My Expedia experience over the weekend reminded me of Jerry Seinfeld renting a car. See, Expedia knew how to take the reservation. They just didn’t know how to ticket the reservation… And really, it’s the ticketing that’s the most important part!
I’ve written in the past many times about why I like booking airline tickets through online travel agencies, rather than with an airline directly — not every time, but frequently.
- I can choose my point of sale. If I want a ticket issued in Germany, Spain, or New Zealand I can use Expedia’s websites in each of those countries to make the booking. That can help for getting the absolute lowest fare at times. (Of course I will use a credit card with no foreign currency transaction fees, since the card will be charged in local currency for that country.)
- I can earn rebates, for instance the Chase Ultimate Rewards shopping portal offers 2 points per dollar for bookings through Travelocity and 1 point per dollar through Expedia (which can be double dipped with points in Expedia’s own rewards program). This also makes helping other people book their travel more remunerative.
- I can combine airlines on a single ticket Not every airline website lets me book ,multiple carriers on the same ticket, most don’t offer the same variety of carriers, and aren’t generally very good at pricing when they do.
- I can sometimes get better pricing, since the various online travel agencies use different computer reservation systems for their availability I might be able to find a seat at a lower price at a given moment through one system rather than another — sometimes an airline website will have a better price, sometimes a given OTA will.
- I can get faster ticketing than airlines which don’t do instant ticketing (like United and American) especially when the airline’s ticketing queue is long.
These are just a few of the reasons. There are, however, reasons to prefer working with an airline directly.
Sometimes an airline’s own agents are better-informed, or more adept at fixing problems (although not always). Sometimes it can be easier to get through to customer service at an airline (although some airline hold times are quite long) and sometimes easier to get through to non-outsourced agents (although some outsourced call center agents are among my very best friends for award booking, and rarely ever notate a reservation with nasty comments about how this or that is not allowed).
I’d like to say that things never go wrong when booking through an online agency, but they do. Of course that needs to be compared to booking through an airline directly, and I’ve had enough ticketing battles with United over the past 10 months (since the reservation system integration with Continental) that I can’t say things always go smoothly on the airline side, either.
Most of the time things go well, either way. Today, though, I had an adventure in Expedia.
I booked a ticket on Saturday. I received my email confirmation. The website said,
Your reservation is booked and ticketing is in progress. No need to call and reconfirm this reservation.
I’m good to go, right?
Except that the next day my reservation still said,
Ticketing in progress
And when I pulled up the confirmation number on the operating airline’s website, only half the flights were showing.
I was busy and didn’t feel like calling, so I emailed — Expedia has an ‘elite program’ that’s supposed to offer better customer service. I emailed their elite customer service and asked about the status of ticketing. No reply after a day, so I emailed again, no reply.
I decided to call. And somehow unthinkingly I dialed the regular customer service line, though I have to say it’s gotten better since I was told there would be a ’7 to 12 minute wait’ (which is less than I’ve heard of in the past) and was offered a callback. I accepted the callback.
When my phone rang the agent who answered looked at my account, and realized he wasn’t allowed to talk to me since I’m an elite with Expedia. It was then that one outsourced call center agent transferred me to a different outsourced call center agent.
That next agent pulled up my itinerary. They then put me on hold to go ‘talk to a supervisor’.
When they came back they explained, “The ticket wasn’t issued because after you booked it one of the flights was cancelled and doesn’t exist anymore.” Ummmkay…..
I pulled up airline schedules and saw the flight did exist. The agent insisted we would have to cancel this ticket and start over. But I wasn’t interested in that. I booked the itinerary because it was the cheapest combination of flight.
And I was going to insist that Expedia provide me at least comparable flights at the same fare, since they took a credit card on the reservation and hadn’t even contacted me about a problem. In fact they had told me (when looking at the itinerary on the website) that I didn’t need to contact them!
I asked the agent “so which flights do you think were cancelled?” And he told me. So I pulled up those flights on the Expedia website, and said “hmm, it looks like you’re still selling those flights!”
He suggested I make a new booking with the flights. I demurred, since I wasn’t yet sure it would price the same way and if the first booking wouldn’t ticket why would the second? Plus I didn’t want to wind up with two tickets, yet I wouldn’t let him cancel the first reservation either not wanting to lose those seats.
Finally he decided it was a different flight that was cancelled. But he offered me a new set of flights, which I was fine with as long as they priced it the same. He put me on hold to talk to a supervisor.
When he came back on he said, “I think I found even better flights for you!” And he proceeded to read them off. The exact same itinerary I had originally booked, including the flight that he kept claiming was no longer operating. “You do realize those were the same flights I originally booked, that you said were cancelled, right?” He agreed.
This time the reservation was set up for ticketing and I could actually see all of the segments on the airline website. So much progress!
Will I still book with Expedia? Sure. Just like I’ll book with United after numerous ticketing issues. It’s just always important, no matter where you make your bookings, to remain vigilant. Make sure they ticket. Make sure that your flights haven’t changed over time, that no segments drop out of the reservation, that seats haven’t disappeared. And do so with some regularity. It’s unfortunate, but it is necessary.