(Editor’s Note: The opinion of the writer does not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or position of the TCC Connection and its staff. The facts shared and the comments expressed represent the experience and research of the writer.)
This is an Opinion/Personal Column (Part 2). To read Part 1, visit here.
I recently published a column about my negative experience of dealing with Expedia online travel agency (OTA) during and after my flight cancellation to Kazakhstan due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is a quick reminder that I had purchased an international round-trip airplane ticket from Tulsa, Okla., to Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, on www.expedia.com in the beginning of January 2020. The trip was scheduled for May 30 to June 28, 2020. The flights from Tulsa to Chicago and from Houston to Tulsa were assigned to United Airlines, and other connecting flights were conducted by Turkish Airlines in the itinerary. My bank statement showed that $1,406.25 was paid to Turkish Airlines, and an $8.49 fee went to Expedia. In March 2020, when it became unsafe to travel because of COVID-19, I canceled the trip.
I was issued a credit, but it was very difficult for me to find a right airplane ticket on Expedia’s website because the credit had strict limitations. It had to be applied only to a trip with Turkish Airlines, and it could be used just for me.
I still was interested to fly to Kazakhstan to visit my parents later, but Expedia did not list any flights to that country from summer to the end of 2020.
Then, my father became critically ill in Kazakhstan; he had a stroke during summer 2021. I desperately wanted to go and see him. Expedia’s agent tried to sell a more expensive ticket taking advantage of my emergency situation, even though its website was showing much cheaper tickets available. I was not allowed to purchase an affordable trip with my credit.
Since March 2020, I have experienced a lot of difficulties in communicating with Expedia and Turkish Airlines. In several cases, nobody answered both companies’ toll-free phone numbers; they did not respond to my emails and mails. I had to file complaints multiple times with Attorneys General and the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
My credit expired in December 2021. After returning from Kazakhstan, I tried to plan a trip for November-December 2021 to visit my other relatives and friends in Russia, Thailand, Germany, or Italy.
I found that I needed a visa to Russia or a special electronic permit to Thailand, which would take a month or more to obtain. I was running out of time and decided to fly for a week or two to a country of the European Union, where American citizens may travel without a visa. I had chosen Italy. I am a big fan of Italian classical art, and visiting that country has always been a dream of mine.
However, Expedia did not have any Turkish Airlines tickets to Italy for the required period of time! But there were plenty of such tickets on Turkish Airlines’ website. I called and asked a Turkish Airlines representative if I may purchase the needed ticket with my credit directly, without Expedia’s mediation. Turkish Airlines declined my request. I also was told if the credit is not used by the deadline, it is lost.
My mind and body were protesting the entire unfair situation. For two years, I tried to use the given credit, but Expedia did not give the tickets I needed!
I had to submit another round of complaints to the Attorneys General office, BBB, and Turkish Airlines. To my surprise, Turkish Airlines agreed to issue a refund on October 26, 2021. The airline said to receive the refund, I had to talk to Expedia.
Conversely, Expedia told me that I had to talk about the refund with Turkish Airlines. It was not the first time the companies were pointing at each other, and none of them had a desire to solve the problem.
Finally, on Dec.1, 2021, I received a letter from Expedia via BBB channels of communication, where the company gave details of where and how the refund was sent.
Another snag was that my bank switched all customers from VISA to MasterCard in 2020, but the refund came to an old VISA card. I kept calling
to my bank, and its specialists were saying that VISA did not send a report about the refund. So even though it was issued on Oct. 26, 2021, I could not see the money on my account. The bank advised me to submit a dispute form, so it could investigate and find where the money was.
On Dec. 3, 2021, I could see the refund of $1,414.74 showing on my bank account. Then, on Dec. 14, 2021, I received a letter from my bank dated Dec. 7, 2021, stating that the credit is temporary while the bank is conducting its investigation.
“If your claim is denied, this provisional credit may be debited (charged) against your account. You will be notified in this event,” the letter said.
After all, I am still waiting for news from my bank, guessing if I owe the refund or not.
During the last two years of dealing with Expedia and Turkish Airlines, I learned serious lessons and almost became an expert in international traveling and trip booking. Because of that, I would like to give valuable advice to all travelers.
First, book your airplane ticket and a hotel room directly from an airline or a hotel. Do not deal with OTAs located out of your state. Second, purchase travel insurance, which will cover your loss in the case of the trip cancellation. Otherwise, it will be difficult to get a refund; just look at my case.
If you cannot get a refund, submit a complaint to an Attorney General’s office or BBB in the state, where the OTA, airline or hotel are located. In my case, it was Washington state. The Oklahoma government entities could not always reach the businesses in the other states; the companies occasionally did not respond to out-of-state government organizations.
Be aware that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, flights are and will be canceled. In the spring of 2020, the U.S. Department of Transportation had received more than 25,000 air travel service complaints, and many of them about refunds, according to www.wcvb.com. Few passengers tried to take legal actions claiming their refunds, but it was very difficult to proceed with a lawsuit; it can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars to pay for lawyers’ services.
Editor’s Note: An additional paragraph was mistakenly omitted from an earlier edition of the article. It has now been added at the end of the article. We apologize for the error.