A $300 coupon for a $1,000 airfare — is that “the best that Expedia can do”?

By | September 6th, 2016

Joshua Beal wants a refund for his nonrefundable airfare from Expedia.

Oh, wait. You’ve heard this one before? OK, maybe I’ve written about refunding nonrefundable airfares a time or two on this site.

Doesn’t get any easier.

Beal is a military medic who lives in West Richland, Washington, and he “apparently” purchased a nonrefundable airline ticket from Boise, Idaho, to San Jose, California, earlier this year.

“Apparently” — his words, not mine.

“I also bought trip insurance that was also apparently from a third party company that I thought would cover me going under military orders,” he says.

You can see where this is going, right?

Beal’s orders changed. “I have to go to Germany at same time my trip is scheduled,” he says.

He quickly discovered that his tickets were nonrefundable. Most tickets purchased through an online agency like Expedia are nonrefundable, a fact known to our regular readers of this site, but not necessarily to the average consumer.

The terms of an airline ticket and travel insurance are often obscured or downplayed by an online agency. Important fine print is concealed by a pop-up window. Critical terms are buried by fine print.

At the same time, the large print — ads that promise your vacation will be “protected” or that you’re getting the “best” airfares — leave you with the impression that you’re taken care of.

Our advocacy team reviewed his paper trail and determined that there was no case to advocate. His insurance didn’t cover military orders, and his ticket was nonrefundable.

Expedia offered him a $300 goodwill voucher toward a future flight.

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“The total for my purchase was just over $1,000,” he says. “I talked all the way up to the corporate office, and this was the best that they could do. I was on the phone for a total of four to five hours, at least.”

Even though Beal doesn’t have a case, it doesn’t mean this is right.

“I would like a complete refund,” he says.

Should companies be allowed to misrepresent their products like this? The free-marketers and free-speechers among you will say “absolutely.” Expedia should be able to declare that its travel protection will protect you “whenever” you need it. But there are limits to what a company can — and can’t — say. We have agencies like the Department of Transportation and the Federal Trade Commission that can and do tell companies to “stop” when they’ve crossed the line.

Maybe, just maybe, a line has been crossed here.

Our commenters will probably try to enlighten a consumer like Beal with encouraging words like, “Read the fine print” and “You get what you pay for.” Fair enough. But he wasn’t wrong to believe what he did — and that, my fellow advocates, is wrong.

Did Expedia offer Joshua Beal enough compensation?

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