By Travel columnist
updated 8/26/2005 8:22:08 PM ET 2005-08-27T00:22:08

When Tracey Crockett received an e-mail saying her flight had been rescheduled, she expected some minor adjustments. What she got instead was a four-hour change, an extra trip to the airport and two surprise surcharges. Did Expedia mess up? Oh, yeah.

  1. Don't miss these Travel stories
    1. Lords of the gourd compete for Punkin Chunkin honors

      With teams using more than 100 unique apparatuses to launch globular projectiles a half-mile or more, the 27th annual World Championship Punkin Chunkin event is our pick as November’s Weird Festival of the Month.

    2. Airports, airlines work hard to return your lost items
    3. Expert: Tourist hordes threaten Sistine Chapel's art
    4. MGM Grand wants Las Vegas guests to Stay Well
    5. Report: Airlines collecting $36.1B in fees this year

Q: I booked a flight through several months ago. But yesterday, just four days before my trip, the online travel agency contacted me and told me my flight had been rescheduled.

It was a significant change. I had to leave four hours sooner than I anticipated, and I was rebooked on a totally different airline. Expedia issued me new tickets and a new confirmation number, but I had to drive to the airport to pick up the tickets in person.

When I presented the e-mail with instructions from Expedia, the airline ticket agent said she would be glad to rebook me — for a $50 per-ticket fee. I was also asked to pay the difference in fare between the earlier flight and the new flight.

But I did not request a change. I did not even want a change.

I have talked to three different people at Expedia. The first woman tried to help me for about five minutes and then told me she thought I had the wrong number. The second guy told me to handle it myself with the new airline. The third guy was very nice. He told me not to worry about it; he was sure it would be resolved in plenty of time.

To add insult to injury, I was later called and told that my return flight was now changed and I would have a three-hour layover. At this point, I don’t know what to do. Any help would be most appreciated.

— Tracey Crockett, Williamsburg, Va.

A: This shouldn’t have happened to you.

One of the big reasons you work with an online travel agency like Expedia is that it can stand behind the products it sells you, just like a human travel agent. But for the many times that Expedia meets its customer-service obligations, there is also a time or two when a case slips through the cracks. I’m sorry it had to be you.

Expedia, like many other online agencies, sometimes handles airline tickets differently from a personal travel agent. It buys large numbers of tickets in bulk and then resells them to the public at a markup. As I review the details of your case, it looks as if when your first airline canceled its flight, Expedia went into its inventory of available tickets and selected a new itinerary on a different airline.

So far, so good. Just one problem: The new airline never got the memo. So it wanted to charge you for a change.

Here’s what should have happened. When Expedia learned of your schedule change, it should have handled a ticket exchange quickly, without requiring you to drive anywhere, and most importantly, without making you to pay anything extra. It shouldn’t have forced you to speak with three phone representatives, each of whom told you a different story.

The next time this happens to you — and honestly, Tracey, I hope there isn’t a next time — don’t let the agency off the hook so easily. When you’re being given three different stories, you have to deduce that at least two of them are untrue. You have to escalate your call to a supervisor who can see the big picture and get you the results you are entitled to.

If you find you’re being stonewalled, then politely — but firmly — ask to speak with a supervisor. If you’re told that there is no supervisor available or that the person you’re speaking with has no supervisor, then politely thank the representative, hang up and call back.

After I contacted Expedia, it fixed your schedule, apologized to you and issued you a $100 credit.

Christopher Elliott is National Geographic Traveler's ombudsman and a nationally syndicated columnist who specializes in solving your travel problems. Got a trip that needs fixing? Send him a note or visit his Web site. Your question may be published in a future story. Want to sound off about a story? Try visiting Elliott's forum.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments