An open letter to Expedia entitled "How Expedia.ca ruined my vacation and cost me over $1,100."
Over the course of last Tuesday (October 11th) and this Monday (October 17th) I have spent close to four hours on the phone with various Expedia customer service representatives trying, very politely, to resolve an issue stemming from my wife and I’s return flight to Toronto from Munich on October 11th. Here’s what happened:
Ten months ago, on January 24th, 2016, I booked two return tickets to Europe through Expedia.ca. Our plan was to fly from Toronto to Amsterdam on September 30th, 2016. We would spend a few days in Amsterdam visiting family before driving south to Munich, Germany (where we also have family) and then return home to Toronto on a flight that departed from Munich to Toronto via Amsterdam on October 11th.
In the beginning, our booking and trip proceeded as usual. We followed the links in the automated email from Expedia that arrived, as expected, in the days before our departing flight from Toronto to Amsterdam, checked in early and printed our boarding passes for the departing flight to Amsterdam on September 30th and the itinerary for our return flights on October 11th.
We had a pleasant flight from Toronto to Amsterdam on Jet Airways and proceeded to enjoy the next 10 days of our vacation.
On October 10th, the day before we were scheduled to fly back to Toronto, we intended to follow the same online check in procedure for our return flight. Logging in to my email inbox, I searched for the automated email from Expedia prompting me to check in and select seats for our flights the following day. But, this time, there was no check in email. That was odd, I thought, but no matter: I had our printed itinerary with the booking number and flight information with me. We would simply check in with the airlines directly.
The first leg of our return journey was a Lufthansa flight departing from Munich at 8:55am that would take us to Amsterdam, where we had a 55 minute layover before we were set to board a Jet Airways flight back to Toronto. We would arrive in Toronto at 1:30pm, giving us plenty of time to collect our dogs from the out of town friends who agreed to dogsit while we were away, shop for groceries and generally prepare ourselves for returning to work the following day. We were all set.
But, when I tried to log in to the Lufthansa and Jet Airways websites to check in, neither system recognized our Expedia booking ID. We tried logging in to both sites with our passport and flight numbers with no success, which I again found odd, but both flights were showing as scheduled to depart on time and we were sure we would be able to sort everything out at the check in counter the next day.
We arrived at the airport at 7:15 am on October 11th, where we tried to check in through the Lufthansa kiosks in the terminal with no success. Undetered, we proceeded to the airline’s customer service desk where we got the news: we had been rebooked on an earlier Lufthansa flight by Jet Airways. The new flight was scheduled to depart at 6:40am. We had missed our flight.
What? How could that be? When we bought our tickets back in January, Expedia had booked our trip through Jet Airways, who contracted the Munich to Amsterdam leg of the journey to Lufthansa. But that’s no problem. In fact, it’s pretty normal. But why weren’t we notified of the change?
The customer service representatives at the Lufthansa desk scolded us, in their typically German way, for not providing an email address with our booking and not checking in to reserve our seats and confirm our departure time the day before.
Excuse me? I had provided my email address, phone number, passport information, home address and a host of other details to Expedia a full ten months prior. We did try to check in early to confirm our flights. What was going on?
Once we’d satisfied the Germans that we had followed all instructions given to us, provided all of the required information and even shown them the printed itinerary we were still carrying, they quickly switched into problem solving and investigation mode. According to their records, we had been rebooked on the earlier flight sometime in September because the 55 minute layover in Amsterdam between flights was considered too short.
I’m no expert on the logistics of Schiphol airport in Amsterdam but I assume this was a legitimate concern and warranted changing the flight we were taking. Fine. But why weren’t we informed that our flight from Munich to Amsterdam had been changed from 8:55am to 6:40am? According to the Lufthansa reps, they had no way to reach us. Jet Airways hadn’t provided an email address or phone number to get in touch with us, and besides, it was Jet Airways who requested the change, so it was up to them to notify us anyway. So what happened? Why didn’t Jet Airways tell us that we had been rebooked?
After close to 2 hours on the phone with Jet Airways and Expedia on Tuesday morning (four calls total) I had my answer: Jet Airways had alerted Expedia to the rebooking. Expedia hadn’t passed on the information to us.
That morning, I spoke to three customer service representatives and three supervisors. One supervisor even call me directly. No one could explain why we hadn’t been notified of the rebooking. Each time I called back, I requested to speak to a more senior supervisor or manager, futilely trying to find someone within Expedia who could book us on a later flight, since the fact that we had missed our new flight was obviously the result of your error: not informing us that our flight had been rebooked.
While on the phone with the various Expedia reps, I was repeatedly told that our request to be booked onto a new flight had to be dealt with by the corporate office. No one in the call centre had the authority to book new tickets for us.
Since 7:15am Munich time is somewhere between 10:15pm and 1:15am Canadian time (depending on where the Canadian corporate office is located) the call centre employees couldn’t put us through to corporate to get our issue resolved. Considering that Expedia is a company whose primary business is travel, and that travel often involves your customers moving between time zones, I found the fact that there was no one available who had any authority to help us extremely frustrating and, frankly, ridiculous. We can’t be the first people who’ve encountered this problem, and I’m sure we won’t be the last. People miss flights all the time - mistakes are made, connections missed, delays happen. How can a travel company not have a round-the-clock system in place to deal with such a common scenario?
Eventually, I was advised to book flights on the next available flight to Toronto and forward copies of the ticket invoice to Expedia for reimbursement. Problem solved. Or so we thought.
By that time, the next available flight to Toronto was with Air Canada and tickets cost 3,000 Euro per person. Yikes! That was more than double what we paid for the original tickets through Expedia, so I called back again and eventually spoke to another, rather rude, supervisor in the hope of either getting an assurance that Expedia would cover the cost of the Air Canada tickets or at least get some idea of what Expedia viewed as a "reasonable" ticket price.
Unsurprisingly, I didn’t get an answer and the call was abruptly ended. I chose to assume that the call was dropped, and not that I was hung up on, so I called back and was eventually connected with another supervisor. This supervisor suggested that we book either an Air Lingus or an Iceland Air flight that were leaving later that afternoon and were significantly cheaper than the Air Canada option which would have got us home closer to our originally scheduled arrival time in Toronto. Again, I was told that Expedia could do nothing for the time being and that we would have to pay for the tickets ourselves and submit the invoice for reimbursement later. Seeing as our only option to make it to work the following day was to book a flight ourselves and hope for the best, we chose the Iceland Air flight as it had a slightly longer layover to ensure we made our connecting flight. We weren’t going to end up stuck in another airport for hours. Not on this trip.
Seven hours later, we finally boarded our Iceland Air flight home. Each ticket cost 801 Euro ($1,100ish in Canadian dollars) and we had to split it across two credit cards to cover the unexpected costs. I was told we would be contacted by Expedia once we landed and the appropriate office was open to resolve the issue once and for all. I’ll remind you that that was on Tuesday, October 11th. I finally got an email asking me to call Expedia on Saturday, October 15th, four days later.
I again phoned Expedia on Monday, October 17th (since, based on my previous phone calls with Expedia, I was sure that the corporate office would be closed over the weekend). This time, I was told by the customer service representative that Expedia had emailed me twice on September 30th advising of the flight change. Excuse me? I thought we had already been through this. I had received no such emails, hence my panicked phone calls on October 11th. Let’s try to keep up, people.
To be clear, I regularly checked my email for messages while we were in Europe. After learning we missed our flight on October 11th I again checked and double checked both my inbox and junk mail folders for an email regarding the flight change. I found no such email(s). As I mentioned above, nor did I receive the usual email “regarding your upcoming flight” a few days before October 11th (you’ll recall that I did receive one on September 28th for our departing flight from Toronto).
These emails were apparently mentioned in a “note” on my file. That didn’t make any sense to me, since this entire issue stemmed directly from that fact that I received no communication from Expedia about the change, so I asked that a copy of the emails to be forwarded to me. For reasons that remain unclear to me, that request was refused by Michael in Expedia’s Corporate Customer Care department. That made even less sense to me. You claim that you sent the emails to me in the first place, so why not send them again? It’s not like I was requesting super secret internal company memos, I wanted a copy of communication that you claimed had been specifically prepared and sent to me.
Frankly, I find it impossible to believe that if there was such a note in my file saying I was emailed about the flight change on September 30th (and that it was put there on September 30th, as you claim) that not one of the six people I spoke to on October 11th mentioned it. I was on hold for long periods of time while they looked into the matter. When dealing with a customer who says they didn’t receive notification about a flight change, wouldn’t checking whether that customer was emailed about said flight change be one of the first things your customer service representatives look for?
Allegedly, the six separate employees that I spoke to on October 11th simply missed the note. How is that even possible? You’re telling me that not one, but six of your employees didn’t notice not one, but two obvious notes about emails informing me of the change? I spoke to all six of them and, unless you’re going to try to convince me that they were all, in fact, trained parrots and couldn’t possibly be expected to be able to read simple English, I call bullshit.
Expecting me to have faith in the veracity of your online system is particularly outrageous considering that the first supervisor I spoke to on October 17th (Emma) couldn’t find any record that Expedia had received my email with our ticket invoices attached – this I do have a record of in my sent folder from October 11th.
After another two hours on the phone, I was eventually told that the matter has been "fully investigated" and that as a “courtesy” Expedia will refund one of the tickets we were forced to purchase to finally escape the Munich airport.
The fact that you apparently consider this a "courtesy" is pretty rich. A "courtesy" would have been informing me of the change in our flight. A "courtesy" would have been not wasting four hours of my time bouncing me between customer service representatives and hanging up on me, costing me God knows how much money in long distance roaming charges. A "courtesy" would have been taking responsibility for your mistake, apologizing, and making it right. A 50% reimbursement is not a courtesy, it’s an erect and emphatic middle finger in the air.
If I’d known that you would only reimburse one of our tickets, maybe I would have left my wife in Munich to fend for herself while I returned to Toronto. She’s very resourceful. And, who knows, maybe we could have gotten a movie deal out of it. Terminal 2: A Horror Story... At least then I wouldn’t be out over $1,100.
In all seriousness, your customer service to date has been so abhorrent and so thoroughly pervasive that I can only assume that it comes as a directive from the highest levels of Expedia management. The stalling tactics, the outright rudeness, and the obvious deception that I have experienced in dealing with Expedia over the past week and a half has been Enron-esque in its audacity (perhaps you’ve heard of them - they’re not terribly well thought of these days).
I have no doubt that this email will have little to no affect on your standard operating procedure when it comes to customer service. Nor do I believe that it will convince you that the way you have treated us was, and continues to be, wrong and unfair. But I do know this: I will never, ever use Expedia.ca to book travel again.
Aaron & Alix Kempf