Online travel websites initially put brick and mortar travel agencies out of business booking airfare because there was very little commission to work with, and that was matched perfectly with a self-service model that required very little human contact.
Consumers did lose the advice that came with a good travel agent, who could suggest which carrier best met a customer’s needs or counsel which connections were too short or hubs to avoid for weather.
Premium cabin international airfare still pays good commissions, and it’s also why the product can be discounted — such as by American Express’s international airline program or bundled as part of a package.
Booking hotels generally has higher margins than airfare, and doesn’t require the same model of light touch customer service, so it’s surprising that online travel agency sites don’t do a better job of helping customers make the right choices for their needs and providing better one-on-one service when things go wrong. Put another way, considering they have one job it always amazes me how bad Expedia is.
As soon as I saw the story of the man who was charged $4600 for a one night stay at a Holiday Inn my immediate reaction was… Expedia.
The Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites in Willmar, Minnesota was showing up at Expedia’s Canada website (expedia.ca) for a rate of CAD$207.95, and a business traveler booked it. It was for a stay the following night and he didn’t scrutinize the fine print or final cost breakdown, he was good with a US$155 a night rate plus tax.
Only Expedia charged him CAD$6181 (US$4600) for the night, tacking on $2340 in taxes and fees and a $2105 ‘property fee’. Afraid to actually spend the night at that rate, he booked himself into the nearby Best Western for $115 — and he started trying to get the $4600 charge reversed, which is when he got Expediad.
“Obviously I thought it was a mistake, and right away I called Expedia,” Smerchanski said.
“I ended up talking with them, trying to make my way up to someone who could tell me exactly what was wrong. I was kind of assured right away that this was obviously a mistake and they were going to have it cleared up.”
But instead of giving him a refund immediately, Smerchanski says Expedia has given him the runaround for days.
“It just didn’t seem like they thought anything was wrong,” he said.
“I go like, ‘Hey hold on a second here. Don’t you think something is off? This is a $6,200-a-night room in Willmar, Minn. This is out of this world.”
Smerchanski said he’s spent more than eight hours on the phone with at least half a dozen agents. Each time, he said, he was given a new case number.
“No one can give me a clear answer,” he said.
“I basically just kept getting the same runaround, that they weren’t able to authorize a credit for that amount. I kept saying, ‘Why am I talking to them? Get me up to so
Expedia Dancers Don’t Provide Customer Service. Flickr: Juggernautco
It’s only after media started covering the story that Expedia issued a refund and admits, “In this particular instance, we do feel we could have resolved this issue in a quicker manner.”
It’s not the first time, apparently, that Expedia has done this with bookings at the Willmar, Minnesota Holiday Inn Express.
I often wonder if the two worst things about hotels aren’t resort fees and Expedia?
(HT: Ken A.)