Orbitz Sales Tactics: "Convenient!" And Sleazy!

By  |  Monday, March 2, 2009 at 10:45 am

Orbitz LogoI’m planning a business trip to Las Vegas for the CTIA Wireless Show at the end of this month. After starting my research at the wonderful Kayak travel search engine, I ended up at Orbitz, which offered some attractive-sounding package deals for a flight and hotel room. I started clicking my way through to buy.

A few pages into the purchase–Orbitz makes you burrow through a lot of stuff to book–I noticed something over on the right-hand side of the page:

Orbitz

Orbitz had added a $14 bus pickup and dropoff to my order. One I hadn’t asked for. And it told me it was doing it “for my convenience.”

Excuse me? My convenience? The fourteen bucks pales in comparison to the insult to my intelligence–Orbitz had tacked it on to grease its profits on the deal, and it was telling me it was doing me a favor.

I paged back and found that Orbitz had shown me a box showing the ground transportation option, and had helpfully selected it for me:

Orbitz

Aha! Well, that’s not so unreasonable, is it? It was there in front of me, and I had the option of unchecking it. My own fault for not being more attentive, right?

Well, maybe…except for the fact that the bus ticket was one of forty-six (!!!) optional upgrades on that page, none of which I cared to pay for–others included a topless show, Carrot Top, a magician, an impressionist, a ventriloquist, five Cirque Du Soleil variants, a Hoover Dam tour, a Harley-Davidson rental, The Phantom of the Opera, and a $355 wedding package in which “Elvis will escort the bride down the aisle to give her away and then sing three songs; before, during, and after the ceremony.” The bus offer was the only one that was opt-out rather than opt-in, and I’ll bet I’m not the only Orbitz customer who didn’t notice that.

It’s sort of as if McDonalds stopped asking you if you wanted fries and just added them to your order unless you said you didn’t want them.

At the bottom of the page is some legalese which talks about anything added on this page being nonrefundable. If Orbitz is claiming that failing to delete the bus offer constitutes adding it, it’s using a new, passive definition of “add” that’s unfamiliar to me. As far as I can tell, though, it’s saying that if I don’t notice it’s added busfare to my order, it’s my own tough luck and I won’t get my $14 back.

Orbitz

I nuked the bus ticket from my order and proceeded on. Whereupon I got this:

Orbitz

Yup, Orbitz had opted me in for another extra I hadn’t asked for and didn’t want: a $19.50 travel insurance plan. This time, it didn’t have anything to do with my convenience, apparently–it was an Orbitz “recommendation.” (Odd how these recommendations never involve choosing not to pay for something.)

Orbitz failed to tack a total of $33.50 of extras on to my order, but it did accomplish something: It left me feeling like it thinks its customers are patsies. Which I’ll remember next time I need to book travel.

Anyone out there want to defend the company’s upsell techniques. Or even explain why it would be unreasonable for the FTC to prohibit Web merchants from adding items to orders unless the shopper proactively requested them?

[UPDATE: An Orbitz representative called to respond to my gripes. Here's what she told me.]

 
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16 Comments For This Post

  1. brk Says:

    Interesting. I book about 3 trips/month on average via Orbitz, and have for years. Have never run into anything ever added to my trip “for my convenience”. (FTR, I have to interest in Orbitz).

    Not sure why this happened to you. Did you try booking additional trips? Checking with others to see if they’ve had similar experiences?

  2. Harry McCracken Says:

    I tried replicating it and doing slight variants, and still got this stuff–maybe they only do it to folks traveling to Vegas!

    –Harry

  3. Matthew Arevalo Says:

    You’re exactly right. This is why I prefer to use the American Express Platinum concierge and travel services. I am very frustrated with online travel places lately..

  4. Christian Johnson Says:

    This link provides another person’s unsatisfactory experience with Orbitz.

    http://www.thebestpageintheuniverse.net/c.cgi?u=orbitz_blows

  5. Christen da Costa Says:

    Ya, this is totally obnoxious. Godaddy does something close to this, but doesn’t add stuff by default.

  6. Vastrightwing Says:

    I’m sure Orbitz is taking this very seriously… this time.

  7. Western Canadian Says:

    Well, I have to mention that this article sounds like a bit of an overreaction. Not to say that these are things that you truly didn’t want, but rather why get incensed over $33.50? Life isn’t worth that kind of stress.

  8. Chris Dunphy Says:

    “Why get incensed over $33.50?”

    Because Orbitz is potentially scamming thousands of people every day. This is the exact sort of thing that SHOULD elicit outrage. I am more upset about this sort of thing than one-off mixups.

    I really wish there was a directory of companies that had “treating their customers with respect” as a core value. I know that I’d use it.

    – Chris

  9. Randy207 Says:

    I just booked two one-way plane tickets from Barcelona to Florence. I thought I was finished – until I rec’d my flight insurance pdf from Access America. I called Orbitz – and was told I needed to contact Access America. I told them I wasn’t wasting my time calling anyone else and that I’d contest 33.00 of the charge with Citibank if they didn’t reverse the charge. The ball is in their court.

    And I WILL contact the FTC.

  10. jay athanatos Says:

    I often use orbitz being that I frequently travel and after reading this I was pretty shocked but I do not doubt your concern. It is completely unacceptable!!

  11. teresa Says:

    this is what they do to help with cost they are not just taking your money, even if you feel that way, they ARE giving you a service!! it is our responsibility to be informed and read the fine print… if you do what you should be doing you will never face the “extra” charges on you card! READ what you buy dont just click submit!!

  12. Debbie Says:

    I’ve just had the worst customer service experience of my life with Orbitz. I’m with the other guy – you have nothing to complain about…

    They had 975.00 from my bank card and about 600.00 on my amex tied up and didn’t offer proper assistance to fix the problem.

    They also bait and switch – the travel arrangements I wanted to make they could not perform the reservations.

    I got off the phone/website and made the reservations myself. I’ll never, ever, ever use Orbitz again. All my fellow travelers – beware. I use kayak as well but i will avoid all orbitz recommendations. I might let them know they could remove that for all i care as well.

  13. celia c Says:

    They’re still at it. I booked an international flight the other day and the next day I received an email confirmation of travel insurance thru Access America costing over $90.00. I called Access and they canceled the insurance. But this is a total rip-off. Orbitz and Access should be ashamed of treating consumers this way.

  14. LegalCat Says:

    I just had the same thing happen to me: a $37 flight insurance policy from Access America that I didn’t want. I called their customer support and got very pissed off at the operator, who initially told me that I’d have to call up Access America myself. I pissed and moaned some more, and she finally agreed to call them for me, which took about 5 minutes, and then I got a little automatically-generated email from them saying the policy was canceled and that they’d credit my $37. We’ll see if they actually do it; if they don’t, I’m filing a dispute with my CC company. But it’s just unconscionable that I should have been put to this much trouble over something I didn’t want and didn’t ask for. What’s next? Am I going to have to click on “no” to avoid having Orbitz pick out a rental car, hotel room, and romantic moonlight cruise for me?

    Sheesh. I wonder if Priceline and Travelocity are this sleazy. They’re looking better all the time.

  15. stephen Says:

    I had a very similar experience and was told that they do this on all “packages” since I normally only book flights or cars individually I didn’t have this happen to me before. As soon as I saw the charge I have been trying to cancel it – it is not over 30 minutes on hold first to Orbitz and now with the Insurance Company.

  16. KC Says:

    I like the option of being able to add attractions and things to my trip all in one spot. It may cost a little more, but hey, you always have to pay for convenience. Like your picture shows, the website shows everything being added to your trip as you add it. There’s nothing secretive or hidden. It also breaks down everything you’re paying for before you pay for it. That’s not very sneaky. It’s just a matter of the consumer paying attention. If you see something you don’t want, don’t book it. I’ve booked many vacations through Orbitz and have no complaints.

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