Third Party Booking Sites: Overwhelmed by Requests? Or Intentionally Unreachable?

NBC 5 Responds looks at the still-simmering frustration facing consumers trying to get refunds for canceled trips

NBCUniversal, Inc.

There is no shortage of complaints coming into NBC 5 Responds during this coronavirus crisis. Right now, one of the biggest issues we’re still hearing about is the continued frustration consumers are experiencing trying to get refunds for cancelled travel plans. Many of them dealing with third-party booking sites, and some, like DeAnna Cheslog, are starting to wonder:

Are the booking sites simply overwhelmedmand lacking the infrastructure to give timely information? Or are they being intentional in their non-answers?

Cheslog and her fiancé should be scuba diving in Curacao right now. But like so many others, their trip was canceled, and they are stuck at home in Lake Zurich. 

“We booked our trip back in October for spring break, and I always get the trip insurance, just in case something comes up, which we never thought a virus would prevent us from traveling,” Cheslog said.

The couple booked their vacation through third party site Orbitz. When they called a week out to get a refund for the hotel portion of their trip, they were turned away, and told to call back 72 hours before travel was supposed to start.

Cheslog complied and says her own phone records now show what a fool's errand that was: almost 4 hours on hold. She says endless chats with virtual agents weren’t much better.

“They would give you the same message over and over, and then would just spin you around in circles you never got anywhere with the bot,” Cheslog told NBC 5 Responds.

She says her frustration shot through the roof when she finally got connected to an agent.  

“I want my refund that's why I bought the trip insurance, and then they pretended that they couldn't hear me,” Cheslong said. “And then they hung up.”

Orbitz has heard similar complaints from others, too: its own Facebook page peppered with similar feedback:  

“Horrible experience with Orbitz. Days of not being able to get the phone to even ring there.”

 “Normal waiting is 3-4 hours and then they hang up.”

Three days *after* her planned departure date, Cheslog got through again, completely unprepared for what came next:

“And they told me that since the date had already passed that I couldn't use my insurance anymore,” Cheslog recalled.

Which bears repeating: the date passed *because* Cheslog heeded Orbitz' request to hold off calling. 

At her request, we asked Orbitz why the denial: Cheslog’s travel insurance blocked from doing the very thing it was designed to do.

“And miraculously today I heard from Orbitz, stating that they were going to refund my money,” Cheslog reported.

Orbitz told NBC 5 Responds:  “Upon investigation and in light of the extraordinary circumstances due to Covid-19, the Orbitz customer service team is honoring the customer’s travel insurance and processing a refund for the hotel portion of this trip.”

Orbitz says its call volumes have been 5-to-7 times higher, amounting to hundreds of thousands more calls than normal. And says the government work-from-home mandate has made made staffing call centers challenging. The company is now allowing customers to cancel online.

“I can only imagine there's thousands of other people that are in my same situation that they're not proactively providing refunds to,” Cheslog said. “You know, that's just wrong.”

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