Frustration Growing for Travelers Trying to Get Refunds from Third Party Bookers

What is the industry doing to ease tensions? NBC 5 Responds gets some answers.

NBCUniversal, Inc.

It's no surprise that NBC 5 Responds is getting bombarded with complaints about travel. The one we’re hearing the most: third party booking sites, and consumers who say they are stuck in the middle, unable to get answers or refunds.

Third party booking sites say they are overwhelmed by the onslaught of calls from consumers, and acknowledge wait times can be overwhelming. Many say they follow the policies of their travel partners: credits, changes or refunds are at the discretion of the airline, cruise line, and hotels.  

But some travel bookers are taking steps to help ease consumer frustration.

CheapOair told NBC 5 Responds it normally gets 20,000 calls a day. It now gets 200,000. The company says the tremendous volume has impacted its ability to answer calls.

Here are the steps they say they’ve taken to remedy that:

  • We have increased the number of trunk lines available, in an attempt to make it easier to reach an agent more quickly. 
  • We have tripled our social media customer service staff to respond to queries that come to us via those portals. 
  • We are reaching out to all customers that have travel booked in the next 2 weeks to get ahead of the anticipated cancellation request. 
  • Several weeks ago we launched an advisory page that rounds up latest airline waivers information for all of our affected customers’ carriers. 

 "We are now enhancing our coronavirus advisory page with an online    cancellation form to allow our customer to transact their request without needing to speak to a live agent," CheapOair spokesperson Kathi Moore said.

The Expedia Group, which owns Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz and Cheaptickets, also shared updated guidance for travelers trying to cancel trips: 

  • We increased the number of travel advisors available;
  • Improved existing self-service options such as cancellation forms and guidance on managing itineraries;
  • Introduced new automated ways for travelers to take action – including a new Virtual Agent chat feature.

We found that most third party booking sites are now pleading with customers to sit tight, using language like:

“If your trip is not within 72 hours, we urge you to holding off calling … so we can help those with more imminent travel.”

Travelers say they’ve been pushed to their limits.

“They’re infuriating people to be honest,” Chris Barker said.

Barker and his husband Bobby Schafer say they hit a brick wall when they tried to cancel their cruise. They say their booking agent refused to follow the more-lenient policies of the cruise line. 

“There were no options. No real conversation. It was really their flat bottom line. This is all they’re willing to do,” Schafer said.

What third party bookers are really trying to do here is to steer consumers away from the phone and onto their websites where they are making it easier to do as much as possible online.

If you’re looking for the most updated policy details from the airlines, hotels and online bookers, click here for a comprehensive list.

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