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Expedia and business travel don’t mix

I recently joined a company that didn’t retain the services of a travel agency, and let their employees book their own travel. So long as our travel arrangements were within the company’s guidelines, we could setup our trips however we wanted.

Having gotten used to the structure of an agency, for my first two company trips I fell back to a familiar service that I had used for personal travel in the past: Expedia.com. As I would later find, this wasn’t a particularly good idea.

The site, and presumably similar sites, were designed for vacationers whose travel plans were fixed. Travelers who knew where they wanted to go, and precisely how long they intended to stay. When you travel for work, however, you typically ONLY want to stay at your destination for as long as you need to. You give yourself extra time to cover all the tasks you need to do at your destination. But when you find yourself with a surplus of time, you scramble for the next available flight.

With a travel agency, changes were as easy as calling the travel agent. If you book your travel directly with vendors, just show up at the customer service desk and they’ll help you out. With a travel site like Expedia, you have to go through them . . . and then they have to deal with the airlines and the hotels.

Two weeks ago, I overestimated the amount of time needed for an engagement in Chicago. So I ended up leaving a day early. My first sign of trouble came when I called the airline to change my flight. Customer support notified me that normally I would have to go through Expedia to make a change. However in this particular case, since the first part of the round trip had already been taken (my inbound flight) they had wiggle room to help me out. They cancelled the rest of my Expedia booking and started from scratch.

Early check-out from the hotel, however, was little more complicated. Once you book a hotel via a travel site, the local hotel doesn’t actually know how much you paid for the room. You still have to provide the hotel a credit card when you check-in, but that’s just for incidental expenses. All billing goes through Expedia. So when you leave early, it sets off the following not-so-convenient process:

  1. Notify Expedia of intent to leave early, so they can re-calculate your bill
  2. Check-out from the hotel
  3. Expedia confirms check-out with the hotel front desk
  4. Expedia sends you an updated bill (subject to any charges the hotel may impose)

Eventually, the difference is returned to your credit card.

The additional steps above would have been enough to make me avoid Expedia from future trips. But the real kicker for me was the lack of transparency in charges when you book travel details as a package.

If you book a combined flight-hotel-car package, the receipt you receive will only show the package price. Good luck taking a receipt like that to your accounting department for reimbursement. I initially sent Expedia a request for a breakdown via email on their Website. The response took longer than I liked, so I gave them a call, an a customer support representative gave me an rough breakdown that sounded as though she just divided the total amount by the number of days. I received the response via email — showing the source of the information — and then used it in my reimbursement request.

A day later, I found out why it took Expedia so long to respond to my query . . . and why I’m not using them for business again. Here is an excerpt from their email.

Thank you for contacting us about obtaining an itemized summary of your flight, hotel and car reservation.

. . .

Expedia has negotiated with the major hotel chains, car rental agencies and vendors in order to offer our members incredible savings for packages. However, we will not be able to provide a detailed breakdown of rates and taxes applied to this type of reservation. Taxes and service fees are displayed together, to allow our partners to keep their net rates private. This means we can negotiate great rates with the hotels, and offer the savings to our customers.

. . .

We do apologize if we are unable to reply more in accordance to your wishes on this occasion.

From here on out, Expedia will only be for personal trips, as well as a means to compare prices. When I book my flights, I go straight to the airlines. Same goes to for my hotel and car arrangements.

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