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Online Travel Agents Rack Up Complaints over COVID-19 Travel Cancellations

Updated: Mar 16, 2021

including Expedia, CheapoAir, and JustFly, received 14,604 complaints from January to December 2020.

As millions of travel plans have had to be canceled, consumers have had the added problem of trying to secure refunds through online travel agencies (OTA). Those who made a reservation through a third-party site, including online travel agencies (OTAs) like Expedia or Priceline, are finding just how difficult it can be to get their cash back.

This is evident in the upswing in consumers lodging formal complaints with the U.S. Department of Transportation. OTAs, including Expedia, CheapoAir, and JustFly, received 14,604 complaints from January to December 2020. Of those, 94% were about obtaining refunds for unused or lost tickets, fare adjustments, or bankruptcies. Expedia, which received the most complaints in December 2020, was the subject of a class-action lawsuit for refusing refunds for flights canceled over the coronavirus outbreak last year.

"Despite its role as middleman or broker in its customers’ purchase of air travel on these airlines, Expedia did not intervene or take steps to ensure that its customers were given the right to receive a refund on pandemic canceled flights," the lawsuit reads. This underscores why travel advisors are the unsung heroes of the pandemic, who fought on behalf of their clients to secure those refunds, spending hours on hold to do so. It’s also why travel advisors are going to be in higher demand as travel recovers. Consumers burned are going to make sure they have an advocate on their behalf, and time and time again, advisors have proved they’re the ones to so do. Consumer Reports has urged new DOT officials, headed by Secretary Pete Buttigieg, to better protect consumers in regards to refund policies.

“The administration should strengthen and expand existing DOT rules on passenger flight refunds, particularly during 'force majeure' situations such as a global pandemic,” Consumer Reports said in a letter to the agency last month. “In addition, the DOT must vigorously enforce these refund regulations with US airlines, foreign airlines, and other ticket sellers, including resolving outstanding claims that have not been settled, in some cases since March 2020.”

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