The Perils of Expedia and the Consolidation of the Online Travel Agency Business

Once upon a time, there were a variety of companies competing for the online travel agency (OTA) business. Microsoft created Expedia. Orbitz was started by a variety of major airlines. Travelocity was started by American Airlines.  They all competed for our business.

But over the years, these OTAs have all gradually been merged into Expedia. Now, if you go to any of these websites, you’re using  Expedia: Expedia, HomeAway,, Hotwire, Travelocity, Trivago, Orbitz, and others.  The perception of variety and competition is illusionary.

And so is the quality of the service. With no competition, there’s no desire to compete, it seems.  I recently was trying to book a trip for a family member using Expedia, and it came up with a great fare on a trip split between two airlines.  I filled out my payment information and pressed book it.  The web site reported that it had a problem, and that I should try again.  And so I did.  And I got the same error.

At that point, I logged into my bank account to see what had happened.  There were two duplicate authorizations for the trip — even though it had not booked the travel, it had gone ahead and authorized the charge.  Naturally, I was not going to try a third time.

I called their support and went painfully through their voice menu from hell.  There was no option for “you didn’t book my tickets, but you went ahead and tried to charge me.”  So finally I found my way to a rep.  Offshore, of course, with a crappy VOIP connection.  I went through all the details of my problem and … then they hung up on me.  Probably not intentionally — crappy VOIP and all — but I had to start over again from scratch.

The next time, the agent told me that (1) the tickets were not booked (no kidding), (2) the charges would drop in 24 hours, and (3) they could not actually complete the booking over the phone because it was too complicated for them to book tickets on two airlines. She suggested that I wait a half hour and try booking again online.  Riiiiight. Because I still have some money left on the card I’d like to piss away on another failure?

I finally booked a slightly more expensive set of flights on a single airline — but on that airline’s website, not Expedia’s.

And the authorization that was supposed to drop in 24 hours? It’s still sitting there, days later.  It’s not a charge, just an authorization.  But it’s screwed up our christmas shopping because it’s tying up the money. Bah humbug.

What’s the value in a middleman? In this case, negative…

(And, yes, the authorization eventually expired, but clearly when the bank network did it automatically, not because Expedia cancelled it when it couldn’t issue the tickets).