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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  • KennyG

    Maybe I am just smarter [or dumber as the case may be] than the average bear, but when I just got onto Expedia and went thru the flight selection process, after you have selected your flights, the next screen is the Trip Summary screen, and in BOLD print, on the right side of the screen immediately under the Total Price for the itinerary is a box, again in BOLD, that has the headline “IMPORTANT FLIGHT INFORMATION”. In that box, not in any small fine print, but standard font size, it describes the fare as non-refundable [or refundable as the case may be], any fees for itinerary changes, the 24 hour cancellation window etc. I am not sure how this qualifies as a company misrepresenting anything, but IMHO it may qualify as once again, a consumer not taking any personal responsibility, and no matter what, the implication that the business has gone out of its way to bamboozle its customer. I can’t speak for the insurance portion of this consumers complaint, but based on the Expedia side of things, I call an operator error. That all being said, I thank this man for his service to our country, and I wish that Expedia [or the airline involved], based simply on the fact that he was called to report for that military service would have a standard policy exception for members of the military if they can provide proof their circumstances were caused by a military obligation and formal orders that were issued after the date of booking.

  • ctporter

    I clicked on the link for trip insurance from Expedia, and at first glance YES, it does look like he should be covered, the implication sure looks like it. But, then I clicked on the “whats not covered link” (which I though was a GOOD thing for Expedia to provide and easy to read) and saw in number 5: that they do not cover service in the military. WOW, that strikes me as wrong. Do military members end up having to change flights that often that it is a specific exclusion?

  • Joe Farrell

    you’re supposed to know what you are buying. I get that 99.5% of everyone just clicks through the warnings because they are just so much noise, I get that when one who is military should be given extra dispensation when they get orders out of the blue –

    But at the same time – someone in the military should know its possible to get TDY or reassigned at a moments notice. . . .

  • Jeff W.

    Yes, Expedia offered enough compensation. When you purchase tickets from an OTA, it is almost always of the non-refundable type and when you purchase the insurance, you always have to read the rules. I am not airline apologist or a free marketer, but there is something called personal responsibility. You don’t spend $1000 online with a few clicks and not read the rules. Several people have already commented on the ease in which one can determine the rules.

    Now having said that, Expedia said no as it is bound by the restrictions of the tickets purchased. Did he try working with the airline(s) to maybe get a refund? Odds are they will point to Expedia, but it is worth a shot. Hard to determine which airline was chosen by the city pairs, but you might have some luck there. Sometimes the airlines have a soft spot for members of the military.

    I think it would also be an important consideration if he was an active duty member or a reservist. (Thank you, BTW). An active member knows that his plans can change at any time. A reservist might have been put off guard by a new order.

  • sirwired

    The basic list of covered reasons isn’t exactly the finest of fine print. We aren’t talking some exclusion buried in small type on page 23 of a 50-page policy.

    I’m looking at an Expedia booking screen now, and they list “3 reasons you might need travel protection” and work-reasons/military orders are not on the list. I don’t know why he would have thought they’d be covered anyway.

    I’m not saying the Expedia plan is very comprehensive or a great deal, but this is not a case of being sold something that isn’t delivering.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    First, I would like to thank the OP for his service to our country.

    Second, did the OP contacted the airline or airlines about getting a refund or working with Expedia in getting a full credit?

    Given the situation (military) of the OP, the OP needs to take responsibility for his situation. If a person is an active member or a reservist in the military, they should know that things can change at any time. Therefore, they should take that into consideration when booking their personal travel…like buying refundable tickets. researching travel protection plans or travel insurance policies; etc.

    My parents were in poor health in the last few years of their lives before they passed away; therefore, I took that into consideration when I travel for business and personal travel. For example, I looked for travel insurance in the case that we need to come back from a vacation.

    It will be my recommendation for military personnel to use a professional b&m travel agent so that a travel agent can understand your situation. If you want to be a DIY travel agent then read the terms and rules of your fares, travel protection plans, travel insurance policies, etc.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    As a long time reader of this blog, I can’t recall an article where a screen shot (or screen shots) was posted showing the ‘fine print’ and etc. Usually the readers will post comments to the opposite that it was disclosed clearly, in bold print, etc.

  • Randy Culpepper

    I’m always amused when I see people use military service as a reason to avoid their own accountability; that seems antithetical to what military service is supposed to instill.

  • sirwired

    I’d be happy for military orders to be a routine exception to non-refundable ticket policies. But the airline/travel agency should be free to refuse.

  • Michael__K

    Which was the airline?

    The reputable airlines generally have policies which allow free changes when new/revised military orders conflict with scheduled travel. I don’t believe Allegiant, Frontier, or Spirit even serve this route, so presumably he was booked on a reputable carrier. Has Expedia bothered to contact his airline?

  • Michael__K

    More prominent than the “Important Flight Information” (which is not uppercased) is “Protect Your Trip.” And the customer paid extra to protect their trip from unforeseen events.

    What the customer may have missed is that, even though Expedia’s trip protection covers jury duty and even covers employment changes, it specifically excludes (in small print) “service in the armed forces of any country.” Shame on Expedia for this exclusion.

    And even with this exclusion, most of the carriers that serve this route seem to have policies which specifically waive change fees or offer refunds when new military orders conflict with scheduled travel. Did Expedia bother to contact the airline?

  • FQTVLR

    What exactly was the misrepresentation about the non-refundable airline tickets? Expedia makes that very clear before you click the purchase button. The insurance is a bit iffier, but a quick perusal would show that military service is not covered.
    Expedia and the airline should work with the OP to refund or give a significant extension to use what appears to be a significantly over-priced ticket.
    I realize that I am looking like an apologist here but I cannot see what Expedia did wrong, where I do see that the OP did not take the time to read the rules. His failure to do that does not make it Expedia’s fault. (A big change for once.)
    Military orders change regularly and the airlines should work with the women and men who have chosen to serve in the Armed Forces–either through regular service or through the reserves/National Guard. Our armed service personnel should not be penalized for order changes. But this does not excuse them from knowing the restrictions of airfare and other travel related purchases that they make.

  • KennyG

    Hope this helps.

  • Michael__K

    I’m always amused how “personal responsibility” is routinely invoked as a one-way street in this space.

    Heaven forbid we expect Expedia to sell travel protection for unforeseen events that doesn’t specifically exclude service in the armed forces. And heaven forbid we expect them to act like a travel agent and follow-up with their customer’s airline. Most if not all the airlines which serve this route reportedly at least waive change fees if not offer refunds when new military orders conflict with scheduled travel.

  • KennyG

    I am sure Chris must have the name of the airline. As you yourself have stated in other blog posts, Chris wont even publish a blog post like this unless he has copies of all confirmations/tickets/etc.

  • Randy Culpepper

    Part of commerce is knowing what you’re purchasing. No information was withheld; the OP simply didn’t perform basic due diligence for his purchase and now feels wronged.

    There were numerous ways to prevent this: book directly with the airline, fly Southwest, buy refundable tickets.

    Also, at $1,000+ round-trip, I can almost guarantee you this purchase is for multiple travelers.

  • Michael__K

    Part of salesmanship is to emphasize what you want the customer to think they are buying (Don’t risk your $1000 trip! Protect your trip with our Flight Cancellation Protection plan!) and to bury important details (general plan exclusion for “service in the armed forces of any country” — so much for the theory that soldiers get special treatment…)

    Anyway, the passenger doesn’t forfeit their rights and airline policies still apply even if they use a travel agent, even an OTA. We may know that Expedia is a lousy OTA, but that doesn’t mean we must blame the customer and condone for Expedia to refuse to do their job as agent of record and represent their customers.

    BTW, airlines policies re: military orders generally address travel companions too. For example:

    Can I change my ticket or get a refund if my plans changed due to a military activation?
    A: Military personnel and their immediate family or accompanying passengers with tickets for any published, non-published or private fares are eligible to make changes without charges or to receive full refunds if a copy of the military orders is submitted with the request.

    Refunds for the military passenger’s ticket are made to the original form of payment. Tickets for immediate family members or accompanying passengers will be exchanged for transportation vouchers.

    https://www.aa.com/pubcontent/en_US/utility/FAQs/customerService/Refunds.jsp

  • Regina Litman

    Even though my sympathies lie more with peace activists than military personnel, I thonk that military orders should be a cause for refunds.

  • mbods2002

    I was thinking the same thing. It’s the least that can be done for folks in the military.

  • Military orders are automatically exempt from airline ticket change rules – or was this not a domestic flight?

  • Annie M

    What was misrepresented? The fare was non-refundable. His choice not the airlines. And if he didn’t read the terms of the insurance he bought, who’s fault is that? He should have bought a Cancel for Any Reason policy. They don’t usually pay 100% but they would have paid out more than he got back from Expedia.

    I do wish that Expedia would make an exception for him though. If anyone does deserve a special case to be made, it is anyone in our military that has to cancel a trip because they are called to duty.

  • Annie M

    Most insurance policies don’t cover military except if they are deployed for a natural disaster. He would need a CFAR policy. However, I wish someone would make an exception for him. I bet if he had booked with the airline directly and not Expedia, he would have received a refund.

  • Annie M

    Michael, most insurance companies don’t offer military service if you do not buy a CFAR plan. That is the option you might need. Not saying it isn’t right but they won’t cover it but it’s because they may actually have to pay out on it. So they exclude.

  • Annie M

    And that is his problem – he opted to use Expedia instead of booking directly through the airline. Most airlines will refund for this reason, but not an OTA.

  • KennyG

    You’re right, I had the caps lock key on when I typed that in. Definitely makes all the difference in the world as to being able to read it, it really is small unreadable, fine print with only the first letter of each word in caps. You get today’s award though https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b8e417b3d7231dbf1d723ff05bcf0c637208110068d1b51431636a8c7506526f.jpg

  • Michael__K

    If the airline’s policy is to refund for this reason then the passenger’s agent (even an OTA) should be able to invoke the policy and obtain a refund for their customer.

  • Michael__K

    I agree, although a few do appear to cover this sort of scenario without CFAR if I’m interpreting the terminology correctly (and if so, kudos to these insurers)–

    TravelGuard:

    the Insured or Traveling Companion is called to active military service or military leave is revoked or reassigned;

    RoamRight:

    revocation of Your or Your Traveling Companion’s previously granted military leave or re-assignment, including war.

  • Michael__K

    I didn’t address your grammar at all. Funny how you took exception to 4 words I put in parentheses but ignored everything else in my comment.

  • Mel LeCompte Jr.

    Since the companies won’t do it, one regulation that should be in place is a very limited non-restriction refund rule, that would apply a/ to active military and b/ for the death of an IMMEDIATE family member (parent, child, spouse). Anybody putting their life on the line, OR going through a time of great grief, shouldn’t have to go through this crap.

  • KennyG

    I had no issue with anything you said about the insurance portion of the travelers problems as I had stated in my original comment. You had chosen to marginalize my comment about the supposed “deceptive” advertising by Expedia regarding the refundability of the tickets by pointing out I had placed it in all caps, but you never addressed the potential issues I pointed out about it. I think a glance in the mirror before you call someone else out might be appropriate. The consumer is not always right no matter what you might think.

  • Lindabator

    when BOOKED as military ticket, it is – why did he go to Expedia, rather than the travel service onbase? And if he wants a refund, Expedia cannot give what they do not have (his money), but contacting the airline directly should work out for him

  • Lindabator

    he could have booked a military rate, which would have allowed – but needs to do on base, or with the airline directly — I still think he should email the airline, as they are pretty likely to just refund it, even if Expedia cannot do so

  • Lindabator

    because there are actually military fares that cover orders – but not to be booked with an OTA

  • Lindabator

    I said go to the airline directly as well – they are the only ones who can make the decision to refund, and are usually flexible when it comes to military

  • Lindabator

    correct – Expedia cannot give him what they do not have (his money) – which is why his best bet is appealing to the airline directly – I have done this for friends (even those I did not actually book myself), and for military, they are very open to refunds

  • Lindabator

    but those are specifically military fares, which you CANNOT book with an OTA – he could have done so with the airline directly, or with base services

  • Lindabator

    no – unless ISSUED as military fares – he booked with an OTA, so not even an option

  • Lindabator

    Expedia cannot make that call – they have to follow ticketing rules, and the cost of the ticket is not something they have – it is passed thru to the airlines, and THEY determine the rules of the ticket. TRUE – they SHOULD go to bat for him, but an OTA does not do that

  • Michael__K

    but those are specifically military fares, which you CANNOT book with an OTA

    This is demonstrably false. For example:

    Can I change my ticket or get a refund if my plans changed due to a military activation?
    A: Military personnel and their immediate family or accompanying passengers with tickets for any published, non-published or private fares are eligible to make changes without charges or to receive full refunds if a copy of the military orders is submitted with the request.

    https://www.aa.com/pubcontent/en_US/utility/FAQs/customerService/Refunds.jsp

  • Michael__K

    You are still fixated on the “Important Information” section in a vacuum. I tried to explain that the OTHER information about “risk” and “Flight Cancellation Protection” does deliver a confusing and “deceptive” overall message.

  • KennyG

    Per Chris himself “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.” and “Should companies be allowed to misrepresent their products like this? ” This is the supposed “deception” I was addressing in my original comment. And yes, I am fixated on the point of my original comment, which specifically said I was not commenting on the insurance portion of Chris’s post [which has since my original comment been shown by other commenters to be pretty obvious to anyone doing even the least bit of due diligence], but which is what you seem to be fixated on. I am fixated on the point I was making, which you seemed to dismiss as unimportant as compared to the point you were fixated on, which I never disputed [until now]

  • Michael__K

    Anyone can defend marketing double-speak if they selectively block out the portion which doesn’t fit the message they want to lecture about.

  • KennyG

    Now at last we are in total agreement about what you have done. You have blocked out the portions of my original comment that don’t fit your narrative. Glad this is now over and done. Your brevity finally is appreciated. Over and out.

  • Michael__K

    I tried to point you to the double-speak deception, but you resist.

  • KennyG

    No, ObiWan, I did not resist at all. As I have said several times before, my comment was limited to the issue of refundability and fees and charges for the airfare, and whether or not Expedia was being deceptive in those practices. Several comments ago, I even stated in a reply to you that “I had no issue with anything you said about the insurance portion of the travelers problems …… ” Not sure how I could be accused of resisting when I agreed with you. When I used to train salespeople, one of the things they sometimes had problems with was they couldn’t hear the “yes” when a customer said it and kept on selling. Perhaps you missed my “yes” to what you have been saying. I have no real dispute with your characterization or comments on the insurance portion of this issue, as I said in my original comment and then again subsequently in our discussion.

  • John McDonald

    why should he get any compensation at all ? I would NOT have given him $300, I would have given him nothing.
    Most tickets sold these days are non-refundable at cheaper end at least. Many stupid corporates insist on changeable & refundable fares(they’re not paying), which cost much more & they hardly ever are changed. Much better to buy the cheapest & on the rare occasion, when need to fly at a different time/date, just buy another ticket.

  • Annie M

    That is my point. It wasn’t mis-represented.

  • Annie M

    I agree.

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