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Old Feb 1, 10, 11:36 pm   #1
 
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I Took Orbitz to Small Claims Court and Won - Here's How

I am posting this in this general forum because while it involves Orbitz, the same small claims court principals apply to many travel vendors. People on FT frequently complaint about absurd positions and stonewalling from providers. Small claims court is one way of dealing with it.

My Orbitz adventure began with reading about Orbitz's "courtesy cancellation policy" on its website. The site stated that one could cancel an airline reservation by 10:00 P.M. Central Time the following day and get a complete refund. The exceptions were paper tickets, tours, and "certain airlines." I wrote to Orbitz customer service, and was told that "The two airlines that are an exception from the 'Courtesy Cancellation' option are Spirit Airlines and AirTran Airlines." So, I felt safe booking Virgin America through Orbitz.

The day after my booking, I needed to cancel. I went to the reservation, but there was no "courtesy cancel" button. I then called Orbitz customer service, and got someone in the Philippines. Both the first person I spoke with, and the claimed supervisor, said that the courtesy cancel policy did not apply because there was no button allowing a courtesy cancel, therefore the policy did not apply. The simple logical assertion that somehow Orbitz was bound by its own website and its prior response to my email inquiry seemed to be over the head of the representative.

For the next few days I corresponded by email and phone and received varying explanations including (everything in quotation marks is a cut and paste from Orbitz emails):

* "It is a courtesy by itself. It is not a policy"

* "When you canceled online and it did not allow you to, it means the ticket is no longer courtesy cancelable. When you called to request a courtesy cancellation, and you were told it was no longer possible, it means it can not be done anymore."

* "Airlines not offering courtesy cancellations are, but not limited to, Air Tran and Spirit. The response given to you was a general answer to your rather general question."

* My refund request was "ex post facto."


I later found out, from documentation that the Orbitz representative brought to small claims court, that my matter had been handled in India, the Philippines, and Mexico.

After a few days I decided that dealing with Orbitz was a waste of time, and decided to go to small claims court. My out of pocket loss for the ticket was only $194.60, but there was a principal involved. Also, I figured that if I was successful I would post my story here on FT to help others.

My next step was to go the website of my state's Secretary of State, where I found the address of the agent for service of process for Orbitz, LLC, the actual entity which operates and sells tickets on the Orbitz website.

I filed in small claims court, naming Orbitz, LLC as a defendant. I asked for my $194.60 back, plus damages for inconvenience and annoyance, and for punitive damages. Inconvenience and annoyance damages are generally not available for breach of contract claims. However, I alleged fraud, because I entered into the contract based upon the fraudulent representations on the Orbitz website, and the response to my email, regarding the courtesy cancel option.

Shortly after Orbitz was served, the legal department contacted me and offered me a refund and a $200 travel credit - they didn't even try to claim they were in the right. We negotiated back and forth, they readily offered me my court filing fee and process server fee as well. Ultimately, I told them I would accept their offer (refund, $200 credit, filing fee and process server fee) if they would agree to change their website to specify the airlines to which the "courtesy cancel" policy did and did not apply. They refused to agree to change their website, so off to court we went.

They sent the same woman to court that had been corresponding with me from the legal office. She was a paralegal/law student at the Orbitz Chicago office, who was home for the holidays, a one hour flight away from the courthouse. She was very nice, but inexperienced. For example, she did not bring an extra copy of her exhibits for me, so I showed her where the copy machine was down the hall to make copies.

I told my story to the judge, and read to the judge some choice quotes from the correspondence such as the ones quoted above. I made my pitch for punitive damages on the basis that the website was still giving out wrong information, and that they were also giving the same wrong answer to emails asking the same question (I sent an email a few days before the hearing to Orbitz customer service, and got the same answer that the two airlines to which the policy did not apply were Spirit and Trans Air.) Ultimately, the judge entered judgment in my favor for the $194.60, $500 "for my trouble", plus my filing fee and process server fee.

The moral of the story - if you get a run around from a travel provider, take it to small claims court. You might win. Win or lose, if enough of us do it, perhaps they will clean up their acts.

Last edited by BigFlyer; Feb 1, 10 at 11:57 pm. Reason: correct punctuation
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Old Feb 1, 10, 11:51 pm   #2
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BigFlyer View Post
I am posting this in this general forum because while it involves Orbitz, the same small claims court principals apply to many travel vendors. People on FT frequently complaint about absurd positions and stonewalling from providers. Small claims court is one way of dealing with it.

My Orbitz adventure began with reading about Orbitz's "courtesy cancellation policy" on its website. The site stated that one could cancel an airline reservation by 10:00 P.M. Central Time the following day and get a complete refund. The exceptions were paper tickets, tours, and "certain airlines." I wrote to Orbitz customer service, and was told that "The two airlines that are an exception from the 'Courtesy Cancellation' option are Spirit Airlines and AirTran Airlines." So, I felt safe booking Virgin America through Orbitz.

The day after my booking, I needed to cancel. I went to the reservation, but there was no "courtesy cancel" button. I then called Orbitz customer service, and got someone in the Philippines. Both the first person I spoke with, and the claimed supervisor, said that the courtesy cancel policy did not apply because there was no button allowing a courtesy cancel, therefore the policy did not apply. The simple logical assertion that somehow Orbitz was bound by its own website and its prior response to my email inquiry seemed to be over the head of the representative.

For the next few days I corresponded by email and phone and received varying explanations including (everything in quotation marks is a cut and paste from Orbitz emails):

* "It is a courtesy by itself. It is not a policy"

* "When you canceled online and it did not allow you to, it means the ticket is no longer courtesy cancelable. When you called to request a courtesy cancellation, and you were told it was no longer possible, it means it can not be done anymore."

* "Airlines not offering courtesy cancellations are, but not limited to, Air Tran and Spirit. The response given to you was a general answer to your rather general question."

* My refund request was "ex post facto."


I later found out, from documentation that the Orbitz representative brought to small claims court, that my matter had been handled in India, the Philippines, and Mexico.

After a few days I decided that dealing with Orbitz was a waste of time, and decided to go to small claims court. My out of pocket loss for the ticket was only $194.60, but there was a principal involved. Also, I figured that if I was successful I would post my story here on FT to help others.

My next step was to go the website of my state's Secretary of State, where I found the address of the agent for service of process for Orbitz, LLC, the actual entity which operates and sells tickets on the Orbitz website.

I filed in small claims court, naming Orbitz, LLC as a defendant. I asked for my $194.60 back, plus damages for inconvenience and annoyance, and for punitive damages, inconvenience and annoyance damages are generally not available for breach of contract claims. However, I alleged fraud, because I entered into the contract based upon the fraudulent representations on the Orbitz website, and the response to my email, regarding the courtesy cancel option.

Shortly after Orbitz was served, the legal department contacted me and offered me a refund and a $200 travel credit - they didn't even try to claim they were in the right. We negotiated back and forth, they readily offered me my court filing fee and process server fee as well. Ultimately, I told them I would accept their offer (refund, $200 credit, filing fee and process server fee) if they would agree to change their website to specify the airlines to which the "courtesy cancel" policy did and did not apply. They refused to agree to change their website, so off to court we went.

They sent the same woman to court that had been corresponding with me from the legal office. She was a paralegal/law student at the Orbitz Chicago office, who was home for the holidays, a one hour flight away from the courthouse. She was very nice, but inexperienced. For example, she did not bring an extra copy of her exhibits for me, so I showed her where the copy machine was down the hall to make copies.

I told my story to the judge, and read to the judge some choice quotes from the correspondence such as the ones quoted above. I made my pitch for punitive damages on the basis that the website was still giving out wrong information, and that they were also giving the same wrong answer to emails asking the same question (I sent an email a few days before the hearing to Orbitz customer service, and got the same answer that the two airlines to which the policy did not apply were Spirit and Trans Air.) Ultimately, the judge entered judgment in my favor for the $194.60, $500 "for my trouble", plus my filing fee and process server fee.

The moral of the story - if you get a run around from a travel provider, take it to small claims court. You might win. Win or lose, if enough of us do it, perhaps they will clean up their acts.
Did the judge rule (or suggest) that they should change their website, as you previously requested that they do?
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Old Feb 1, 10, 11:52 pm   #3
 
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Good for you! I admit I would have given in at the settlement, and I would never have even gotten that far. This is an example of American justice I like to see.
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Old Feb 2, 10, 12:03 am   #4
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Glad to hear it.

Hopefully, you won't have to go to court again to collect your judgment.
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Old Feb 2, 10, 12:24 am   #5
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Holy smokes. Based upon what I've read on FlyerTalk, I would have thought you would have been kicked out of small claims court and forced to refile in the Circuit Court for Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, in accordance with Orbitz's binding forum selection clause. And then, having done so, Orbitz would have squashed you like a bug with its airtight defense of mistake since by "Air Tran," it really meant "Virgin America."

In all seriousness, well done.
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Old Feb 2, 10, 5:03 am   #6
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fairdinkumbrad View Post
Did the judge rule (or suggest) that they should change their website, as you previously requested that they do?
that would be injunctive relief. small claims usually doesn't have jurisdiction for anything other than money damages.

but orbitz would be wise to make the changes - now their shenanigans are documented.
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Old Feb 2, 10, 5:58 am   #7
 
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Bravo!
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Old Feb 2, 10, 6:30 am   #8
 
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Awesome! Thanks for being proactive and sharing your experience. Should this be in the trip report section?

- Pat
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Old Feb 2, 10, 6:31 am   #9
 
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Good for you! Fighting for the average traveler!
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Old Feb 2, 10, 6:47 am   #10
 
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Nice
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Old Feb 2, 10, 6:53 am   #11
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Good for you BigFlyer! Thanks for standing up for all of us.
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Old Feb 2, 10, 7:32 am   #12
 
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Congratulations!
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Old Feb 2, 10, 7:47 am   #13
 
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Congrats... down with Orbitz LLC!
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Old Feb 2, 10, 7:55 am   #14
 
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Great story,thanks for sharing
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Old Feb 2, 10, 8:12 am   #15
 
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Awesome story! Many whine and complain, but few have the tenacity to go through with something like this. Great job.
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