This all-inclusive vacation really headed south, thanks to Expedia — or did it?

shutterstock_245812327
By | March 15th, 2016

Tammy Wellendorf’s vacation is falling apart and Expedia won’t help her pick up the pieces.

Her grievance raises an age-old question that resonates almost every day on this site: Why bother using an online travel agent if it won’t stand behind the product it sells?

Before we answer that question, let’s hear from Wellendorf. She’d saved up for years for an all-inclusive vacation with her adult family. All told, there were seven people, including her son, Cole, and his fiancee, Amber.

“Cole and Amber had been together for four years and were now engaged. All was set for their wedding,” she says.

And you can probably guess what happened next. Wellendorf booked the vacation and just before their departure, the couple broke up.

But Wellendorf wasn’t worried. After, all she’d purchased travel insurance through Expedia. Surely, it would cover an unanticipated event like this?

Actually, no.

“I called Expedia repeatedly, as did both of my sons. Each of us was put on hold for
for 30 minutes and then disconnected,” she says. “It seems this is Expedia’s common method of operation.”

But finally, they did connect with an Expedia representative, who informed the family that a breakup wasn’t a covered reason.

Hang on. Didn’t Expedia sell her a “cancel for any reason” policy?

No, said Expedia. It sent her the policy. It was a garden-variety “named exclusion” policy.

“It was completely false advertising. The policy didn’t work as they claimed it would when I purchased it,” she says.


It’s important to note here that both Expedia and Wellendorf are right — and wrong. Expedia knowingly leaves customers like her with the impression that she’s “protected” while hiding important exclusions in the fine print. But technically, the online agency is correct.

Related story:   Send this lady the whale guarantee letter

Wellendorf, on the other hand, had no reason to suspect there’d be a lot of fine print — indeed, that her insurance wouldn’t protect her purchase. But she should have read the fine print, and technically, she’s out of luck.

How about their airline? Maybe Expedia could pick up the phone and deal with the airline’s “waivers and favors” specialists. Nah.

She contacted American Airlines and of course it sent her the following form letter:

Airline tickets are not transferable and may only be used by the customer whose name is reflected on the electronic ticket and/or the printed itinerary/receipt. The nontransferable restriction is clearly specified on each ticket.

Ms. Wellendorf, I’m sorry that we are unable to comply with your request on this occasion.

Yeah, thanks American.

Incidentally, the ticket transfer restrictions have nothing to do with security and can be waived if the airline wants to. In this case, American simply didn’t want to.

Wellendorf wants a refund of $1,316 for the tickets and the share of her son’s fiancee’s vacation. She wonders why Expedia won’t help her.

Why not? Well, let’s take these issues one by one. The insurance is a well-known “gotcha,” and if Wellendorf booked on her own, she should have had an awareness of the problem. Expedia can’t just change its policy; it would have to deal with underwriters and insurance companies who raise a fuss. (I’ve seen it.)



  • James

    Did she remember to buy insurance for her insurance not working as expected?

  • Alan Gore

    I’m a leading advocate of travel insurance insurance (for more complex bookings, don’t forget the travel insurance insurance insurance) but in this case, did Wellendorf save a copy of the signup for Expedia’s plan that promised to be all-inclusive? She could have a false advertising case.

  • mdy2k1

    Do it, personally I don’t see a break up as a recoverable event in travel insurance. And while we are in the mecca of “Read the fine print,” vendors must be held accountable for misleading people. So this all depends on what the promotional material says vs. what the fine print says. She might have a case.
    “Any reason” is very different from “almost any reason” or “unforeseen circumstances.”
    But if it says “any reason” then “fiancee can’t stand looking at you people” is a payment.

  • sirwired

    The big question is: Why did they think they had Any Reason coverage? Did Expedia prominently advertise Any Reason coverage but default to a regular policy? Or was it assumed that any Expedia policy was Any Reason, and the customer didn’t bother to check?

    If Expedia had a confusing sign-up, then some sort of resolution is called for. But if the customer simply made a bad assumption over what it covered, then this was a simple mistake on their part, and not one Expedia should be on the hook for. (Basic terms of Trip Insurance like “This is a Covered Reasons and not an Any Reason policy” are not, in any sense of the word, “Fine Print”.)

  • taxed2themax

    I’d like to know exactly what was given by Expedia on the front end. That said, I do think that most all forms of advertising are – to varying degrees “misleading”, but I, myself, don’t think that’s truly the correct term. I think what it is more “leading” in that they want you to see, think about and focus on the things the sellers thinks are highlights and positives, and not about the negatives.. just like most all forms of advertising. That said, I do think there is also a part that says you’ve got to disclose all of it.. but I don’t really fault someone, like a business, for highlighting the “upside”.. so long as the ‘downside’ is also disclosed.
    For me, I’d agree with using the term misleading — IF the intent was deceptive.. to knowingly omit or alter facts to arrive at a false position.
    So, I think the answer here is in part, what does the advertising materials say.
    I also think there is some measure of personal responsibility in play; to read before buying, ask questions before buying and to understand exactly what it is that you’re agreeing to… and yes, the business has a part too; to fairly and reasonably make this information available and in a manner that can be reasonably understood.

  • Nathan Witt

    It’s not altogether unreasonable for the average consumer to think that an insurance policy for which they’ve paid extra money covers Things That Go Wrong. Telling people that it’s their fault for not being a lawyer and understanding the nature of a named inclusion plan (which this must have been, since a “named exclusion” plan would specifically have had to list the termination of a romantic relationship between travelers as a non-covered event) is counterproductive.

    The reason these plans are sold with broad statements on top of fine print is that they’re not very good coverage, and the sellers don’t really want the purchasers to think about all the things that could go wrong without remedy. I’m not in favor of forcing insurers to pay for things they never promised to cover, but I AM in favor of making sure all parties to a transaction understand what’s happening.

    If we can list the side effects of medicine on TV commercials, I bet we can find a way to make sure people like Ms. Wellendorf understand what they’re buying, and because this didn’t happen, Chris, I think you should advocate for her.

  • taxed2themax

    “but I AM in favor of making sure all parties to a transaction understand what’s happening.” I agree…. I also think this will be or would be a somewhat challenging endeavor as the list of what this might or might not encompass.. but I think it’s something that the business should be required to do… and… then the onus falls to the consumer to read, understand and agree to, before they elect to go forward.

  • Nathan Witt

    I agree. But you can tell when a business really wants you to understand something, and when they hope you won’t notice. Consider fine print vs. Priceline’s “No Cancellation” policy, which you have to read and initial (more than once, if memory serves) before you can actually input your credit card information. Under Priceline’s system, if you genuinely don’t know the reservation can’t be canceled, you’re either willfully ignorant or illiterate.

  • Mel65

    I get that they wanted to take “their family” but the fiancee should have purchased her own ticket; I would never purchase an airline ticket for someone outside of my own family unless it was a pure gift and I was willing to see the money flushed. Is the break up amicable enough that perhaps “Amber” would reimburse them and accept a ticket credit for a future trip, maybe with another friend? That seems like the only solution they may have.

  • Mel65

    My thought, as well. I reread the story to make sure I hadn’t missed that she bought “Cancel for ANY Reason” Insurance. Doesn’t look like she did.

  • Regina Litman

    Wow! I cam believe anyone vored No, let alone a majority of respondents so far! Ignore them, please, Chris. You’ve already stated that rules can be bent. Put the heat on American.

    One more thing – If Amber broke it off, try to collect from her. But I suspect she would then turn the blame on Cole.

  • Anthony Paul Mannion

    Why some money would still be lost, why not still take the vacation, without the fiancé?

  • FQTVLR

    I called my sister who books everything she does on Expedia and always purchases insurance for packages. She sent me a link to Expedia’s different plans–one of which is called the Expedia Vacation waver which is separately priced than travel insurance which offers medical and cancellation for covered reasons. She says the difference is clearly noted. I looked and agree with her. The waver is cancel for any reason and not truly insurance. (And does not cover non-refundable air–something that is less prominent.) The package protection plan clearly states it does not include the waver in the cost. It is not hidden in fine print–it is clearly stated. If the OP booked on line then she did not read the information give on the page clearly. If she booked over the phone or called about insurance then she might have been given the wrong information or it was not clearly presented and that would be Expedia’s fault. If she did not read through the online options when booking then the fault is hers.

  • Michael__K

    She must indeed have had “Change or cancel your trip for any reason” ‘Vacation Waiver’ coverage because that’s what Expedia sells with it’s “Bundles.”

    Assuming they didn’t already make a prior change, she should be entitled to a refund for the non-airfare components of the trip per the terms and conditions. For the airfare, each passenger (including Amber) is supposed to get a non-transferrable credit for future travel from the airline, with the change fees refunded. Did she not receive all this? Is the complaint here only in regards to the airfare credits not being transferrable or refundable?

    https://www.expedia.com/g/rf/vacation-waiver-terms

  • Michael__K

    If she had a ‘garden-variety “named exclusion” policy‘ then she apparently bought the most expensive protection Expedia offers, which includes ‘Change or Cancel for any reason protection’ too. The lower priced offering doesn’t have any coverage for ‘named’ perils.

    Of course no ‘Cancel for any reason’ plan gives full refunds for unnamed perils (you can’t make money giving full refunds without a reason). In this case, she should have received refunds for any non-airfare package components, plus non-transferrable credits for future travel for each passenger from the airline (did she receive that?)

  • Michael__K

    The big question is: Why did they think they had Any Reason coverage?

    Because that’s what Expedia sells with its bundles.

  • Lindabator

    but the mom wants the MONEY from Amber’s ticket refunded – and is NOT entitled to that

  • Michael__K

    Is that her ONLY complaint?

  • sirwired

    Yep. I just did the same thing. I guess they DID get “Any reason” coverage, it just didn’t include a refund.

    But I’m going to double-down on my assertion that this is not a case of “hiding important exclusions in the fine-print”; it’s right there in plain English on the purchase page (you don’t even have to read the policy itself) that if you get the “–>Change<– for ANY Reason" plan, you don't get an airfare refund.

  • sirwired

    That’s how it appears to me. American is offering an airfare credit, but only to the original passenger. She wants a refund to herself (or, maybe, the credit to herself.)

    (One could guess that Expedia would cut a check for the change fee when the actual change is made, but that doesn’t happen until rebooking.)

  • Michael__K

    The terms actually do say “Change or Cancel for any reason.” But the airfare component can only be cancelled for a future credit. Which make sense; offering full refunds for no reason would not be a very viable business model….

    Change or cancel for any reason

    Vacation Waiver helps protect you against life’s unexpected occurrences. Your group is allowed to change or cancel your trip for any reason one (1) time prior to the scheduled start time* of your trip without being charged any change or cancellation fees. If canceling, any monies paid will be returned to the customer who booked the travel except the cost of published airfare, which may be made available as a credit for future travel.**

    Note:

    The waiver is valid once you have paid the appropriate waiver cost and your booking is confirmed.

    *Scheduled Start Time is defined as the originally scheduled departure time of your flight or, if you haven’t booked a flight as part of your package, the scheduled check-in time of your hotel at the time of booking. Other terms and conditions apply. Please see Terms and Conditions below.

    **For a published air ticket, credit may be issued per applicable airline policies less airline change fees and Expedia, Inc. will absorb the change fees. The actual airfare could be higher at the time of rebooking; in that event the price differential would be your responsibility. You are allowed to change or cancel your trip for any reason one (1) time prior to the start of your trip.

  • FQTVLR

    Exactly what policy did she purchase?

  • Joe_D_Messina

    After reading the article and the comments it seems some additional info is needed. Is the only point of contention who (OP or the fiancee) gets the airline voucher? If that is the only issue I doubt you’ll be able to help her. If their policy is to give the voucher to whose name the ticket is in, I doubt they’ll change that in this case. It’d set them up to be sued by the fiancee because she’d rightfully question why the normal policy wasn’t honored in her case.

  • AAGK

    Why isn’t this her son’s responsibility?

  • Éamon deValera

    Insurance is not a ‘gotcha’ looking at Expedia’s site the various plans are available and the exclusions are visible before one purchases the plan. If she doesn’t want to read it herself licensed insurance agents do sell travel insurance.

    It would seem to me that the son or former affianced young woman could be an adult and reimburse the mother.

  • Éamon deValera

    They are good coverage. It says what it covers and what is excluded. How can anyone not read the policy? It amazes me. If I go to McDonald’s and order the #6 combo and it doesn’t come with a bucket of chicken I don’t whinge.

    I’m sorry Mrs. Wellendorf is out the money, but if she wanted cancel for any reason she should have bought a policy that allows that.

    There are dozens of travel insurance companies, you don’t have to buy it from Expedia.

  • Éamon deValera

    It isn’t fine print. State laws require that the type be at least as large as the text of the body or 12 point (in most states). They’re not hiding anything.

  • Éamon deValera

    These are truly absurd. How can we possibly know if Mr. Elliott should advocate for the consumer if we don’t know what insurance was truly purchased?

    I started a booking on Expedia, but didn’t put in credit card information so I can’t get to this screen. However it does say cancel for ‘covered reasons’ with a link so we can plainly see it doesn’t mean any reason.

    There can be no argument that covered reasons could be interpreted by a reasonable traveler to mean you can cancel for any reason.

    If they had this policy and they wished to change to a different traveler, or perhaps allow the young woman to go on her own with the value of her portion it may be possible.

    But again, how are we to make in informed decision when we are not informed?

  • Éamon deValera

    Actually if an insurance company makes a representation in writing regarding a specific policy they are bound by that representation. No need to prove false advertising, the state insurance commissioner will sort it out quite quickly.

  • KarlaKatz

    Every travel insurance policy I’ve purchased (and, that’s many!), has provided a link whereby I was able to peruse the entire policy, including all the fine print, before purchase. Time consuming? Yes, but well worth the effort. On a few occasions, I’ve decline the offered policy, and requested an “upgraded” version (to cover my particular needs at the time). It’s as easy as teaching a cat how to open a safety pin, but worth the time.

  • KarlaKatz

    Airfare is only “Cancel and use your airline credit later”

  • Michael__K

    Aviation industry is mostly exempt from state & local consumer protection laws, per the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Airline Deregulation Act.

  • Michael__K

    They can get around that because this technically isn’t insurance. Its a “Vacation Waiver.”

  • Michael__K

    If you read it, there are no “exclusions”, per the FAQ included in the terms:

    Exclusions

    Are there exclusions?
    No, there are no exclusions!

    Is there a Pre-Existing Condition Exclusion?
    The Vacation Waiver does not have a pre-existing condition exclusion.

  • Michael__K

    You can reach the screen without entering any credit card information when you price a “Bundle.”

  • Annie M

    Thanks for posting this. So what isn’t clear? It says “change for any reason”, not Cancel for Any Reason and states”cancel for covered reason” with a link to see what is covered and also a link to terms and conditions. I guess she didn’t bother to click on either or read.

    Nothing deceitful here, just another case of people not reading and making an assumption.

    Nope, I don’t think you should advocate.

  • John McDonald

    Many international airlines allow name changes for a fee. It’s not a big deal, have done it many times.

  • Michael__K

    On the terms page, it says very prominently “Change or cancel for any reason.”

    What isn’t clear and Chris should verify is if the the OP received refunds for the non-airfare components and for airline change fees.

    If her only objection is to the airfare being returned in the form of non-transferrable airline credits, then I agree she doesn’t have a strong case. If she bought “real” Cancel for Any Reason insurance, best case she would have received a 75% refund and the policy would have cost more than twice as much as Expedia’s Vacation Waiver. With the vacation waiver, she gets a full-refund for the non-airfare components. And everyone gets a 100% airfare credit they can use as they wish within a year. Even if we count the ex’s ticket as a total loss, they still should have full credits for future travel for the other 6 out of 7 passengers.

  • Nathan Witt

    That’s because no one ever implied that the McDonald’s #6 combo came with a bucket of chicken. If you ordered from McDonalds and were told you’d “be served an excellent meal,” you might be surprised when you got a small, greasy burger, a few french fries and a drink – all served on paper. Sure, the fine print might well indicate exactly what you’re getting, but advertising that as “an excellent meal” is equivalent to selling people travel insurance “so you’ll be protected in case something comes up.” It sounds nice, but it isn’t true, unless what comes up is a narrowly defined set of circumstances.

  • Nathan Witt

    Well, they may not be hiding the terms because the text is tiny, but they DO put it on a separate page that requires following a link, where you get a wall of legalese. If you’re arguing that Expedia has made a good faith effort to clearly spell out the terms of the coverage in a way that will definitely be noticed and understood by all who purchase it, I can’t say I agree with you.

  • Éamon deValera

    I probably wouldn’t buy a waiver.

  • Éamon deValera

    It doesn’t have anything to do with the aviation industry. Insurance is regulated by the states no matter who sells it.

  • Éamon deValera

    I guess that depends on how you define good faith. I think it meets the good faith test by listing the full terms and conditions even if linked.

    Is it a good idea, or consumer friendly. No, I agree with you there. Would I buy insurance from an online travel agency website? Not any more than I would buy it from my barber.

  • Éamon deValera

    I doubt we’ll ever find out. We are never given all the details. Perhaps the consumer doesn’t know.

  • Éamon deValera

    If that is indeed what she purchased then I would sue. One doesn’t have to be Learned Hand to decipher one’s insurance (or waiver really). A reasonable man standard is used by the Courts. A reasonable man would read no exclusions to mean no exclusions.

  • Éamon deValera

    I’m using the cat… safety pin analogy.

  • Michael__K

    This isn’t insurance.

  • KarlaKatz

    I’m flattered :)

  • Algebralovr

    In this situation, a small claims court case to the now-ex is actually what is the best idea. He has the credit to use at a later date and should pay back the letter writer.

  • pauletteb

    If her son broke off the engagement, he should fork up the difference; same for the fiancée.

  • cscasi

    “It’s important to note here that both Expedia and Wellendorf are right — and wrong. Expedia knowingly leaves customers like her with the impression that she’s “protected” while hiding important exclusions in the fine print. But technically, the online agency is correct.”
    Looks like Chris and Company looked into that and found that Expedia is “technically correct”. If that’s the case, would it do any good to try to sue for false advertising? I guess one could, but what are the chances of prevailing; especially with the time and effort one would have to expend getting everything together to make the case.

  • cscasi

    Wonder which one they had; Change for Any Reason or the Change Ffor Any Reason & Protection? The first one only allows “Change” not “refund”; whereas the second one does allow “Cancel for COVERED reasons” refunds.
    Personally, I do not think either of those are good insurance to buy. I can buy a good Cancel for any reason policy from some reputable travel insurance companies that do not have “Cancel for covered reasons” .

  • Michael__K

    She must have bought the more expensive coverage — the “Protection” would correspond to the conventional Named Perils policy alluded to in the article.

    But it doesn’t matter– no Named Perils policy will cover a relationship gone bad.

    The Change for Any Reason waiver includes Cancel for Any Reason, in which case airfare is returned as a non-transferable credit (with change fees reimbursed). No Cancel for Any Reason policy will give full refunds for “any” reason. The most generous third party policies will refund 75%.

  • TMMao

    It appears the family did go on the trip but without the ex-fiancee. In that case, the ground portion was used and only the airfare credit is still valid for up to one year.

    Ms. Wellendorf wants a refund for the unused portion of the vacation however that isn’t how packages are priced. If someone books a trip for two and only one shows up, there is no 50% refund.

  • pmcw

    This is a problem the FTC should address – why does “small print” exist. The law should be any exclusion, loophole, etc. should be in the same font and size as the rest of the offer.