As the coronavirus continues to disrupt travel as we know it, those who were either overseas when the COVID-19 travel restrictions hit or had upcoming travel plans are facing a massive financial hit.
From third-party booking companies who suddenly went dark to international hotels demanding second payments – it’s complete chaos.
And for the prudent traveler who simply wanted to take a summer vacation and booked early to “save money,” they’re left without a vacation and often without a refund.
So if you booked with a third party and are trying to figure out what to do next – just know you’re in for the fight of your life to get your money back.
But First – What Is A Third-Party Site?
When we talk about third-party travel sites, we are referring to online travel websites like Expedia and Priceline which make it convenient to book your travel in one swoop.
These third-party sites search for deals from various websites and gather different rates from a wide variety of places to help you pick the best deal.
Travelers visit the online sites and simply enter the dates they want to travel and then get the option to book their flight or hotel – or an entire travel package which includes flight, rental, and hotel with just a click.
Last minute travelers or those without airline loyalty often frequent these sites to save money and have someone else do the research for them.
For example, if you’re looking to fly to England, instead of checking out 6 or 7 different airline sites individually, you can view and compare them all in one place via Expedia.
Sounds like a great deal for you, right?!
Don’t worry… they make their money off of you.
Look at it this way – when you book a room, you get a standard rate. But places like Expedia book A LOT of rooms at a discount rate – and then sell them to you to make a buck.
Hotels like this concept too, as some smaller ones can’t afford to advertise nationwide – but they can sell rooms working with pros like Expedia.
When booking through sites like Expedia, you can choose to pay Expedia directly (and they pay the hotel) – or pay the hotel directly when you arrive.
Since Expedia makes a huge commission by buying a HUGE amount of rooms and guaranteeing the lowest price, it’s a win/win for them and the hotel (and sometimes you).
Be Prepared To Wait… And Wait…
Want to talk to a live person at a third-party site?
Be prepared to wait 2-3 hours, at least.
And once you get a live person, get ready to be passed around, given the run around, and after explaining your situation a third time, get ready to explain it again.
You may even get hung up on “by mistake.”
Or get transferred to a person who is in the wrong department.
You might catch a break and get someone who can help you – but they’ll likely pass you off to the actual airline or hotel.
Here was my experience – my husband recently booked our honeymoon through Expedia…
… and sadly, while it’s clear we won’t be spending 10 days in Maui, it wasn’t easy for him to get a refund.
Expedia told him to call United.
United told him to call Expedia.
And that was just for the flight we booked.
Thankfully, the hotel gracefully agreed to a full refund and United ended up giving us a credit.
But we lucked out – some third-party sites aren’t even taking calls.
Third-Party Booking Horror Stories
For travelers who made travel plans through BookIt.com and want a refund – they are out of luck at best – or forced to pay thousands of dollars more – at worst.
BookIt has left its travelers either stranded with hotel bills that should have been paid or canceled their future trips with no refund.
In fact, BookIt actually released a statement telling travelers they’ve closed their call centers, “This, effectively, means that we will be unable to provide agent assistance in canceling any upcoming trips.”
In other words, they are saying “We can’t help you.”
But it gets even worse.
BookIt further went on to tell people they canceled their resort booking, but can’t process any refunds, “As we are currently unable to process refunds to you, please contact your bank for options available to you as a cardholder.”
And for those travelers who were already overseas – they found themselves being asked to pay for their trip again.
Travelers stormed social media claiming that as they went to check out of their resorts or take a shuttle back to the airport, it turned out that BookIt never paid the vendors directly and now the hotels were demanding payment.
And since things can quickly escalate especially with international travel, many weary travelers opted to pay for their hotels a second time and duke it out with their credit card companies later.
NBC Chicago reported on one stranded traveler:
“I’m currently in Playa Del Carmen.” My resort told me Bookit.com never paid them.” “And told me if I wanted to stay I would need to give them $2200.”
Melissa says: “I’m stuck… in Nuevo Vallarta… Bookit did not pay for the stay. The manager demanded payment and locked s out of our room. Nice. It’s also my birthday.”
The Moral Of The Story
Whenever you involve a middleman, things can go south quickly.
Not only does booking with a third-party site make things more complicated, but when things go wrong, it makes it easier to pass the blame – and leaving you negotiating between two different parties who both insist the other person has the power to fix things.
You need to be a fierce and persistent negotiator to get to a solution, which usually involves giving up hours of your valuable time to talk to the person who actually has the power to help you.
At least we got partial refunds and credits for our honeymoon, but some travelers like the ones who chose BookIt have lost some serious cash.
Hopefully they booked through a credit card that can protect them, but many are likely out of thousands of dollars with nothing to show for it.
In conclusion, booking directly with an airline or hotel can still get you the best price and give you flexibility to change your travel plans directly, without getting caught in a travel war.
People think they are saving hundreds of dollars booking through third-party sites – but they aren’t.
In fact in this case, they are actually loosing money.
If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything – it’s to expect the unexpected and always be prepared – especially with travel.
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