How Bad Is Expedia Customer Service? (Worse Than You Think, Even If You Know It’s Bad)

There are edge cases where it makes sense to book through an online travel agency and there are (very) modest rewards for doing so. I needed to book a ticket originating in India, and that involved a single airline, one flight a codeshare, and unique fare construction. Booking through an online agency was cheaper than booking direct. I traded off that savings, though, for pounding my head on the desk when I needed to make a change to the booking.

In fairness to the agent perhaps they were confused between Washington Dulles (IAD) and Bush Intercontinental (IAH)? Except… that wasn’t the only mistake in their sentence.

Expedia allows online changes, as they kept reminding me every time I reached out to someone for help after the website told me that online changes weren’t available for the itinerary.

I wasn’t the traveler. I did some sleuthing and priced what I thought the change would cost on my own, and then contacted Expedia to verify that they’d be able to do it. The first agent quoted me a price roughly equal to what I expected. I checked with the traveler, went back to Expedia, and the next agent quoted me the same price on the first segment, and nearly $2,000 more (!) on the second.

But this was Expedia, so I figured I’d just try someone else. The next agent quoted me a $200 higher price on the first segment, and that $2,000 higher than the first agent price on the second. Oy.

Let’s try this again. Another agent, after about 10 minutes of research, told me that there was no availability to change the first segment at all so they couldn’t do it.

One more run at customer service, before trying another route, of banging my head against a different wall, trying to get someone to take over the booking. This time I found an agent who repriced it the way I expected, and the way the first agent had done it. I took it. Now I wait to ensure that tickets actually get re-issued.

There are reasons to book through an online travel agency.

  • Sometimes you’ll get better pricing
  • Expedia’s country-specific websites, for fares originating in those countries and not available outside of those countries can be helpful (though those aren’t as common as they used to be)
  • And there are sometimes glitches with the settlement tables for specific country sales, involving specific airlines and destinations, that may drop out part of a ticket’s price (such as surcharges)
  • Plus there are rewards, however small, for going through a shopping portal to an online agency sometimes and of course the agency’s own rewards program.

At the same time you’ll almost invariably get worse customer service than dealing with an airline directly. A travel agent is supposed to be your advocate, not an impediment, but with online travel agencies who make money by driving down the cost of servicing a ticket (underinvesting in customer service) it’s often a game of telephone with two cups and a strike between you and the airline with the agency in the middle. And the agent you work with, perhaps with a wait to reach an outsourced employee with little authority who themselves must wait to reach a supervisor, is often unhelpful in the extreme.

I’ve covered issues with Expedia before, for instance how they say it is common for customers with prepaid rental car bookings to lose their reservation and be out the money when their flight gets delayed; about refusing to refund a hotel stay after the hotel didn’t honor the booking leaving a guest without a hotel room or their money; about a guest getting stuck with a $4,600 resort fee on an Expedia booking; and here’s a cautionary tale about booking airline tickets through Expedia.

When travel booking went online that put a lot of information in the hands of consumers and reduced the cost of booking tickets. It largely took people (agents) out of the middle. Something was lost in the process – expert guidance on what flights are best to book for reliability, like whether a one hour connection in Chicago during the winter is advisable or whether to take the last flight of the day.

There’s a huge opportunity to improve the online booking experience and nobody has really done it. I thought Google, with its ability to know a consumer’s habits and searches, would step into the breach through AI but that hasn’t happened.

Most people use sites like Expedia or Kayak to compare options because they don’t start off knowing they want to fly American Airlines or United. They find the schedule and price they’re looking for, and then book what looks best. Orbitz, now owned by Expedia, actually began as a competitor owned by the airlines. Priceline was in part owned by its participating airlines as well. Those sites didn’t limit you to booking flights on a single airline or its partners.

While it can be useful for the average consumer to search flights with Expedia or the like, it’s not usually a good idea to buy travel from them unless they are able to construct complicated itineraries at a lower price than booking directly. Instead, find the flights you want and then go straight to the airline to buy your ticket.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »

Pingbacks

Comments

  1. I used to use Expedia to compare fares, but Google’s flight search now gives me a good enough starting point.

    I once got scammed into booking a room through an online travel agency…an actual scam…ended up with a massive fight through my credit card company with the poor hotel caught in the middle.

    So, I’m going to toss in a warning about this: Always book direct with the hotel. And always make sure you are actually on the hotel’s site. What I, a savvy person aware of scams, got caught by was a cloned website…I had booked with this hotel before so when the website looked identical I assumed I was on the hotel’s site. Their intent was to scam me out of a $15 booking fee…but they also changed my dates from one night to two! (The hotel had added a two night minimum which, alas, meant I had to find another hotel, which I felt bad about but it was a pre flight stay).

    They told me it could not be canceled except “through the hotel.” The hotel didn’t have my credit card number so couldn’t refund me. In the end I had to dispute the charges. They fought it too. The hotel was, I hope, able to rebook the room.

    Make VERY sure you are on the site you think you are on and don’t click on hotel sites marked with the little ad note. Scroll down. Because one thing the scammers do is buy keywords so their site appears above the hotel in search. Consider bookmarking places you book regularly.

    And don’t use OTAs. Even if they aren’t scammers, you’re adding a moving part to your trip which can break.

  2. Forget about Google as a solution in any market that requires customer service. The paradigm example is Google Fi. Brilliant in concept — automatically switch the global traveller to the lowest carrier — it is an unmitigated disaster in practice because Google does not know how to deliver products that need human customer service. When things went wrong with Fi, the user dropped it. Now nobody uses it.

    Search IS Google, because it is a 100% computer-delivered product. Take search out of the holding company and it is a corner shop.

  3. In Australia Expedia has become even more of a scam – Expedia.com.au have disconnected their phone number. Your only option is talk to the dumb robot online, and if you’re lucky you’ll eventually get a human on the chatline but it will be one of those clueless agents in the Philippines.

    As I found out while standing at a hotel reception last month arguing with the clerk and trying to call Expedia to check my booking. Haha. No can do. Expedia’s phones are disconnected.

  4. I used the Capital One portal to book a flight to Colombia recently, so I could use my $200 annual credit.

    But when I decided to change my flights, it cost nearly $350. The same change if I’d booked direct through AA? $0 – the new fare was no different than the original. They couldn’t justify the cost difference. And to worsen matters, the frontline rep couldn’t figure out what I wanted at all, so I had to escalate to a supervisor. Total time on the phone was >2 hours, including hold times.

    My $200 savings turned into a $150 loss, plus 2 wasted hours.

    I hate to lose that $200 credit, but I can’t imagine using it again except maybe for simple cheap domestic flights I am fairly certain I won’t change.

  5. Only time so ever use a 3rd party travel agency is Amex travel (for FHP/THC booking and $200 credit or international airline program) or Chase (which I think is Expedia if want to burn ultimate points at 1.5 cent each for travel). Other than that I will NEVER use a 3rd party site for any reason.

  6. I wouldn’t deal with them even if using someone else’s wallet credit cards
    Horrible

  7. I made the mistake of using them during covid. I needed to change travel plans due to illness.
    I contacted them and they could not get away from me fast enough, they told me to take up my concerns directly with the hotel. The light bulb went on in my head, why use them? When you have an issue you are totally on your own anyway, never used them again.

  8. I occasionally use Expedia to book a flight or more rarely, a room. I have never had a bad experience with them and don’t change my itinerary, so I have not had to deal with customer service. I suppose that with booking USA based airlines these days being more of a hope and a prayer, there could be problems. I usually book direct unless there is a significant discount with Expedia. I find comparing hotel room prices easier on their site. I remember finding an air ticket $300 less than at the airline website which I jumped on since the price can change within seconds (I have actually had the price change within a few minutes and ended up altering the days of my flights to take advantage of the day that was left with the good price.)

  9. @ Gary — What’s Expedia? No way in hell would I book through them, EVER. Same goes for flights through AMEX Travel, which blows my mind when I think about the fact that the Platinum AMEX is supposedly a premium travel card.

  10. No sympathy here … using a third party booking site guarantees problems, unless you just get on the flight and come back without issue. Anything else is a disaster. Did you seriously expect to deal with agent … someone like a travel advisor? Expedia only employs people to answer the phone, not help with real travel. They need the whole commission for their advertising budget, can’t waste on salaries or benefits, much less training. Luring in more suckers is what they’re all about. At that, they’re obviously VERY successful.

  11. I have mostly been ok with booking through OTA’s via Kayak and others (flights only) with the idea that it’s someone I recognize. Only ever in international J as they can sometimes have really good fares. But lately that is going to the wayside. Things are getting very very shady.

    A recent example is one booked via kayak that directed me to a company called Oojo. I was a bit wary but decided to try it as the TK J flight was $600 less. It was a day of hell with these people. I booked and all seemed fine. I did what I always do when booking through these companies and that is go to the airline website and bring my res over for seats etc. All worked. Until it didn’t.

    They cancelled it. Then called me and said they have a much better deal with a return flight at the same price. I said I wanted one way and I am not looking to book a junk return with an outside agency as it could jeopardize my entire booking. They insisted. I refused. The Indian agent talking to me from her home with babies crying (though the company is supposedly based in LA) kept insisting this is much better and will be fine. I refused and insisted she cancel it all. This after multi charges to my card from two different companies.

    I payed $600 extra and booked directly with TK. I notified Amex that these charges were not correct. I am waiting to deal with the fallout.

  12. Based on past experiences, I prefer to book directly with airlines, hotels, and rental cars as opposed to third party agents.
    Several years ago, I booked a hotel in Florida via Hotels.com for a stated rate with full payment due at check-in. Suddenly, the confirmation came in with additional fees not listed on the original booking. I called Hotels which made me call the hotel directly. The hotel stated that I got such a “good’ rate, that surcharges were needed. This went back and forth till I bent the ear of Hotels which cancelled the reservation outright.
    NOTE: Airbnb is no better, no matter what they say!!

  13. Amex travel is Expedia if you didn’t know. The only advantage is that you can call Amex customer service if you need to escalate an issue. And there is a night and day difference between Amex customer service and Expedia customer service. With the hello I can tell who answered the call.

  14. Two other things:
    1. Even if the OTA is good, then you add an excuse for both sides. If something happens with your reservation, the OTA can blame the airline and the airline can blame the OTA.
    2. When booking hotel rooms through an OTA…there are a lot of stories about the hotel giving the worst rooms (you know, the ones with the jet engine air conditioner) to people who book through OTAs…ht

  15. I learned the hard way years ago to never use an OTA. If nothing goes wrong, it may turn out fine, but if you ever need to make a change, they may refuse to honor the T&C regarding changes. I filed a complaint with the DOT on the OTA and the two airlines. I got a full refund after I showed they were lying about available flights and costs. Which I then used to rebook direct with the airlines.

  16. @Arthur: Were those US airlines?

    What did the DoT do to help and which office did you go through?

    Thanks!

  17. Let’s keep hope alive if Expedia’s customer service is potentially tanking for now that sooner or later, they’ll hopefully rebound. Who agrees with me?

  18. On the other side of the spectrum… I booked a hotel in NYC with Expedia which suddenly closed down, phone lines/email disconnected etc. not only did Expedia rebook me somewhere nicer, they gave an extra credit as well. Other times I had to deal with their customer service were fine as well. didn’t know it was so across the board for everyone

  19. For me Expedia customer service has been incredible! They always resolve me issues, they’ve helped me get refunds, adjust reservations even when I have been within a cancellation / non change policy window. And they have always been extremely polite and professional. I would never use any other service, so I find your review very odd. Furthermore, when I have booked directly with a airline or hotel in the past, I have been put on hold forever and often not gotten resolution I wanted. So…for me it will always be Expedia.

  20. I’ve purchased insurance for a flight in the event I had to cancel. Well the cancelation doesn’t meet the terms and conditions!!! So, I received a credit of 576.73 to be used before February 8th I’ve tried to use it on a flight of 505$ then the price of the flight went up to 728$ just because of the credit along with a service processing fee EXPEDIA wants me to pay 352$ out of pocket!! BAD BUSINESS BAD BAD BAD BUSINESS!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *