The anatomy of Expedia’s Best Rate Guarantee failure

Shortly into my third week in the battle to get over $1000 refunded by Expedia‘s Best Rate Guarantee program, despair sets in. The thin, smooth glass on the surface of my smartphone is caked with layers of sweat and the anytime and rollover weekend minutes that I once cherished are now memories long lost. I’ve started telling the agents in the call center which options they need to be choosing on their local screens before they ask and preparing for long waits, taking 20 minutes here and there to leave my phone at my desk and go for a stroll or get a sandwich. It finally occurs to me that perhaps this is part of Expedia’s strategy: frustrate the users so much, make them so physically angry and emotionally drained that they give up the fight for their refunds and just give up in disgust.

This is now how the Best Rate Guarantee program should work. A feature used by many Online Travel Agencies (OTAs), a Best Rate Guarantee is a tool that creates equilibrium in the travel pricing market. Say, for example, you run a search on your favorite airline website and find an itinerary that costs $500 in a certain fare bucket at a certain time. If you find that exact same ticket for a higher price on Expedia, all that you need to do is book the higher ticket, call their agents and ask to be refunded the amount of the difference. As a reward, Expedia also offers a $50 coupon for later travel. The refund, on the other hand, should be issued within 5-7 days. In theory.
It’s the OTA’s way of keeping your loyalty. If they can convince you to habitually book on their website then they can reap the reward of your business down the line.

In my case, however, that system broke down. After verifying a fare difference of $1292.79 between an Air Canada ticket booked via Vayama and that which was booked on Expedia, I got approval for a refund and a transaction number from an overseas agent. My refund was slated to be returned shortly.

With no credit a week later I started to worry. Following up to @Expedia on Twitter, I sent a direct message to inquire about the refund. In a stoic response, Expedia’s Twitter team responded that a top tier agent was looking into the issue. Nudging the team again two days later and then again five days after that, I was first promised that the issue was being addressed and then obtusely asked for my itinerary number — as if the issue had been lost and restarted again.

Frustrated, three weeks after the initial purchase and BRG authorization I returned back to the phone agents, who after 90 minutes on the phone could only conclude that the refund was on its way. An email arrived in parallel: a refund had been authorized — but to the wrong card in my account — that of a colleague’s. And the refund wasn’t for $1292.79 but rather $1143.43, almost $150 less than the original amount. How had this happened?

Back on the phone for two hours with customer service over Memorial Day weekend, a few answers came into the limelight. The discrepancy in refund was due to the fact that the BRG only can be applied to the base fare. Any taxes and fees incurred after the base fare as charged by the OTA don’t count, suggesting that Expedia tacks on an addition $150 of superfluous fees that Vayama does not.

But what about the refund? Neither my colleague nor myself have seen a refund on either card, now 25 days after the BRG authorization.

For my part, I vow to continue the fight, even if I have to walk to the Expedia’s corporate offices, knock on the front door and bring milk and cookies. But for the $50 coupon (and the higher booking fees in the future), this program is no longer worth it.

[flickr image via Don Hankins]