'I feel like I'm being held hostage by them': Airline customers entitled to refunds being refused by Expedia

Federal law on airline refunds is clear. If the airline cancels a flight, passengers are entitled to a refund. That applies even if you bought your ticket through a website like Expedia.


Federal law on airline refunds is clear. If the airline cancels a flight, passengers are entitled to a refund. That applies even if you bought your ticket through a website like Expedia. But several customers told us Expedia misled them to hold on to their money.

"Expedia doesn't want to give me my money back," said Marie Chafe of Wayland, Massachusetts. "The only thing they could do was to grant credit through the end of this year."

For Chafe, it was a $913 ticket to Germany on Icelandair for her daughter Libby to visit a college friend. Chafe waited until the April 18 flight from Logan was canceled by the airline. Once she confirmed that it was, she reached out to Expedia, but the only way she could contact customer service was through an online chat. The agent she spoke with told her she couldn't get a refund, and blamed that policy on Icelandair.

But then Chafe saw a story by sister station WCVB about airline refunds and how they are required even for international tickets, as long as the flight begins or ends in the United States.

"And I thought, well that's not what happened to me," she said. So Chafe, who's a lawyer, looked up federal transportation regulations, verified that she's owed a refund and emailed Icelandair directly. She says the airline responded within hours and confirmed that she's entitled to a full refund but directed her back to Expedia.

"They're very clear you are absolutely entitled to a refund. Unfortunately because you went through Expedia, we can't process it but they need to," she said.

So Chafe initiated another online chat with an Expedia agent. Again she was told no refunds and again Expedia blamed it on Icelandair.

In a transcript of the chat she provided to WCVB, the Expedia agent wrote "Since Icelandair has their own flexibility policy, we need to follow that rule. I would love to give you the full refund, but in this case, they gave you a future travel credit."

"I certainly think that they're not making the effort to do the right thing by their customers," Chafe said. "To see some company directly violating U.S. DOT regulations, it's really, really disappointing, particularly a company that you use all the time."

Chafe added that she doesn't think she'll ever book another trip with Expedia.

Expedia's response to Leslie Davis was nearly identical for her April trip to Sweden, which also happened to be on Icelandair. She says she waited for the airline to cancel but Expedia still told her she couldn't get her money back.

"The woman was very nice, and she told me it was up to Icelandair and their policies," Davis said. "I want my money back and Expedia should be giving it back... They should have some culpability in this because they originally got the money."

Adele Mirabella of West Roxbury, Massachusetts, was booked on different airlines — United and Delta — for a trip with friends to the Bahamas in April. She also says she never asked to cancel the flights because she was unable to get in touch with anyone at Expedia over the phone. Then, she suddenly received several emails saying either the airline had canceled her flights or she didn't take the trip. Those emails came weeks before the trip was scheduled, so Mirabella assumed the airlines had canceled.

She filed a dispute with her credit card company over the charge, but still, Expedia only offered her a travel credit.

"Perhaps Expedia doesn't want to lose whatever monies they get from this obviously," Mirabella said. "They should definitely refund people's money. It's not right what's happening."

It would impact Expedia's bottom line — but the bottom line for these travelers: they are owed their money. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao just last week issued an enforcement order reminding airlines of the federal refund policy and explicitly adding that ticket agents — like Expedia — are also included. In March and April, the Department of Transportation received more than 25,000 air travel service complaints, many of which were about refunds. In a typical month, they only see about 1,500.

But of course, by issuing credits, those travelers are forced to come back to Expedia.

"I feel like I'm being held hostage by them," Mirabella said. "I may not be traveling for a while. I do not want a credit."

At first, Expedia told WCVB that all of the five consumers they contacted them about had canceled their flights before the airlines did, which means no refund. But after pushback and another look at the evidence, they agreed in four of the five cases that the consumers were right.

In a statement, an Expedia spokesperson said in part: "We've been working incredibly hard to help our customers during this challenging time, but we know there are some instances where we fall short of their expectations and for that we are sincerely sorry."

The company says it's processing refunds for those four customers.

The case Expedia is still disputing is Adele Mirabella's, but the company promised to take another look, given all the issues surrounding all of these cases.