When Expedia fails to pay for Joanna Heath’s return flight to Los Angeles, she must buy a new ticket. Now the online agency refuses to refund the new ticket. What gives?

Q: I recently booked a flight from Los Angeles to Philadelphia through Expedia for my family. A few weeks later, I contacted Expedia to make a change for my return flight. The agent made the booking and sent me confirmation and the attached travel documents.

When I tried to check in for my return flight — the one I had changed — I got a message: “Check-in not available. Please contact agent.” 

I contacted American Airlines. An agent told me that the flight was delayed and that the delay would cause us to miss the connecting flight. But when they went to give us an alternate flight, they discovered that we actually had no tickets. According to American Airlines, Expedia had never paid for the flight or completed the bookings. 

We then had no flights home at all. We were advised by American Airlines to call Expedia immediately.

After a lengthy call, Expedia conceded that it made a mistake. There was no alternate flight the company could get us on for that day via American Airlines. A representative said there was a Delta flight, and that Expedia would pay for the tickets but we would need to book them directly through Delta on our credit card and submit that receipt via this email for expedited reimbursement. 

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We paid $1,489 for our tickets. Now Expedia is refusing to refund us. Can you help? — Joanna Heath, Langhorne, Pennsylvania

A: Expedia should have paid for your return flight. The online travel agency made a mistake, and it was aware of the mistake. So it should have found a way to get you and your family back home without incurring any additional expenses.

Here’s the problem, as far as I can tell: Everything is automated. Maybe a little too automated. When you asked for a change, Expedia’s systems worked to cancel your original booking and issue a new ticket. When something glitched, the system suggested an alternative that was impractical. When you asked for a refund, the system didn’t quite understand what was going on.

Bottom line: Expedia thought it had done nothing wrong because, according to its highly automated systems, nothing had gone wrong. We’ve seen an uptick in cases like this because, during the pandemic, online travel agencies relied more on automated systems and artificial intelligence. 

The only way to fix this is for a human to look at your case. But as far as I can tell, no Expedia representative took the time to carefully review your ticket issue. Again, I suspect that the system scanned your correspondence and automatically suggested a resolution. 

I think a brief, polite email to someone higher up at Expedia might have helped. You can always find the names, numbers and email addresses of the Expedia customer service managers on my consumer advocacy site, Elliott.org. But you never know — Expedia might have figured out a way to automate those responses, too. I hope not.

I contacted Expedia on your behalf. It reviewed your case and issued a refund, as promised.