Let me start by saying that I like Orbitz. I like its new CEO, Barney Harford. I like the hard-working folks in its customer service department. I like the way it uses technology to improve your trip.
But I do not like the way it pre-checks the option to buy travel insurance when you’re booking a trip, and I don’t buy its arguments for doing it. Neither does Joyce Carlson, who recently bought a trip through the online travel agency.
Here’s what happened to her: Carlson reserved roundtrip tickets from San Francisco to Tokyo. When she did, she found that the insurance option was checked, automatically signing her up for an Access America policy.
I definitely had not wanted to purchase travel insurance, because I get this insurance through my employer. I had to try to book my tickets several times, and each time I thought I had opted out of the travel insurance.
Unfortunately, the one reservation that took hold in the computer was one for which I evidently did not opt out of insurance. An email confirming I had purchased travel insurance arrived much sooner than the email confirmation for the flights, and I was not happy.
In a subsequent email to Orbitz, she didn’t hold back, calling the practice of pre-checking “reprehensible.” To which Orbitz replied:
We have found that many of our customers choose travel insurance when booking an international vacation to protect their investment in their trip should covered emergencies require that the trip be cancelled.
Therefore, we default to “Yes, Add Ticket Protector Plus” to provide this peace of mind. You may choose “No thanks. I prefer to decline Ticket Protector Plus.” on the Traveler Information page during the booking process.
Since 10 days had passed since she unwittingly purchased the policy, she was stuck with it. Carlson says she was unaware she could get her money back within 10 days, otherwise she would have asked for a refund. But the terms were hidden away on a PDF file that needed to be downloaded.
When I read her email, I thought it was a mistake. After what I’ve written about unethical pre-checking in the past, I honestly didn’t think Orbitz would do this. So I asked. Here’s my correspondence with the company:
Me: This must be a mistake. You’re not pre-checking the box for insurance, are you?
Orbitz: Let me check on this.
I’m not certain if below is the same, but we do suggest insurance in some cases, which is an industry standard (other OTCs do this too) for some packaged travel and international travel because of the high dollar volume involved for consumers.
We disclose this however and enable customers to opt-out if they don’t want it. But when you’re booking a prepaid package (much of which at times can be non-refundable) where your already experiencing a tremendous savings because you booked a package, it makes sense to make insurance a part of the package as a protection. That is why I know we urge consumers to spend the money to do it, but they don’t get it automatically included…as they can choose not to include it.