A Classically Sucky Orbitz Customer Service Experience

United, US Airways

This is a pretty dead week in terms of news, so I figured I’d pull out some lighter stories. One of our Cranky Concierge clients, let’s call him George Bailey, had an almost comically-terrible interaction with Orbitz customer service, and I thought I’d show it here.

George is in the middle of a holiday trip where the flight out was on United and the return on US Airways. It was booked on Orbitz, but he had two problems. The first was that his United Mileage Plus numbers weren’t showing up right with US Airways, and second was that after his upgrade cleared on United, that flight disappeared from the Orbitz reservation.

For the Mileage Plus numbers, I called US Airways directly and the airline had them showing up as Dividend Miles numbers. They fixed how Orbitz had inputted it and everything was fine. For the upgrade problem, this has happened a lot with United lately. It shows up fine in United’s system, and that’s all that matters. In other words, George’s reservation was fine all the way through. But the lack of good communication from Orbitz just made things worse.

Orbitz Customer Service 1

Seems like a pretty clear email, right? Where is the outbound flight?

Orbitz Customer Service 2

The response is clearly a form letter (“Dear Orbitz Customer”) and in no way addresses the issue at hand, so it’s time to try again.

Orbitz Customer Service 3

Again, a straightforward email. But this time, he gets a personalized response from someone different.

Orbitz Customer Service 4

Just reading this email made me want to reach through the computer. George never said anything about a return flight not being there. The outbound is missing. Is basic comprehension that hard?

Orbitz Customer Service 5

So he gives it a shot once again.

Orbitz Customer Service 6

Holy crap. Other than a passing mention of the real problem here, it’s not addressed. Instead, she gets distracted by the now-resolved Mileage Plus issue incorrectly saying that there are US Airways Dividend Miles numbers in the reservation. Not true.

Orbitz Customer Service 7

One last effort to explain things.

Orbitz Customer Service 8

Ah, the dreaded supervisor. I’m not sure what these regular agents are there for, because this question could have been answered about 100 times over, but it wasn’t. What a pain.

Orbitz 9

Really, all he needed was that last paragraph, but at least there was finally an end here. The good news is that United had everything looking right for his United reservation (he had no troubles on the flight out) and US Airways has everything set for his US Airways reservation, so it’s all good.

But what a frustrating customer service experience.

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42 comments on “A Classically Sucky Orbitz Customer Service Experience

  1. Sounds like Orbitz has outsourced their customer service to a certain satellite radio provider I do business with.


    1. sounds to me you’re using this “dead week” to advertise your Cranky Concierge Service!
      and, your expertise, cost this guy, HOW MUCH?

      1. Oh please. You also think there’s some kind of ulterior motive. I’m surprised you haven’t somehow found a way to link this to flight attendants all being mistreated.

        I posted this because it was a terrible customer service story. I had to give the background about what we did in order for all the emails to make sense.

        I’ve never been shy about writing about Cranky Concierge, but I would never intentionally hide something to try to sneak in a plug for the service.

          1. Frank, remember how much we pay for this blog. As long as entries aren’t a “use Cranky Concierge” ad with no actual content I’m happy.

            Remember, Cranky Concierge basically pays for this blog.

      2. Frank,

        I work as a part time concierge and trust me, if Brett wanted to toot CC’s horn this blog would be stuffed full of raves & customer service issues we’ve had to fix and there wouldn’t be room for other posts. I think that this is one of the first customer recovery issues (or lack there of) I’ve seen on his blog in a while… and for the record, I wasn’t the concierge with this trip.


      3. This highlights the problem Orbitz has encountered by attempting to ‘save money’ by using foreign customer service centers to answer emails. English is their second language and the inability to comprehend even basic emails is going to cost Orbitz far more in the long run. Now how about bringing those jobs back to the United States before you go out of business trying to save money?

    1. Hey, wait a minute. I’ve successfully used Orbitz over the past 10 years or more with no difficulty. Never had a glitch so I can’t speak to their problem resolution issues.

      1. As someone who works in the customer service industry, it enrages me to see an apologist user have no ‘problems’ with a company’s service when there’s an abundance of reading material on the Internet speaking otherwise, as if it’s not their problem when enforcing and using a company that regularly rips off other people and small businesses. Hopefully someone will be there to comfort you when you’re stuck in an airport or hotel with no where to go and no one to speak to, other than Orbitz’s overseas ‘customer support’.

  2. The ‘Lack’ of Customer Service departments has gone down hill with just about every company since company’s do not want to pay for training its employees anymore.

    All company’s want is people who can push a few keys on a keyboard and follow whatever the computer says. This also means they do not have to hire people with brain cells who can read and do something on their own and not just follow the step-by-steps instructions a computer tells them.

    Most businesses these days hired people I call ‘step one on the VCR trouble shooting page’. Remember what step one was:
    Problem: “My VCR isn’t coming on”
    Solution: “Is the VCR plugged in”

    That’s what customer service is today, after the employee reads the answer that kind of fits the problem on the Q&A page of their computer, they are lost if that doesn’t fix the problem.

    You will usually have to explain your issue three or four times as you go through the various levels of the customer service department staff until you find the one person who knows what you are talking about or knows how to put 2+2 together in their head and understand the real issue of your problem.

  3. I won’t book Orbitz again after a recent experience with a flight to Morocco. I had to change the return flight and it took over an hour on the phone and at least three phone calls. The agent booked my return via a 30 minute flight of hell on Royal Air Maroc between Marrakech and Casablanca. Because of that 30-minute flight I had to pay $200 in extra baggage fees even though I am Star Alliance gold and was flying Star the rest of the way. Turns out RAM doesn’t have an interline agreement with BMI so they couldn’t give me a boarding pass in Marrakech. They routed me through the exiting Morocco line (as opposed to domestic) so that when I got to Casablanca I was in a catch 22 in that I had technically left the country but couldn’t proceed to the international departures arena without a boarding pass. RAM said it wasn’t their problem.

    When I got back Orbitz took no ownership for having put me into such an awkward dilemma or the baggage fees.

    1. RAM and BMI actually do have an interline agreement:




      But that doesn’t mean they’ll issue boarding passes for each other. boarding passes are actually quite the sticky situation – even codeshare partners aren’t very good about it.

      Not really central to your comment, I realize. The point is that it was a bad customer service experience, of course.

  4. Dear Valued Customer,

    My name is Vikki, and I am part of the Orbitz Customer Relations Team. I saw your comments and would like to see if I can assist. Please email me your Orbitz Record Locator and I will review your account, and respond back to you. Our email address is socialnetwork@orbitz.com. Please enter my name in the subject line, and your blog name in your information.

    I look forward to hearing back from you.


    Orbitz Customer Relations
    Chicago, IL

    1. Please, PLEASE tell me this is a joke from one of my fun-loving readers. If it’s not, then I assume this is the same kind of auto-reply garbage that has no place in customer service at all. If this is a real person, then clearly nobody actually read what happened. If they had, they would have noticed that it’s already resolved. Heck, the part of the trip in question is already flown.

      I really, really, hope this isn’t how Orbitz deals with things.

      1. I laughed. I wouldn’t be shocked if Orbitz has bots out trolling blogs and other social media for complaints.

        E-mail them and see if it goes anywhere, Cranky.

        1. I emailed them and this was, in fact, a real note from Orbitz. Without question this had to be an automated response, which is pretty pathetic. I asked about that while informing them that if it wasn’t, the person doing the reading needs to do a better of noticing when a problem has been resolved. Here was the response I received:

          Hello Mr. Snyder,

          Thank you for responding. When we learn of any shortcomings in regard to Orbitz, we reach out to our customers, and offer to help with their concerns. I sincerely apologize for all this person’s inconvenience. Agreeably, our customer did not get the answer they were asking.

          It is my understanding that this issue has been resolved. I do hope our customer was advised that, when the airline takes over the record, and makes changes, it does not always reflect in our system. However, we normally contact the airline and provide any helpful service. Also, I was going to look into the reasons as to why the airline could not see the frequent-flyer number. Normally, this is not an issue.

          Mr. Snyder, if our customer would like to have our customer relations department to further assist, please let me know. It is our wish that our customers are fully satisfied with the outcome of any issues they may experience.

          Kind regards,

          Orbitz Customer Relations
          Chicago, IL

          1. LOL. I wonder if all CSR go by the name “Vikki” of if there is just one “social media” representative.

            I guess I understand the concept. Try to find stories online where people could use help, but the automated part just makes things worse.


  5. I was flying from Sao Paulo to San Francisco on a ticket bought from TAM with United legs. When United gave me an upgrade on one of their legs, it broke TAM’s reservation tracking in a similar manner: the United leg simply disappeared and the TAM agent told me the leg had been cancelled.

    I thought all these Star Alliance carriers were supposed to work together?

    Fortunately the TAM agent and CrankyConcierge were able to verify that my United legs still in fact existed.

    1. It looks like the United Reservation system is doing something that breaks the systems of their partners when a traveler is upgraded. But because this is in an interface that crosses company-borders, there will be finger-pointing before they start seriously working on fixing the problem.

    2. Yep, we’re seeing this a lot with many clients. As long as the reservation on the operating carrier looks good, then it’s fine. We haven’t seen anyone who had a flight canceled yet – just poor communication between systems. I’m hopeful this will go away when CO/UA go to a single system in March.

      1. Let’s hope this is resolved when UA goes to the CO Shares system.

        I’m glad Orbitz now realizes they screwed up. This kind of feedback is important for companies to realize the value of customer service.

  6. Its not just Orbitz – one can get the same kind of bad service from the airlines themselves. Although I admit it makes you appreciate good service when you come across it. In the case of Orbitz and all the back and forth emails it seems like an expensive way to handle customer service.

    1. Netflix realized this and that is why they don’t do email customer service
      Perhaps they should have an online chat though. Part of the problem is the reps getting upto speed on the previous conversation.

    1. Sue, unfortunately even some retail/brick & mortar agents drop the ball. We just had a client have some issues with his trip and the retail agent was nowhere to be found. I always recommend people use a travel agent like a lawyer & doctor – find one you like and build a relationship with them…. they are an invaluable asset.

      Orbitz & most online travel agencies are for people who want to “do it themselves” and the companies have developed their business model on automating as much as possible. The problem is that people expect Orbitz & online travel agencies to be the same as if they visited their local Carlson Wagonlit/Travelsavers / Amex / Liberty Travel / AAA location, and they don’t.

      That’s where the public needs to be educated. OTA’s are pretty much booking services.

  7. “Classically sucky?” Surely you can express your displeasure in a more adult way. You sound like 13-year-old grandson.

        1. Oh, it’s a big pretty white plane with red stripes, curtains in the windows and wheels and it looks like a big Tylenol.

  8. And what more adult way would there be? These faceless companies that clearly show no interest in customer service, all but force people to socially complain. Based on my own attempts in the past to work with Orbitz, Kayak and Howard Johnson to resolve an issue, emails to Orbitz and Howard Johnson were met with a not our problem, Kayak, responded within 24 hours by the CIO, apologizing and offering to correct the situation by refunding us for the booking they referred to Orbitz – Orbitz did nothing until we started complaining more publically – aka social Media, and Howard Johnson never did anything – even though ultimately the problem I had was with incorrect information they published to Orbitz.

    Based on this experience, and others with other companies, it appears the only way to get issues resolved anymore is using songs about United breaking guitars, or complaining in blogs, twitter, facebook etc. Perhaps if these companies decided to work to resolve issues, instead of only resolve the vocal ones, people wouldn’t have to resort “13-year-old grandson” behaviors.

  9. After exchanging emails like this with various customer service departments, I finally do call them and straighten out the problem. My initial reaction is to respond to their inane response by saying “Please give this email to someone who can READ” but I don’t think that gets me very far. Large corporations are obviously farming out their customer service to people who do not understand much … it’s funny only if you have the time to deal with the problem on the phone.

    On the other hand, sometimes I have had excellent responses to email requests from Customer Service, especially at Chase Bank, so I always try to handle a problem via email first to avoid sitting through the dreaded phone tree.

    Specifically, George’s problem involved a United flight; my last two trips involving UA have been screwed up online but OK when I called. I’m sure it’s computer transition pains with the Continental merger … but don’t take any UA or CO flights for granted, you gotta watch them.

  10. I always take the operating carrier’s web site as the final authority when dealing with online discrepancies.

    My Thanksgiving trip this year was booked through Orbitz, with all legs with CO flight numbers and issued on a CO 005 ticket, and 2 legs operated by United, one by United Express, and one by Continental. Attempting to select seats on Orbitz failed for all but the CO operated leg, but we were able to select them just fine on Continental’s web site (or was it United’s; regardless, it worked correctly). The seat assignments still didn’t show up on Orbitz, but it didn’t matter.

    The most amusing bit of the trip was the return, where the CO operated flight was the first leg. The boarding pass issued by the CO kiosk caused the boarding scanner to issue a “wrong flight” error at the connecting flight when my boarding pass was scanned because it read the barcode as “CO955” rather than “UA955”.

  11. Reminds me of my cousin’s girlfriend’s flight home from thanksgiving. She booked through Orbitz flying UA metal under a US code. Somewhere along the lines US switched her to their own metal through PHX. Sadly Orbitz still showed the old flight, and the US Airways record had the wrong email address, although Orbitz had the right one, so she never got notified of the change until she went to checkin.

    Best I could figure out is that US’s automatic reaccomadation software borked, an had to be manually handled. Somewhere through the process they canceled then recreated her reservation by hand with the same confirmation number, making a typo in her email address at the same time.

  12. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: There is a REASON for those Minimum Wage Laws. The cites cases are just more proof. One truly does get what one pays for. If you need a travel assistant (like Cranky or several, similar others), pay the minimal fees and let them deal with the problems. At the very least, these hired guns have access to airline reps who are paid above the Minimum Wage level and who have a functional facility in Engrish, the language of world travel. Great post, if an unfortunate one. In the old days, the airlines’ commissions to real Travel Agents allowed the agents to provide these services. With agent commissions all but gone, the consumer must hire outside guns to manage these detaails. Is it money well spent? Often not, at least until something goes wrong. When there is a glitch – and there will be, their modest fees quickly become the best insurance that a flyer can buy. For anything other than a simple commuter flight, in good weather and with an airline that I know, I gladly plunk sown the few extra bucks and let the assistant deal with the problems. Money well spent!

  13. Orbitz does have terrible costumer service, but why do people insist on paying any attention to the Orbitz reservation information. Once Orbitz issues your ticket, you should be done with them unless you decide you want to change your ticket. Everything else can be done directly with airlines. I use Orbitz often, and screw ups on there web page happen frequently, but it doesn’t change your reservation. Any milage plan issues or flight delay problems can be taken care of by the airline.

  14. This may be a sacrilegious comment, but I have used Orbitz (and Expedia) multiple times without any problem. If I have a problem, I CALL them, because e-mail usually goes to an overworked employee who is trying to clear the backlog as fast as possible. If it becomes apparent that the person I am talking to doesn’t know what is going on, I ask for a supervisor. Speaking to a supervisor on the phone has never failed to resolve the matter to my satisfaction.

    The first problem is likely George’s fault. Orbitz asks you to identify your program when inputting your frequent flyer number, and he probably chose Dividend Miles and then typed in a Mileage Plus number.

    The second problem was a non-issue all along. Orbitz gets a lot of correspondence from customers, and they can’t spend time on every person who wants to confirm that their flight is reserved correctly, especially an elite frequent flyer who should know better. If his upgrade cleared on United, then clearly United has the booking, so why worry about what Orbitz says any more?

  15. When I get the third go-round from CS that clearly shows that they still don’t even understand what the problem is, I finally ask them to give my email to someone who can READ. This doesn’t get me far, but it makes me feel better.

  16. Purchased Orbitz package including airline, hotel and car. Both hotel and car charged my Visa because Orbitz didn’t pay them. Hotel has been calling Orbitz for 3 days to try and straighten this out to no avail. Car rental agency also having no luck. In the meantime, I have over $1,200 in charges on my credit card that shouldn’t be there. Filed a dispute with the credit card. Wish me luck.

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