Gary Leff posts about a traveler who successfully sued Orbitz over their airline ticket cancellation policy.

My Orbitz adventure began with reading about Orbitz’s “courtesy cancellation policy” on its website. The site stated that one could cancel an airline reservation by 10:00 P.M. Central Time the following day and get a complete refund. The exceptions were paper tickets, tours, and “certain airlines.” I wrote to Orbitz customer service, and was told that “The two airlines that are an exception from the ‘Courtesy Cancellation’ option are Spirit Airlines and AirTran Airlines.” So, I felt safe booking Virgin America through Orbitz.

The day after my booking, I needed to cancel. I went to the reservation, but there was no “courtesy cancel” button. I then called Orbitz customer service, and got someone in the Philippines. Both the first person I spoke with, and the claimed supervisor, said that the courtesy cancel policy did not apply because there was no button allowing a courtesy cancel, therefore the policy did not apply. The simple logical assertion that somehow Orbitz was bound by its own website and its prior response to my email inquiry seemed to be over the head of the representative.

The rest of the saga is well worth reading, detailing the negotiations before court, the company’s refusal to clarify its policy online, and final judgment: Award to the plaintiff for a full refund, legal fees, and $500 for the trouble. Despite voting fully for the consumer in this case, small claims courts can’t force the company to change their policy or the content of the website.

There are a few surprises in this for me.

First, I’m actually surprised that Orbitz showed up in court. I’ve heard many cases of large travel companies just not showing up in small claims court, and accepting the judgment in absentia. (Lesson: Sue.)

Second, I was frankly surprised to hear that Orbitz even HAS a 24-hour cancellation policy for airline tickets. Airlines have been scaling these policies back for purchases on their own websites, so it’s surprising that Orbitz can afford that kind of generosity. (Admittedly, the booking fee, if applicable is not refundable. But Orbitz eliminated most booking fees for airline tickets a while ago, and didn’t bring it back.)

Third, I’m surprised that the company was so resistant to clarifying their policy on the website. Orbitz has been pitching itself as the friend of the little guy, and transparency should be a big part of that. But this policy is far from clear.

Having fine print is bad. Having invisible print is worse.

Orbitz would be wise to reconsider the vagaries of the policy. Having the 24 hours to cancel is a great way to encourage someone to click “buy” in the first place. But not knowing if you’re covered until you hit “purchase”? That’s not a guarantee. That’s a lottery.

pixel Orbitz has a 24 hour cancellation policy thats so secret, they cant even explain it
Categorized in: Orbitz

39 Responses to “Orbitz has a 24-hour cancellation policy that’s so secret, they can’t even explain it”

  1. Oliver Says:

    After reading that story a few days ago, I searched Orbitz’ website to see if they had changed their policy or clarified the exceptions. They hadn’t. I was very tempted to send them an email asking which airlines are not included, to see if I could earn $500, too :)

  2. Mark Ashley Says:

    @Oliver, if you’re able to get this business model to scale, call me. ;)

  3. KG Says:

    I actually had no idea about this policy. Just bought a ticket yesterday which was a combination ticket (US Airways/Delta). Had to cancel plans, and was holy mosewowed by the “Courtesy cancel”. Stuff works!

  4. John Says:

    I’ve used this a lot when I want to lock in a fare but dont know about hotels, etc. I’ve cancelled trips on various airlines 5 or 6 times. In the end its good for Orbitz because I book the real trips through them since I know I have a short safety window.

    As far as operations, my understanding is on many fares an agency has a negotiated rate and can make a reservations with this rate on certain fare classes. Then after making the online/call reservation there are several checks to do before the action of Ticketing. The airline will let you hold a class of service usually for a 24 hours without ticketing before they cancel the reservation. Looks like what Orbitz has done is use this natural workflow time gap and turned it into a customer feature. Once the ticket is issued then the airline becomes involved and money is owed. Thats probably what happened in the case above. If the ticket is not issued, then there is no cost to hold the reservation pre ticketing.

  5. Paul Says:

    I just canceled a ticket I booked about 5 hours ago, THANK GOD FOR COURTESY CANCEL!!!!!!

  6. Daniel Says:

    Great story. I recently tried to cancel or change my hotel reservations with Orbitz, and I was told it was non-refundable. I’m looking at about $800 in loss when I actually did cancel 48 hours prior to my trip. If you could give me any advice, or point anything out, so that maybe I can get some of my money back, it would be much appreciated.

  7. Bummed Says:

    I Tried to cancel a flight 30 days before departure.
    - No refund possible
    - No reschedule possible
    - No alternate destination possible
    - and my favorite – I could get a voucher for later travel that must be used for a domestic flight, it was an international flight on a carrier that *does not have* domestic flights.

    Go figure.

  8. cardcaptor Says:

    @Bummed it doesn’t matter when you cancel the reservation, each reservation has a certain rules and restrictions and orbitz as a travel agency, follows this rules and restrictions provided by the airlines.
    - usually when tickets are held as a credit for future travel, it doesn’t matter where your flying to. It must have been some sort of miscommunication. Why don’t you call them back and clarify how you can use the credit.

  9. jinjin Says:

    My daughter booked her flight tickets by Orbitz and call one of agent because she cancel her flight tickets a week ago. To get her money back she has to book again with Orbitz according to cancle policy. One of agents took his advantage to offer expensive flight tickets and said it was only choice she she was going to book. If my daughter did not book flight tickets in one year, her money $498 will be gone. She has to book flight tickets but she has no chice only accept price the agent gave. In fact lots of cheap tickets on internet availabe when she called agent. I called customer service and has no reslut. They also hold my phone to their manager. The Senior manager, Ashley did not offer any help just gave me any address of Orbtitz. My daughter lost over $400, not $180 as his website said. the important thing,there are lots of cheap flight tickets available at same time with same us airline which my daughter booked.

  10. dolly cohoon Says:

    we are supposed to leave for a trip to istanbul june 13th but due to political unrest we feel it is not advisable to make the trip and i want to cancel altogether but we paid 2,800 dollars for this trip , what are our options ? this is our first international trip and our first time dealing with orbitz. our son made the reservation and did not buy the flight ins. :-( so now what do we do ?

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