4:30pm - Before leaving the office, I double-check to make sure all my reservations (all booked on Expedia.com) are good to go.
Alaska Airlines flight at 7:15 the next morning? Already checked in online and scored a sweet aisle seat by the emergency exits.
Enterprise car rental? Check, although I'm hearing foreboding things about San Francisco traffic.
Hotel room at Comfort Inn By The Bay? Check. Directions to said hotel? Check.
Return flight with Delta? Check.
If anything goes wrong, I've purchased a Travel Protection Plan ($50), which sounds reassuring.
5:30pm - I get home from work and start packing for my trip to San Francisco, a video marketing conference I know nothing about. Our six month-old is cranky, with a runny nose.
6:30pm - Everything is packed. The baby is now crying. My wife is trying to console him.
7:30pm - My wife is rubbing her temples. There is talk of a possible migraine. Baby is running a fever. Ibuprofen is administered. Baby goes down. I'm starting to have some doubts about the trip, but as long as my wife's status isn't escalated to 'migraine' I should be good to go.
8:30pm - My wife goes down with a category five migraine.
11:30pm - The baby wakes up, more irate than before. He's running a 102-degree fever. My wife is still down for the count. I'm now the full-time baby care provider, and I start to wonder about flight cancellation and that protection plan. If this situation doesn't change in the next few hours, I'm going to have to find out how that all works.
2:00am - With my wife still out of commission, the baby still running a higher fever, and our other kids about to wake up in just a few hours, I come to the sobering conclusion that I can't leave my household like this. You know, work-life balance and all that. I'll need to cancel the trip. Funny thing is, I'm not exactly sure how to do that.
The truth is, Expedia made it incredibly (and frighteningly) easy to plan my trip-so easy, in fact, that I'm not sure how to undo it. Do I do it from their website? Do I call someone? And who should I call: Expedia or the airlines? These questions would be hard enough to answer in broad daylight with a good night's rest, but after very little rest and several hours now of caring for an unhappy infant, these questions seem almost insurmountable. Well, no time like the present to start learning how to cancel a trip on Expedia...
I start with that Alaska Airlines flight because it is obviously at the top of the urgency totem pole. After some waffling, I decide to call Alaska Airlines, instead of Expedia, since the flight is coming up so quickly and I want to make sure I go right to the source. Unfortunately, a quick visit to the Alaska Airlines website tells me their call center doesn't open until 5:00am. I won't be canceling my flight at that exact moment, but I have a few hours to grab some rest, and our sick baby is nice enough to let me doze off.
5:00am - Right around the time I should be arriving at the airport, I wake up and dial their help number. I'm honestly not sure what I'm going to get, based on this cryptic blurb on my Expedia itinerary:
"We understand that sometimes plans change. We do not charge a cancel or change fee. When the airline charges such fees in accordance with its own policies, the cost will be passed on to you."
... combined with this message on the Alaska Airlines cancellations web page:
"Depending on your fare, there may be a fee to change or cancel your reservation. If a fee does apply, it is $125 (USD) per person, per change, in addition to any difference in fare."
It takes only seconds to get a call center rep on the phone, and she is surprisingly cool about the whole cancellation thing, especially since it's literally just a couple hour before my flight is supposed to leave the gate. Even though I was already checked in, my ticket is cancelled and no fee is charged. I breathe a sigh of relief. But she does have a smidgen of bad news.
Understandably, it's too late to get a refund. No big surprise there. But I have an ace up my sleeve. Slyly, I tell her that I purchased an Expedia protection plan, not quite sure what I expect her to do with that, like maybe it will grant her the powers to erase the whole situation, like it never happened.
To my dismay, the rep doesn't seem to know what to do with this information. "You'll have to talk to Expedia about that," she says.
But she does give me a credit with Alaska Airlines to be used within the next 12 months. I start struggling to think up destinations for which I might want to use an $186 credit within the next year. This isn't a bad concession if you're a frequent Alaska Airlines flyer, but I'm not. I can't help but feel that I've been offered the nice version of a "no-refund." But at this time of morning and after the night I've had, I'll take the nice version of bad news over the alternative.
5:30am - After the sorta embarrassing exchange with the Alaska Airlines rep, I get smart and decide to seek help from the people I booked with: Expedia. It only takes a minute to find their support number, and, after a few seconds of elevator music, I get a rep on the phone named Dan.
Struggling to keep all the plotlines straight through a sleep-deprived haze, I explain to Dan my predicament, that I've already cancelled my Alaska Airline flight, that my protection plan bounced right off them like a rubber ball, etc.
After asking lots of questions to make sense of my babbling, Dan starts working on canceling my return flight on Delta and puts me on hold while he calls the airline. Elevator music. Then Dan's back, and with good news. He's successfully cancelled with no penalty fee and I get a full refund, but it will take eight weeks for the $505 to show up on the credit card.
It's an actual refund this time. I'll take it.
Side note: as we go through this process, I start realizing that Dan is pretty much looking at the same information I am looking at in my Expedia itinerary page. So Dan doesn't bring any new information to the table, but he is willing to make the awkward phone calls for me. So I'm willing to let him take the lead.
During this process, Dan also points out the differences between Alaska Airlines' and Delta's policies in how they deal with cancellations and probably everything else. These policies show up during the booking process, I think, only to disappear into some some obscure corner of their website in the finest print possible. Keeping all of these straight has got to be a major challenge for frequent travelers. Right up there with trying to prosecute a crime that occurred aboard an airplane as it crossed, like, 18 international boundaries.
5:45am - My cancellation adventure with Dan continues. It's time to try to cancel my rental car reservation with Enterprise. Honestly, at only $38, this reservation has the lowest stakes out of all of the reservations, but every little bit helps.
My faithful call-maker Dan has more good news for me. We don't even need to call Enterprise. He proceeds to cancel the reservation from his computer. Done. That's $38 I don't need to worry about.
That's when it dawns on me. Compared to all the grief you go through with airline and hotel reservations, you can reserve rental cars with reckless abandon. Until you actually show up at their desk and give them your credit card, they can't charge you for a thing. So far it's my one anchor in this whole cancellation experience-when all else fails, I can cancel a car rental and not worry about losing my shirt.
I also have another epiphany in this moment: I have no idea how that "travel protection plan" I paid $50 for affects any of this. It doesn't affect my ability to get refunds, which is clearly determined by company policy. Does it pay for all this great service from Dan? Maybe, although I like to think that Dan would help me regardless.
Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the travel protection plan is helping me in some way and my sleep-deprived brain just isn't picking it up. Or maybe I'm right and the travel protection plan was just an easy $50 for Expedia. Either way, at no point are the actual benefits of this insurance defined for me.
5:55am - Just one more hurdle to go: canceling that reservation with the Comfort Inn By the Bay. I do this with a twinge of sadness. It looked like a great hotel, ideally situated close to all the coolest parts of San Francisco and with an outstanding free breakfast spread of sausages, eggs, etc. After a moment's hesitation, I tell Dan to make the call.
Dan calls the Comfort Inn and, for the first time, reports that he's hit a wall. The person working the front desk has informed Dan that only the manager can cancel a reservation and that person won't be in until 10am Pacific. Apparently, there are limits to Expedia's reach across the travel world.
Dan advises two courses of action: I can call Expedia at 10am Pacific and have them call the Comfort Inn or I can just call them directly at that time. Thanks to Dan's steady hand, I'm feeling strong enough to just make the call myself, so I accept the task. Just as we bid farewell I almost second-guess my choice and ask Dan if I can have his direct number, but he hangs up before I can say anything. I'm left alone with my choice.
11:00am - After counting down the five hours, the time has finally come. While rocking the still-sick infant, I call Comfort Inn By the Bay to deliver the bad news. The person who picks up the phone sounds out of breath, like I interrupted her refilling of the Belgian waffle maker. I verify that she is the manager and proceed to explain my predicament. Sick baby. Sick wife. Trip nixed.
With a marked lack of empathy, she replies, "Oh, no, you can't cancel."
"I can't cancel?" I ask. Perhaps I just heard her wrong.
"No, we don't take any cancellations within 24 hours of check-in," she responds. My hearing was all too accurate. But there's still a chance...
"Well, can I get a refund?"
"No refund at all?" I add a heavy dose of incredulity, lest she's turned her attention back to the Belgian waffle maker.
"No, not within 24 hours before check-in." She's got that policy down.
Shocked pause. "So you'll just take that out of my credit card?"
"Yes. You should see it on your account tomorrow morning, because our system updates every night."
Stunned, I thank her for the bad news and hang up. I am surprised that, of all the companies I dealt with during this debacle, the hotel is the one least willing to offer some kind of concession, the most strict in terms of penalizing me for canceling. One thing is for certain: canceling hotel reservations and canceling car rentals are two vastly different things.
11:15am - Right around the time when I should've been arriving at the conference, my trip is completely, 100% cancelled. I can't help but reflect on the wins and losses of my experience with Expedia. The travel protection plan still has me perplexed, but Dan's customer service was impeccable. The refunds/credits with both airlines were a welcome surprise, but Comfort Inn was totally inflexible. At the very least, I'll always have that easy car rental cancellation.
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