The single mom booked a special vacation with her children, 19 and 13, to Sri Lanka, for late December.
“I have gone on only one vacation in about 12 years, and 25 hours is a long time to spend in economy class, so I decided to splurge and use a chunk of my savings to buy business class tickets to get there,” the Montclair woman said. “I bought them last March through Expedia, and the tickets are with three different airlines.”
The cost was $18,124.20.
She said she was nervous because the reservations involved so many airlines, and she was regularly emailed about flight time changes. McGhee said she kept tabs on the changes.
Then a few weeks ago, she said she received urgent emails telling her to contact Expedia immediately because there was a major change to a flight and she had to approve it.
McGhee said she called and called but had a hard time getting through to an agent. She kept getting disconnected, she said.
Then last week an Expedia rep called her.
“He told me one of the flights — from Bangalore, India to Sri Lanka — had been cancelled and I was rebooked for the next day,” she said. “I would have to stay at the Bangalore airport for more than 24 hours.”
McGhee said she told the agent that wasn’t acceptable, but the agent said there were no other available flights.
“He told me… the best thing to do was to cancel my tickets, get a full refund, then re-book,” she said. “He put me on hold, and about five to 10 minutes later, I was disconnected.”
That was only the beginning.
McGhee again examined her reservation on Expedia, but it only showed half her itinerary.
Under “Departure,” there was no flight leaving from or returning to Newark. And the flight that Expedia said was cancelled showed on the itinerary as confirmed.
Confused, she tried calling again. And again.
McGhee said she’s called Expedia more than a dozen times, and she’s had the same experience over and over again.
“The automated system doesn’t recognize my phone number. I provide it,” she said. “If I am not disconnected, the system tells me it has no record for that number, but they obviously have it in their system because they called me.”
When the voicemail system asks for her itinerary number, she’d enter it, she said, but the system also couldn’t recognize that number.
She said for the few times she actually got through to an agent, the call was disconnected before any help was given.
“I’d explain that I have called a few times, keep getting disconnected, and a previous agent was helping me. I ask for that agent,” she said. “The new agent tells me they can’t transfer me to the previous agent, because she doesn’t know the person and their system doesn’t work that way.”
With one agent, the line stayed live long enough for her to explain why she needed to cancel the reservation. The agent said there would be cancellation fees, McGhee said, but she argued she was entitled to a refund without a fee. The agent said he’d have to check on it, she said.
“I tell them the previous agent checked and was in the middle of canceling and refunding, and I was on hold for 15, 20, 25 minutes when we got disconnected,” McGhee said. “Then they tell me the reservation is still active, and there are no notes showing that anyone has helped me at all, or tried to cancel the reservation, so they have to start from the beginning.”
She said she’d wait on hold some more. Fifteen minutes. Twenty minutes. Twenty-five minutes.
And the call would disconnect.
“The last time I called, I told the agent I wasn’t mad at her, she is just doing her job, but what department at the Expedia Headquarters should I contact about their system because this is crazy,” she said. “She said she knew nothing about a `headquarters’ or `department’ but she would transfer me to her supervisor.”
“I asked her the name of her supervisor in case I got disconnected again. She said she didn’t know the name of her supervisor. She just transfers people to the ‘supervisor’ and whoever picks up on the ‘supervisor’ end is the supervisor,” she said.
McGhee was transferred.
After 15 minutes on hold, she said she was disconnected.
“I don’t know if I am being purposely disconnected because it doesn’t seem that way, but I’m sort of beginning to wonder,” she said.
After that last phone call, McGhee tried to reach Expedia via email, describing her problem and her customer service experience.
The Expedia auto-reply said, “We will do our best to respond to your inquiry within 24 hours,” and it listed what it cannot do over email.
That includes booking, changing, or canceling reservations, and refund requests.
“The irony is that I went on the United Airlines web site and found tickets that get me to Sri Lanka five hours faster, and cost $1,000 less each,” she said. “And now I’m worried about having to spend even more money, and losing $18,000.”
It would be too late for her to cancel her hotel package, so McGhee reluctantly booked the flights directly through the airline for $15,600.
It’s left her with credit card debt of nearly $30,000, and she hopes that Expedia will refund her money.
SLICING THROUGH RED TAPE
We reviewed McGhee’s documentation and reached out to Expedia.
While Expedia investigated, we checked McGhee’s itinerary online. As she said, one leg of the trip was missing, and the cancelled flight was still listed as confirmed.
Under “Fare Rules & Restrictions,” it said: “Please note that the most restrictive set of rules below applies to your entire itinerary.”
It continued: “We have not received information regarding the rules or restrictions for this flight. When you purchase your ticket, you agree to the following rules and restrictions. Please assume that the fare is non-refundable and any change or cancellation will result in full forfeiture of the value of the ticket with no refund or credit available.”
Okay, but does that count when a flight has been cancelled?
By the end of the day, McGhee received a phone call from Addison Anderson, a corporate senior specialist with Expedia.com.
“She told me Expedia has okayed a full refund for me, and they will send out an email confirming this later tonight,” McGhee said in an email. “It looks like it got resolved quickly. Thank you so much!”
We received an email from Expedia minutes later.
A spokeswoman said the company called McGhee directly, and it included a copy of a letter, signed by the same rep who called McGhee, with details of the company’s decision.
The letter broadly confirmed McGhee’s accounting of events, but it had an explanation of the call McGhee made when she was talking to a supervisor and was disconnected.
“Our records show the agent attempted to contact the caller back at the preferred phone number without success,” the letter said.
But the good news was that the letter said McGhee would receive a full refund of $18,124.20.
“We regret any frustration experienced during your calls to Expedia and the inconvenience caused due to the schedule changes,” the letter said. “Involuntary airline schedule changes, though common, present multiple unique problems with sometimes only a few solutions.”
We’re grateful that Expedia was able to help McGhee, and quickly, but we’re sorry it took more than a dozen phone calls, an email and a nudge from Bamboozled to make it happen.
Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. insurance.