Is this enough compensation? Orbitz calls off its collection agency, but …

By | June 21st, 2011

Ah, the perils of being your own travel agent.

Polly Pedersen knows about them all too well after she tried to book airline tickets from Philadelphia to Detroit on Orbitz.

“A screen came up saying ‘technical difficulties,'” she says. “So I thought, “OK, they’re having problems with their site. I’ll book elsewhere.'”

For future reference, it’s not OK to book elsewhere when you get an error message as you’re buying an airline ticket. You have to make sure the reservation didn’t get made. Otherwise you could end up with two tickets for the same flight.

One way is to check your “in” box. Although Pedersen says she did, the message was filtered to her spam folder. The only evidence that Orbitz had finished the transaction was a $2 charge on her credit card. She thought Orbitz had billed her for using the site.

“There was no reservation or confirmation from Orbitz until four days later,” she says. By then, she’d already booked the same flight through Travelocity. “I spoke to a customer service person right away and got nowhere. A manager called back and left a message: ‘Too bad, but we can’t help you.'”

So Pedersen did what any self-respecting consumer would do when an intransigent business refuses to refund an erroneous purchase: she disputed her credit card bill.

And she won.

That didn’t sit well with Orbitz, which was on the hook for her Delta Air Lines tickets. It referred the case to a collection agency, which contacted Pedersen and did all the awful things collection agencies do, including threatening to ruin her credit rating.

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Pedersen contacted me to see if I could talk some sense into Orbitz. I asked Orbitz about her case, and it reconsidered the whole collection agency thing. The online travel agency offered her ticket credits if she agreed to settle up her bill. But she’d still have to pay a $150 change fee to rebook her tickets.

A quick call to Delta got the fee reduced to $50, and for her, it was a small price to pay to get a collection agency off her back.

“I am very relieved,” she says. “Next time, I’ll book directly through the airline. No more online! My kids forbid me.”

I’m happy for her, too. I guess the real question is: Whose technical problems were they in the first place? Did the Orbitz servers go on the blink, or did Pedersen’s Internet connection fail at the precise moment she was trying to buy tickets?

If the problem was on Orbitz’ side, why should this customer have to pay for tickets she didn’t want? And a collection agency? Come on, that’s a little heavy-handed, don’t you think?

Still, this is a lot better than where Pedersen started, with some collection agency harassing her. But did Orbitz — and Delta — do enough for this customer?

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