with Christopher Elliott, sometimes I don’t. In his travel troubleshooter columns I think he often sides with travelers against traveler companies when the travelers themselves are at fault for their predicament but undoubtedly he does a great service for folks who get caught up in a frustrating bureaucracy.
Last week I decided to play Christopher Elliott.
I was contacted by a traveler who was mid-trip, on flights he had booked through Expedia. I often prefer to book my hotels at least directly with a hotel chain, only a few hotel programs will honor elite benefits on bookings made through third party websites (Eg Hyatt, Marriott) and most will not award points and stay credits on such stays. But airfare — at least on a simple trip when changes aren’t involved — is usually fine through the Expedias and the Orbitzes of the world. Furthermore, those sites often provide a better user experience throughout the booking process, they do offer price comparisons rather than just showing an airline’s own flights, and are necessary resources when trying to book itineraries that span multiple airlines on the same ticket. Plus you can get rewards for the bookings, first via cash back referral sites like Big Crumbs, then double dipping through Expedia’s own new rewards program, and the online booking sites offer their own pseudo-elite status (which isn’t generally rewarding, but airlines don’t usually offer any benefits to travel bookers, just the travelers themselves).
In this case, the airline ticket involved two airlines and made sense to book through an agency like Expedia. The reservation was changed twice — first a date change in advance of departure, and then second another date change after travel had commenced.
The traveler had arrived in the second city on their itinerary, went to the airport to head to their third leg of the trip, and was told that they had a reservation but no ticket. That’s when I first heard from them, what should they do? I quickly checked and saw their reservation which looked right, at that point they weren’t going to make their originally scheduled flight and there was only one more flight option that day that they could take. They followed my suggestion to buy the ticket for that segment, avoid a forced overnight in the city and avoid missing meetings the next day, and I set about helping them sort out what had happened.
That’s when I decided to play Christopher Elliott, in fact I emailed him! I asked if he had any contacts with Expedia and he generously shared one. In the end I didn’t need it, however.
I called Expedia in the morning, and got a bit of runaround. I called Expedia’s “Elite Plus” customer service line, which surprisingly directs me to an outsourced call center. The agent listened to the story but seemed not to understand it. He put me on hold, most of the time I believe he himself was holding for someone to assist him. He acknowledged that the ticket had been re-issued improperly, although when he came back after speaking to his support desk he insisted that the remaining flight segments were cancelled at the customer’s request. I insisted that wasn’t the case, and further wondered if it had been how come those segments were still reserved — as they appeared to be on the Expedia website and on each of two different airline websites?
Expedia initially insisted that there wasn’t anything they could do about the flight the passenger had purchased mid-trip, I tried to push that issue aside. My first concern was his ability to continue the rest of the itinerary, he tried checking in 24 hours in advance for his final flights home, the website wouldn’t let him, again he had a reservation but no ticket.
After an hour I was finally given to a ‘supervisor’, again an outsourced agent but this time one who seemed to have a better understanding of the situation. They weren’t empowered to help, but they committed to “speak to corporate” and get back to me. I was nervous, were they really going to call me back? They told me there was no way for me to get back in touch directly with them, though they gave me their name and a reference number and insisted that they really would call me back. I insisted that they call me back within the hour whether or not they had made progress with corporate, and they agreed to that status update.
About 45 minutes later I heard from them and things seemed positive. They couldn’t get the passenger onto the same flight he was booked for, that was sold out and they insisted they wouldn’t be able to fix the ticket to match the reservation but that they were going to need to buy him a new ticket (which they were still waiting on authorization from corporate to do). The agent wanted to check whether flights an hour later would work? And I agreed that they would.
Thirty minutes later the agent called me back again. The passenger had a new reservation, ticketing was backed up so it hadn’t been ticketed yet, but they were buying him new flights for about $450. And they had agreed to refund the cost of the ticket he had purchased the night before, they gave me a fax number, reference number, and name of person to direct the faxed receipts to.
About an hour after that I received an email with ticket numbers, the trip was rebooked successfully. The passenger would be able to fly the next morning. His additional out of pocket costs were going to be reimbursed (for now Expedia has the benefit of the doubt that they’ll process the refund). And his upgrades home even cleared…
The whole ordeal took over four hours, about 90 minutes of which were spent on the phone (mostly on hold), but Expedia came through. And that was working through their ‘normal’ customer service channels, I never had to reach out to Elliott’s contact. Mistakes were made in re-issuing tickets, the customer was inconvenienced, but in this case Expedia really did work to make it right so I have to give them a great deal of credit.
It might have been easier had the tickets been booked directly with an airline, but in this case the particular multiple airline itinerary wouldn’t have been possible (and even when multi-airline itineraries are possible booked directly with one carrier, I find they don’t often price right). In the end though I’d be very happy if every booking agency handled every one of their own mistakes as well as Expedia did in this case. And I managed to get in touch with my inner Christopher Elliott in the process!