My Bloody Valentine: Expedia.com

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As you know, today is Valentine’s Day. As such, I thought it was the perfect time to write a love sonnet for my new favorite company: Expedia.com. Actually, I’ll do the opposite.

Seeing as it’s a long weekend in the United States (President’s Day is on Monday), I decided I was going to set up a little trip to get away with the girl I’m seeing. A few weeks ago, I set up all the plans for what I thought would be a nice, relaxing weekend. It’s actually been anything but relaxing. My mistake? Using Expedia to book it.

After a few hours of driving, we pulled into our destination yesterday and attempted to check-in to the hotel. Problem 1: they’ve never heard of us. My name is nowhere to be found in their reservation system. Problem 2: they were completely booked. Problem 3: even if there was a cancellation, there was a waiting list for a room because apparently, Expedia had done this exact thing to no fewer than four other couples — just at this hotel alone.

So what happened?

Well, it took me a couple hours to get a straight answer out of anyone, but apparently, the system that Expedia uses to book reservation with its partner hotels is a mixture of antiquated and just completely fucked up. Because it would be too much of a hassle, and more importantly, cost too much money, Expedia has an automated system for communicating with its partners. Sometimes this is done with an email, sometimes this is done with a fax. Yes, a fax.

In my case, Expedia’s system apparently faxed the reservation to the hotel I booked. It then claims it got a confirmation back that my hotel room was all set and ready for my arrival. The only problem? According to the hotel, not only did they not receive the fax, but obviously they never sent the confirmation back. And why would they? It turns out all their rooms had already been booked before I attempted to book mine through Expedia. Of course, according to Expedia, there were plenty of rooms available when I booked — I even had many room options to choose from.

The icing on the Valentine’s Day cake though was my subsequent six calls to and from Expedia. For the first one, after waiting on hold for 45 minutes, I was told that according to their system, my reservation was indeed confirmed. I knew this would be Expedia’s stance because I received an email from Expedia a few days prior stating that it was confirmed.

After I made it very clear to the poor girl (poor, both for having to face my wrath, and working for this awful company) that there was definitely no room under my name at my supposedly booked hotel, she didn’t seem too clear about what to do. I was demanding a full refund (obviously) and demanding that they book me another room in the city and pay for that. She put me on hold so she could talk to her manager.

When she came back on 15 minutes later, she wanted to make sure I booked the room correctly in the first place. I demanded to speak to her superior. This guy was great (that’s sarcasm). Not only was he trying to convince me that this wasn’t Expedia’s fault, but he wasn’t sure they’d be able to reimburse me for the room that they had never actually booked for me, and that I clearly wasn’t going to be staying in. He said he’d have to call me back.

Meanwhile, I get a call from another Expedia agent whom the hotel had apparently called because again, this had happened a number of times just this day for the same hotel with Expedia. He wanted to let me know that the hotel was overbooked and my reservation wouldn’t be honored. Thanks buddy.

The other agent finally calls me back. Good news: he thinks he can refund what I paid for the hotel that I’m not staying at, but wants to make sure I want another room booked for me in the city. If so, they might take some of the refund to pay for that. At this point I start really yelling. On the street. With a lot of children around.

After a solid five minutes of verbal abuse from me including no shortage of swear words, he sees my point. But he still has to call his supervisor to okay any kind of deal he can cut. He needs to call me back again, but assures me that when he does, he’ll have another room for me and the refund in my account.

He calls me back. The good news: the refund has been processed. The bad news: there are no other rooms in the city that Expedia can book for me. Not one.

Further, if I am able to find my own room outside of Expedia, the company can’t do anything for me in terms of reimbursement. He is only authorized to offer me a $100 gift certificate to use for a future Expedia purchase. If there is anything in the world I want less at this point, I can’t think of it. I’m certainly never going to book another trip through this site again.

Hearing me still upset, he suggests that maybe if I book a more expensive place, Expedia can make up the difference. That’s a ridiculous proposal for a number of reasons, but the best is that there is no way I’m going to be able to find a hotel nicer than the one I had thought I had booked to stay at on Valentine’s Day weekend. The only options were going to be shittier ones — and those are probably taken too. So maybe Expedia was trying to trick me into paying me negative $500, I’m not sure.

At this point we’re almost 2 hours into my little romantic getaway so I ask for his supervisor’s number, his supervisor’s email, my reference number, anything he can give me. I hang up the phone.

I tried calling them. It’s a switchboard. No one seems clear as to who I should talk to.

So I write this now from my quaint (used kindly) little motel that I had to book myself, at a ridiculous rate because it was so last-minute on a busy weekend, with my own money. Never in my life have I had an experience as bad as I just did with an online company. This includes Comcast and AT&T. Expedia just made them look like models of business perfection.

Expedia, which was founded as a division of Microsoft in 1995, was later spun-off into its own company in the IPO-happy days of 1999. Ticketmaster then bought it in 2001, and eventually, it became a company under the IAC conglomerate. IAC spun it off again in 2005 as Expedia, Inc, which also includes the sites Hotels.com, TripAdvisor, HotWire, and others. In other words, the company’s history has been a mess.

Despite being an industry bicycle (everyone has had a ride), Expedia still manages to make $3 billion in revenues a year — undoubtedly helped by cases like mine where they try to make you pay for places you can’t even stay at because they can’t seem to figure out how to properly do a confirmation. Well, except if that confirmation is with one of their never-ending chain of superiors who needs to confirm a Kleenex in case an employee sneezes.

And so ends my love story about Expedia. I write this now both because it’s a nice Valentine’s Day tale, but also as a warning to anyone using the service. A simple Google search yields results that show I’m hardly alone in my experience. In fact, the number of hate sites specifically about Expedia is quite impressive.

There are far too many other competent companies out there that do the same thing, including a number of startups. Kayak is the one you hear about the most, unfortunately, they have a deal to offer up Expedia results first. Feel free to leave your favorite travel startups in the comments, I’d really like to know the best alternatives.

I also write this because even if Barry Diller (Chairman) or some other higher-up sees this post and offers me a full reimbursement of my trip, I’m not accepting it at this point. They may not have ruined my Valentine’s Day, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying.

Dearest Expedia,

Happy Valentine’s Day.

It’s over.

Love,

MG

Update: Some commenters are wondering if TechCrunch is really the best place for this type of post. To that, I say we have to hold these companies accountable for their crap customer service. It shouldn’t matter if they’re talking to a writer for one of the biggest blogs in the world or anyone else. Expedia routinely fails in customer service, but they get away with it because most of the time people don’t have this type of platform to expose these stories.

For a great example of how screw-ups and customer service should be handled, look at Netflix. Sure, I hate their new 28-day window policy, but they absolutely nail it in terms of customer service. A few months ago, their streaming service had a brief outage. Most members didn’t even notice, but Netflix emailed all of them offering a partial refund for the month. The same exact thing happened last week also.

Compare this with Expedia offering me a $100 gift certificate to use their service more only after I bitched for over an hour. And screwing up a travel arrangement is obviously a bigger fiasco than a streaming movie not working. Even the airlines seem to understand this. When they screw up, they not only pick up your hotel for the night (if you have stay overnight), but they often offer you a pass for free air travel somewhere else in the future. Most would argue that their customer service is still awful, but there’s no denying that it makes Expedia look like the absolute worst.

Also remember that by using Expedia, I’m putting my faith in them that they’ll be able to come through and ensure my travel arrangements — or else, why use them? When they send me an email saying everything is “confirmed” (which they actually did not just once, but twice), I take their word for it. Why wouldn’t I? Well, I won’t ever again but only because I’ll never use them ever again. And I’d recommend that any traveler do the same, or at least be very wary of their “confirmations.”

Update 2: Expedia has finally responded with the key words, “we accept full responsibility.”

I’ll paste the full mea culpa below, but the basic gist is that if a user books a reservation through them, they have every right to expect that it will be honored. Expedia says it is still investigating what exactly went wrong (as I noted in the original post, both sides seemed to be blaming a fax machine), but acknowledges that it really shouldn’t matter what the issue was, just that there was an issue and that they should have done more to try to resolve it.

The company is offering me a full refund of my original trip, as well as offering to reimburse any accommodation expenses I incurred as a result of the situation. They’re also now offering me a $200 coupon for future travel (up from the original $100 they had offered me). As I said in the original post, I don’t plan to accept any compensation beyond my original refund. This was never about the money, it was about Expedia doing what is right for its customers, no matter if they’re a random person with their family, or someone with access to one of the largest blogs in the world.

We have already taken steps to improve our customer service and confirmation process based on this situation,” they write. And I hope they mean that — for all of us.

The email:

Mr. Siegler,

I am writing on Expedia’s behalf about the issue you endured over Valentine’s Day weekend.  We are terribly sorry that this happened. This situation is not acceptable, and we accept full responsibility.

Please know that we and the hotel are conducting a thorough examination of the circumstances that led to your unacceptably bad experience.  We have already taken steps to improve our customer service and confirmation process based on this situation.  We understand that the specific details of the confirmation process should not be a concern for any of our travelers. You should have every expectation that any reservation you book through Expedia will be honored.

While we understand that nothing we do can make up for your experience this past weekend, we are offering the following resolution: In addition to refunding your credit card in full, which we processed Sunday, we will also reimburse the accommodation expenses you incurred in rebooking yourself to a new hotel.  We will also provide you with a coupon for $ 200 off any future hotel or package booked with Expedia.

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