Monday, February 27, 2006

New twists

I called back. This time I speak with someone named Mandy, but I don't think it's the same Mandy as the person who transferred my call in the last attempt. Mandy the first had a slightly Indian accent, since I was calling at 11:00 pm, it's probably fair to assume she's in Bangalore and is probably not really named Mandy at all.

Mandy-the-second is good about asking if it's ok that I be put on hold before she does so, but I'm still on hold... I'm typing this blog entry with the phone cradled to my ear.

She takes a kind of smart-alecky attitude with me. She is telling me that in fact, while Orbitz publishes 1-way fares for as low as $577 for the exact same date and destinations as I'd like to travel, what I could actually get in terms of a fare is $1,672.00. Why? I ask. Orbitz publishes these significantly lower fares, so why can't I apply my credit towards these? Her answer sounds straight out of some legalistic fine print, quite a rehearsed performance, considering it's mumble-jumble of technocratese. Basically, she says, Orbitz buys in bulk from the airlines to get their discounts on the published fares, but if I want to apply my credit, then I need to buy a ticket through Orbitz's purchase of a ticketdirectly from the airline's inventory, where the cost is $838 additional, when my credit is $834.20. Interesting. It's like buying two tickets! Not what I had in mind.

So, I got ahead of myself, just a little. I asked Mandy at the beginning of the conversation whether I absolutely had to apply my credit, or if a refund was possible. She replied (without putting me on hold) that no, I could only get credit and since the ticket was non-refundable. BUT THEN, upon hearing the outrageous prices of applying the credit, I asked her again to please double-check and see if there was any way I could get the fare back, even if it meant getting charged their $200 fee. See, despite being earlier told I couldn't get the refund, several other representatives I've spoken with over the past few months have told me that getting refunds really are possible if you're willing to suck up the $200 fee. Mandy put me on hold for a good long time this time to check it out, and came back with the happy news that yes, they were willing "to make an exception for me."

You may be wondering why I hadn't taken this option much earlier - I am too - in part I never expected making the change to the ticket would be this completely difficult and cost-prohibitive. Second, it takes 60 days to process the credit, while the $200 charge is applied to one's credit card immediately. I was in a difficult financial spot for a while there, and so I couldn't make the change - I was still awaiting the credit to apply from an earlier ticket I cancelled on December 27th to apply. The credit from that one should go through tomorrow... but if it doesn't I'm sure I'll have to write another blog entry.

So it's back to the drawing board, I'm still trying to get to Brazil, but at least all I have to worry about now is what other source of cheap tickets to use, because I'm damn sure that I'm not going to use Orbitz this time around.

Here we go, again

10:25 pm, I get up my gumption and call Orbitz to try to apply the credit for my ticket. I get shuffled through the voice mail system, first speaking with Mandy, then with Andy. Andy, in the international ticketing dept., asks for my reference number. I give it to him, and we are promptly disconnected. Time: 10:40 pm.

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Angry Letter...

I am mailing off the letter below to Orbitz today. This should provide adequate background into my sordid history with Orbitz... and justify the creation of this blog. Since I'm still in the midst of ticket-buying, I'm sure updates will soon follow. Hopefully Orbitz will be responsive to my letter though and then I'll have something nice to say, for a change.

February 24, 2006

Dear Orbitz Customer Service,

Over the past two months, I have encountered one problem after the next with your company’s service. In fact, never before have I found working with a travel agency to be so difficult. I have booked flights with your company numerous times, including four trips in the past two months. Only in utter frustration am I sending you this letter, in hopes that you will consider it helpful as you aim to improve your service in the future.

My numerous problems are as follows:

1. I received very little indication that my cancelled international ticket, REFERENCE NO. 3LV2GR, would be sent back to me after it waited in your office for fourteen days. As I was experiencing difficulties with my visa for international tra
vel, I was unable to re-book the ticket within this time period. Having had to send the plane ticket back and forth to the office in Mankato, MN, wait for receipt, and then attempt booking changes within the allotted fourteen day time period, has caused a one month delay to my travel plans and severely detracted from my work, in large part because of all of the obstacles encountered by this change policy.

1a. Although I received notification that the paper ticket would be sent back upon Orbitz’ initial receipt-confirmation email, I never received any sort of follow-up or confirmation email that the ticket was being sent back after fourteen days. I had called the company three times during the process of canceling and trying to exchange the ticket, and in none of my conversations with Orbitz representatives was I made aware of this policy. Certainly it is the least that Orbitz can do to tell someone in a simple email to look out for their ticket in the mail, and to confirm the appropriate mailing address with the recipient.

1b. Since I received no such correspondence from Orbitz, the ticket was mistakenly sent to an address to which I no longer reside. This added greatly to my stress, particularly because the ticket was apparently signed for by someone completely unbeknownst to me. It took extensive research and good luck for me find out that a neighbor in my former place of residence had signed for the ticket.

1c. Further, Orbitz sent the ticket uninsured, thereby jeopardizing all of the money I had invested, when it mailed the ticket to the wrong address. When I first mailed my ticket to Orbitz, I insured it, and expected at least the same courtesy on the company’s part. In addition, Orbitz mailed the ticket back while charging my credit card for the mailing costs. While I was paying around $6.00 to have the letter tracked and insured by USPS, Orbitz charged me about $21.00 to mail it through Fed-Ex, uninsured, and without my permission on the mailing charges.

1d. Upon sorting out the above situation with various customer service representatives, I found the management entirely unapologetic, insincere, and unhelpful. One representative suggested I go through the airline company directly, and upon trying to do so, I received information that in fact, the company (Varig) was unable to process the fare because of the special ticket rate, so I had to return my ticket back to Orbitz, in a second attempt at exchanging it. The misinformation I received from Orbitz remains a constant in my experience with their phone representatives.

1e. Nowhere on the website is mailing address information available for where to send cancelled tickets. In asking for the address with a phone representative, a suite number in Mankato, MN was given, but then the representative misinformed me to send my ticket to the attention of “Refunds” instead of “Exchanges.” Only because I have now dealt with the company so extensively was I able to point out to her that she should please double-check this information because it seemed dubious to me. Time and again in all of my conversations with Orbitz, I have been put on hold, and asked for my billing ZIP code for security purposes – only for a simple address or minor question.

2. “Is there anything else I can help you with today?” are words seemingly unknown to your representatives. After speaking with a customer service manager (unfortunately I did not catch her name), I was sorely disappointed at the lack of responsiveness she provided. I additionally was never asked the most basic of questions - once the immediate problem at hand was addressed (see 1c) there was no follow-up contact number given, no willingness to be of further service, and no openness offered towards hearing any of my other concerns.

3. Hold-times for international booking were frequently upwards of one hour in December, 2005.

4. It inevitably takes about three transfers between representatives just to get to the person one needs to speak with, if one has such complications. Dropped calls and misdirected calls are frequent, and no estimates of waiting times are ever provided in your phone system.

5. There is no way to keep an Orbitz account in one’s name, while changing one’s email address. While I do not want to have two or three different Orbitz accounts, I now do, because of changes to my email address. This should be a simple technical fix to the computer system. However no one at technical support was able to correct the problem, or merge my several accounts under my name. For many people, having multiple email accounts, or switching email service providers, is a relatively common phenomenon. Changing one’s email address should still allow one to keep one’s name in the system and to have one’s prior history stored with the company. It reveals appalling disorganization to have overlooked this matter and have no process in place for fixing the problem.

Overall, I am so distressed with your service, and have such little confidence that this letter will do any good, that I am starting a weblog ( to help cope with these issues in public. I do hope that it will finally, spark someone in your company to pay attention to the seemingly systematic inadequacies in your service.