Gasoline card proves useless at the pumps

Question: Maybe you can help me with this little dilemma. I booked a trip for my nephew to Reno, Nev., through Expedia. I made the reservation by phone. The trip went well, but I was promised a $50 gas card.

When I received the card, it was damaged, and there were no instructions on how to activate it. Expedia said I could use the card anywhere, but when I tried, no one would honor it.

I contacted Expedia, which sent me coupons for future travel. I don’t want coupons, I want the gas card. Can you help me to get Expedia to do the right thing?

Viola Wilson, Baltimore

Answer: Expedia should have sent you a $50 gas card that worked, as promised. But the online travel agency did you no favors by telling you it would send you a gas card without also informing you of the terms.

At the risk of stating the obvious, Expedia is an “online” travel agency. It’s best to use Expedia’s website to make a booking. That way, you’ll have an opportunity to review the fine print on any offer.

It turns out the $50 gas card is a prepaid debit card with significant restrictions. First, it’s only good “while supplies last” — so Expedia could have run out, and it would be under no obligation to send it to you.

It’s also a highly restrictive offer in other ways. Customers are advised that it takes “8 to 12 weeks after travel completion for your card to arrive,” but that the card expires 90 days from the date it is issued. In other words, you may wait longer for the card to arrive than you have time to use it.

I wouldn’t expect a representative to read these terms to you by phone. But the person with which you spoke should have alerted you to the significant limitations of the $50 gas card and pointed you to the Expedia site, where you could have read the fine print. It appears that didn’t happen.

Even though Expedia was well within its rights to send you a coupon, an IOU or nothing at all, it should have found a way to communicate the terms of its gas-card offer with you before you made the reservation.

Of course, had the card arrived undamaged, then none of this would be necessary. But a look at the card reveals that this wasn’t wholly Expedia’s fault — the fulfillment appears to have been handled by a third party. Or the card might have been damaged in the mail. That’s known to happen, too.

Given Expedia’s lack of disclosure, I thought I would check with the online agency to see if it could resend the gas card. I contacted it, and it resent a card — this time, intact.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the author of “Scammed.” Read more travel tips on his blog, www.elliott.org or email him at celliott@ngs.org.

&Copy; 2012 Christopher Elliott/ Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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