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★☆☆☆☆

“Don't use Expedia: book through the airlines directly”

Written on: 18/12/2013 by veeceeonefive (1 review written)

Note: the following deals solely with international flights - I have no experience or opinion re: Expedia.com for domestic flights, hotels, etc. Speaking recently with an Expedia manager (I'll call her K) over the phone, I asked her if she could identify ANY benefit of booking with Expedia versus through the airline directly. Her answer tells you everything you need to know about this business: no. So, should you book your flights through Expedia? Well, take K's word for it. What can you expect from Expedia.com? Bait and switch pricing, incomplete flight and pricing access, adherence to policies which the airlines themselves don't enforce, and terrible customer service.

First, let's talk bait and switch. I had called to move up a flight, as unforeseen family obligations required us to travel sooner than expected. When I first called, I spoke with an agent who quoted me a reasonable price for the change, one which reflected the fares and change fees on the airline's website (let's say $2000). She didn't say anything about the price being an "estimate," nor did she state that the price was contingent, conditional, etc. I said hey, go ahead. She put me on hold for ten to fifteen minutes (a sure sign of trouble), and then returned to tell me that she was transferring me to a "supervisor" with no further explanation. The supervisor confirmed the flight numbers, locations, and times, and then said he had to check something. I was put on hold again for five minutes, so by this point I knew something was up. Sure enough, the supervisor came back on to tell me that the price had increased by approximately 50% (so it's now $3000). The supervisor told me that the original price was no longer available, and that the airline must have adjusted the pricing between the beginning of the call and the processing of the transaction.

In other words, Expedia.com offered a price, I accepted, and then that price was revoked. The supervisor's justification for advertising a price which Expedia.com neither intended nor was capable of fulfilling: Expedia doesn't control flight pricing. This brings us to the second issue - if Expedia.com has no control over the price, then aren't you better off booking through the airline? The answer is a resounding YES. The flight I wanted was available for the lesser price on the airline's website, though NOT through Expedia.com. Further, there were other even less expensive (though also less timely) options which were either unavailable on Expedia.com or far more expensive on the site. So, if you want to see only a limited subset of flights which may cost significantly more than they would elsewhere, Expedia.com is for you.

As the supervisor offered nothing to remedy the bait and switch I mentioned above, I asked to speak to a manager and was transferred to K, who claimed to be equally powerless. Fine. I asked her to cancel that itinerary (and booked a new one directly through the airline as she did so) - no problem. Not wanting to give Expedia.com any more of my business, I also asked her to cancel a separate four-flight itinerary, so that I could have a clean break with these folks. Here's where the third concern comes to light: as with prices, Expedia.com also does not control the refund procedures applicable to flights booked through its service.

Thus, K told me that this flight was non-refundable, as for some reason it "belonged" (her words) to one of the two airlines involved in the trip - conveniently, the one with a more stringent refund policy (we'll call it C). Oddly, there was only one flight with C on this itinerary, and it was not the first flight nor the longest. Even more oddly, I had reason to inquire with both C and the other airline on this itinerary concerning the possibility of refunds/changes, as I feared that family obligations would interfere with these flights as well. Representatives told me that as I had booked through Expedia.com they could not issue a refund to me, but that if I had booked directly through them, I would have received a total refund less a nominal fee (around $100). Oddest, perhaps, is that K insisted that was acting in accordance with the airline's policy, despite that C itself indicated that the ticket was indeed refundable.

To justify this position, K contended that Expedia.com was bound by airline policy, with which she could not interfere. So, Expedia.com doesn't control price or policy - what exactly are you buying, then? Other than poor customer service, which is the golden thread running through this whole episode. An hour and thirty eight minutes on the phone, the only thing they ever told me was how the airlines dictated the process, so they couldn't help me. Well, that sounds like an awesome reason for me to deal with the airlines directly in future, right?

Tl;dr airlines can give you more complete access to their flights, will often have better pricing, and in my experience have less rigid refund policies. And, if airlines offer you a price, they're no less likely to honor it than Expedia.com. So take K's word for it: you have nothing to gain by booking through these folks. Cut out the middle man: don't book through Expedia.com.