One More Reason Not to Book With Expedia

Hotel chains all want you to ‘book direct’ but their efforts aren’t working. The simple reason is because the consumer booking a hotel room on Expedia or Orbitz doesn’t start off knowing which property they want.

If you don’t know you want to stay at the Hilton, you don’t go to Hilton.com.

  • The hotel chain websites are all fine for booking their own properties (although don’t believe the lie that hotel sites always have the best price or that they’ll price match when they don’t).

  • Hotel chain websites are not fine for helping you choose where to stay from the full range of lodging choices in a city.


    Hilton’s commercials tell you that booking direct is so alluring!

Online travel agency sites have a role to play because as poor as most of them are, they do a better job displaying a broader range of choices than just Hilton, just Marriott, or just Hyatt. In other words they actually add value to consumers.

The problem is that Expedia, in my view, is terrible.

I used to book airfare with Expedia because:

  • They have a rewards program which would stack credit card points earning as well as miles from flying. But they gutted it. Twice.

  • They have country-specific websites that let you control which country your ticket is issued in.

  • Because online travel agency sites can be better for combining multiple airlines on a single ticket.

I still wouldn’t want to book a hotel with Expedia. Expedia should be trying to match your hotel preferences with properties, that’s their competitive advantage for consumers over hotel direct sites. However they charge hotels to be listed higher in search results. So they’re not even making delivering the best search their sole priority.


Expedia Dancers Don’t Provide Customer Service. Flickr: Juggernautco

Two years ago I shared this cautionary tale about booking airfare with Expedia. They hadn’t disclosed special restrictions on a Japan Airlines fare, and customer service agents suggested that a customer should call Expedia before booking if they want to know the rules associated with a ticket.

That’s more important than ever as I hear story after story of people booking ‘Basic Economy’ tickets at Expedia without realizing they’re doing so, since those restrictions aren’t flagged as clearly as on airline websites.

Here’s a cautionary tale about having a third party between you and a hotel when something goes wrong. Often you want a travel agent booking a special hotel stay. They can be your advocate. Their business — sending a hotel many customers — may be more significant than your business, and the hotel may work harder to set things right.

However Expedia doesn’t seem to be any such advocate. Holly Parsons received an email in advance of a 3 night stay she had booked telling her that the hotel was cancelling her booking because they were oversold.

Parsons said she planned a trip to Bend, Oregon, with her cousin and both of their children to spend time together and watch her younger son compete in a lacrosse tournament.

Just weeks before the trip, she received an email saying her reservation at the WorldMark Seventh Mountain Resort was canceled because of overbooking.

Expedia issued a statement saying that the cancellation was “caused by external factors beyond the direct control of Expedia.” As a result Expedia owed her nothing, not even a refund.

Eventually after six hours on the phone with Expedia customer service over several days, they “reaccommodated her in a Holiday Inn Express” and offered “$500 worth of Expedia vouchers each.”

“The process of being on hold for so, so long and dealing with multiple, multiple people and repeating myself — it was awful,” said Parsons, the mother of two.

…”I wasn’t receiving cash in return. I’m receiving vouchers to do business with an entity that I’m not sure that I ever would want to do — or ever would recommend to do — business with ever again,” Parsons said.

Hotels overbook. Usually when that happens they assume an obligation to offer equivalent lodging elsewhere at the hotel’s expense for the night(s) that they cannot accommodate a guest. In my experience I’ve always also been offered points equivalent to free night(s) to stay at the hotel in the future.

You lose your hotel loyalty program points earning, and now with everyone except Marriott any elite recognition, when you book through ineligible third parties like Expedia. You’re more likely to be assigned an inferior room in my experience. And you have to deal with unempowered outsourced customer service agents when anything goes wrong.

For sure, search a site like Kayak to see in general what your lodging options look like. Then compare pricing with a direct booking (or value-add booking like American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts, Virtuoso, MasterCard Luxury Hotels & Resorts, or Visa Signature hotels). If the third party site is cheaper, submit a request to honor a best rate guarantee. And only if that’s denied book with a site like Expedia, but know what you’re getting into for any savings.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. There was that time I showed up at a Marriott near Atlanta that I had booked with my Chase points. The check-in clerk said that he had no reservation for me despite the confirmation number being in the Marriott number format. I called Chase (literally clicking the link in the confirmation email they’d sent me) and after 45 minutes on the phone and two escalations, they came to the realization that my booking hadn’t gone through due to the property being oversold. Instead was at a different – shitty! – property with limited alternatives in the area due to a large conference. Oh, and I was on my own to get a taxi from the lobby of the current hotel to the new one or I could take the shuttle bus back to ATL to catch the shuttle to the new property.

    I gave Chase a ton of shit for this mess up. They not only refunded the entire night, they gave me the same amount again as a credit.

    I no longer take Chase for granted and call properties to confirm the booking.

  2. I’ll always appreciate their $50 night off 5 nights stay code a few years back which they called a mistaken but supervisors made good for awhile if you asked nicely. I got a grand opening San Diego minihotel vacation for free. Bullies pounded Christie beach sand.

  3. I booked my friend on a domestic (within Canada) WestJet flight via Expedia.ca, then cancelled it properly. When I tried to rebook, his new flight was C$62.xx cheaper than his original one. Expedia told me he would have to pay the change fee of C$115.98 (incl. tax) with fresh funds from his credit card. But I knew that WS deducts the change fee out of the original purchase, so I phoned them directly. Their first rep. said she couldn’t touch an Expedia booking, but when I called again & explained the above, the 2nd rep. did it & collected only the net difference of C$83.xx .
    We would not have had such a problem if I had booked directly with WS.

  4. I used to like Orbitz’s features, such as choosing a certain convenient flight for one direction of a return ticket. Plus their Website was very one-way-friendly when booking rental cars. Those features disappeared when Expedia bought out Orbitz, BUT I recently discovered that Priceline.com (non-opaque) offers these same awesome features.

  5. “Often you want a travel agent booking a special hotel stay. They can be your advocate.”

    Certainly that was true 2 decades ago, when using human travel agents.

    Is there any OTA you’d recommend, with a good reputation for resolving issues that arise? Where the OTA becomes an actual help rather than a hindrance?

  6. That’s an interesting observation. When a person is booking a city they know nothing about it’s nice to see all your options like Expedia gives you. I don’t necessarily book with Expedia, but I find myself sometimes looking.

    There’s a story today on LoyaltyLobby that talks about a reader who books directly with an SPG for the flex rate for 18 days, paid ahead of time and then could not get their money back when the hotel backed out of their reservation. They even got SPG involved and SPG said nothing they can do.

  7. The other thing about Expedia (as others have commented) is they sometimes fail to transmit your reservation to the hotel. So you may have an Expedia confirmation, but the hotel has nothing.

    I was shocked to learn this is actually a manual process . . . someone at Expedia has to manually transmit your reservation to the hotel. Unsurprisingly given the generally poor level of Expedia cs, they sometimes fail to do this.

    And you have no recourse at all when the hotel says “I’m sorry, we have no record of your reservation.” This happened to me at Hilton Hawaiian Village once. The very nice front desk clerk eventually found me a room, despite the property showing as sold out on the Hilton website.

    Lesson: DO NOT BOOK HOTELS THROUGH EXPEDIA.

  8. What about Hotels.com, which uses Expedia software? I have stayed 8 nights on Hotels.com Rewards bookings, so I intend to stay 2 more to get my freebie night, then start using their frequent 10% off coupons instead. And I use them only for independent non-chain hotels.

  9. Not entirely on topic, but I am trying to book a car in Spain for a week and am getting a rate on Orbitz that is a couple of hundred dollars less than on Avis’ own website for the exact same reservation and car class. Wondering if it is too good to be true. Thinking Orbitz may be missing the one way drop charge, but they don’t break down the taxes and fees into the components.

  10. Always if in doubt call them. Have them check w supervisor, document in record. Always friendly and appreciative.

  11. You touch here on several important points.

    First, I tend to book all my travel directly with the supplier and have found, more often than not, that they meet or beat booking through a travel agent. While your blog doesn’t cover cruise ships, while travel agents often do offer an extra perk, the value of which is strictly capped by the cruise lines, even there I find better value in terms of time and service to forego and book directly with the cruise line so I can deal with them directly and not have to go through the hassle of working through a third party should I make changes to or cancel my booking. For a complex trip, there are travel agents with a combination of knowledge and customer-first service who can be helpful, but they are like a needle in a haystack and one has to do much research and due diligence to find them. The agents of the large cruise agencies, often part timers working from home, I have found are basically order takers more interested in their commissions than their clients.

    Second, some points/miles enthusiasts are so focused on maximizing their point values, that when it comes to hotels, often overlook the fact that in some destinations one is better served in regards to travel experience by booking an independent property and paying for the room. As someone who worked in Paris for over 8 years, I would, for example, avoid a hotel like the Park Hyatt or Prince de Galles, superb hotels, regardless of having “free nights” or a plethora of points, and opt for an independent hotel in a more interesting, residential neighborhood, such as St Germain de Pres or the Marais.

    All that said, and while I find Booking.com a good place to start any international hotel search, I’m not convinced that Expedia, though I’d not use its services, is much worse than other such businesses.

  12. In Dublin, around 10pm I was sitting in the hotel lobby and heard the conversation between the desk agent and a family trying to check in. The agent told the family their reservation was cancelled. The family booked a prepaid rate via Expedia and the hotel had issues receiving payment from Expedia. The hotel tried to contact the family but were unable to reach them. So the hotel cancelled their reservation. The hotel was fully booked that night. So they had to search for another hotel.

  13. I’ve had good luck with Booking.com, when problems have arisen. Just saying their name makes the small places I prefer sit up and take notice – and fix the problem. I don’t know if that’s universally true, but they’ve been good for me.

  14. Cancelled a flight in March (within 24hrs), still have yet to get a refund from Expedia. Let my credit card handle it, but wow, communication is incredibly absent.

  15. Several years ago I waited in line at a Vegas resort behind a family who had booked through an online service and whose reservation was hosed. I have never used one since and always book direct. If I want to know about the hotels in the area I want to stay I use Google maps and click through the hyperlinks.

  16. I haven’t used Expedia in years because I use hotels.com however the last time I used them I had to cancel flights and was expecting a fee but was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t owe one because I was a silver member or something like that.
    I use hotels.com all the time and claim the free night after 10 stays annually. I’ve also gotten them to price match several times with no problem.
    Anyone else also use hotels.com?

  17. I avoid these third party sites at all costs. When problems arise, you call them, and get a third world call center employee who is powerless and reading from a script. No thanks!

    When on a holiday or traveling for work who wants problems?

  18. So, I use the expedia app, since the alaska airlines app is pure garbage. It doesn’t store your credentials, so you have to input them everytime. So, I use the expedia app, when I have to book them. I fly about 140+- flights a year, anyone have a better option for booking flights via an app that can do multiple airlines and can keep your login/payment details?

  19. > customer service agents suggested that a customer should call Expedia before booking if they want to know the rules associated with a ticket.

    This is illegal. An airline and its agents MUST make the tariff (which include the fare rules) available to you at the point of sale, in this case the website.

    Did you complain to the DOT?

  20. I wonder if her dates lined up with the eclipse. Oregon hotels were illegally cancelling rooms over those dates because they “mispriced” the rooms and wanted to sell them at higher rates.

  21. Excellent observation about the third party websites. This is an alarming trend where most of these websites are charging some hotels extra to keep their listings on top of the rest hotel properties. This is unfair for the end customer & it’s best to avoid such websites.

  22. Wow, Jake, 100% owned? I suspected something when I checked into hotels I had booked on Hotels.com & the receptionist said I had booked on Expedia!
    Are Orbitz and Travelocity now also 100% owned by Expedia? Have y’all had similar problems with their bookings?

  23. Expedia is parent company for Hotels.com, Hotwire, Orbitz, Travelocity, Venere & Trivago. Priceline is parent for Booking.com & Agoda. I’m always surprised more consumers are not aware of this. All of these providers receive commissions for their bookings, and offer better placement / listing position for hotels that pay higher commissions. My opinion is the consumer is certainly not their highest priority.

  24. I second the advice of not using Expedia or one of their subsidiaries (Travelocity) for booking hotel reservations. It is not much fun to arrive in the Maldives with a Travelocity reservation for an overnight in Male and find that (1) there is no representative from the hotel to pick you up, (2) the hotel has no record of your booking at all, and (3) the hotel is full. Travelocity’s response? “We’re sorry.” That sure helps when you are stranded in a foreign country late at night with no place to stay.

  25. Travelocity messed me up twice with hotel reservations many years ago. The hotel’s could not find the reservation. After that I stay away from OTA’s except to do an initial search. Having said that, I’ve had very good experiences with Hotwire.

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