Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fighting Expedia

Retailers often entice customers into a purchasing decision by offering a rebate, bonus, or other type of promotion. The retailer expects, however, that a portion of their customers will not follow through on claiming the rebate. There's even a term for it: "breakage."

Back in July my wife and I made a reservation through Expedia for a stay in St Petersburg, Florida. We had a great time, no problem there. When we made the reservation, however, Expedia had an offer for a $50 Gas Card on completion of the stay. We thought, "That's nice, it'll help cover the cost of the gas to get there."

When we got back home, we went to the Expedia site to find out how to claim the $50 gas card. Their emailed response to our inquiry told us to follow a link, which actually did not exist. So when I called their customer support line, I was informed that our trip did not qualify for the $50 gift card. I pointed out that it did, and the rep forwarded me up the chain. That next rep dropped my call. I was sitting at the computer while on hold, and I posted a tweet: something like "I'm having a hard time solving a problem with @expedia" (I had later deleted the post). Very soon after that I got a message inviting me to call them, and they actually gave my wife a phone call about the issue. I called Expedia back and spoke at length with one of their reps, who apologized profusely and blamed various system failures, and promised that we'd receive the gas card within the next week or two (the itinerary status screen said the estimated delivery was 8/26). About this time (August 2) I made a post saying that I was happy with how Expedia was helping to solve the problem, and deleted the earlier post about the original issue. (I've not deleted the happy post: it's shown below.)

Fast forward to today, about a month past the delivery date. There's no sign of the gas card. I called Expedia, trying to contact the same rep I had spoken with two months prior, but instead the operator sent me to their "Tier 3 Service Department". After a few minutes on hold, a message on an answering machine informed me that their offices were closed (it was 3PM Eastern), and told me to leave a message. So I did. I gave them my name, itinerary number, and phone number.

It started to seem to me that they were not going to fulfill the offer, and there was nothing I could do about it.

Except complain. And I generally don't like complaining.

First stop: Google. A search for "expedia gas card problem" will show you a lot of people have similar issues.

Next stop, the Better Business Bureau. I was very surprised to find the BBB gives them an A+ rating. Wow. How'd they manage that? Anyway I filed a complaint, and I got a message back from BBB saying they've forwarded the issue to Expedia. I should hear something by middle of next month.

One of the things the BBB complaint asked for was what did I want Expedia to do. My response was basically, just honor the gas card like they said they would. But I still hate all the aggravation they have caused. What should they do to make that right?

1. Try not to let the promise of a Free __________ unduly influence a purchase decision. Have you ever noticed how tough it can be to claim a rebate? To use those frequent flier miles?
2. Try to be reasonable; try to be patient.
3. Don't be afraid to involve the BBB, especially dealing with a BBB accredited business.
4. You have more influence than you think you do.