I’ve wondered for some time how much difference there is between online travel brokers ever since it’s become a commodity business. Now I know. I’ve had accounts at both Expedia and Travelocity since way back when the Nasdaq was at, what was it, 5000? I’ve also used Orbitz and some other latecomers, like FlyBankruptCarriersForReallyReallyCheap.com. But somehow I just got into the groove at Expedia and stopped shopping around.
For some stupid reason, I decided to retry Travelocity when scheduling a Christmas vacation with my family. Maybe it was that gay lawn gnome thing they’ve got going on. I don’t know. So I reactivated my dead account, browsed around and booked my tickets, confirming that indeed, there is no Difference. What an idiot.
A few weeks later, I get a friendly email from the folks at Travelocity. Sorry, the totally reasonable flight you fell for on our site has now been switched with an insane flight. Instead of leaving at the leisurely hour of 11am the day after Christmas, I would now be dragging my wife and 4-year-old son to the airport for a midnight flight, arriving in Dallas at 5am for a 4-hour layover. Maybe it’s just coincidence, but in 6 years at Expedia, I had never had one of many dozens of flights switched. But that’s really just the setup.
When I called Travelocity, I got one of those friendly new HAL9000 customer service reps–you know, the ones that make you drone your reference number into the phone just so they can serve you generic information, and then say about 6000 times in a syruppy voice: "I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that. You said you’d like to pull out your eyeballs?" After I screamed "operator" a dozen times, the system finally put me in the long queue for an open phone line to India. Amazingly, they can transfer my call 12,000 miles away to another continent where an operator can tap directly into my account, but they just couldn’t manage to send along the 87-digit alphanumeric reference number I’ve already recited into their system.
The operator–Mike, from Bangalore–is neither helpful nor friendly. Did I get an email about the switch? Yes. Did I wish to cancel the flight? No, I’d like to explore some other options. Like what? Oh, I don’t know, like maybe a longer layover so I can really appreciate those abbreviated airport museum displays of cattle farming history and modern macrame. Geez. What other flights are available that day? I don’t know, I’ll have to call the airline. You mean, you can’t look it up on the computer? No, I have to call, please hold.
I then got 8 minutes and 37 seconds of Adagio for Idiots on Hold, punctuated every so often with an ominous click and a long silence that had me convinced they were doing an experiment to see when I would finally hang up. Mike eventually came back and delivered the crushing blow. Yes, there is a flight that leaves just an hour after your arrival in Dallas, but it’s oversold…would you like to stew over that on your terminal layover in the departure ward, or would you like me to just cancel your whole vacation?
And I can say that with some authority, because only 3 weeks ago, I had to call Expedia customer service. I had purchased pre-paid parking for a recent business trip, and couldn’t find the parking lot–they had, whoops, neglected to put the address and phone number on the handy dandy printout map. When I called the parking garage to get a rain check for a future trip, they refused. So I called Expedia to complain, and without a moment’s hesitation, they did one better than a rain check, they refunded my card. That is customer experience. The flight scheduling may be a commodity, but the service is different. Expedia has it, Travelocity doesn’t.
So, one more time for the benefit of Search Engine Optimization:
Travelocity Sucks. Yes. They really really do. Travelocity Sucks. Sing it with me now. Travelocity Sucks.
I feel better now.