Experience Blog

The Ethnography of Experience

Adventures in Travelocity

Gary C. David, PhD

The whole thing could be chalked up to me trying to be a team player. The thought saving a few bucks on behalf of my school and departmental budget was attractive enough to try and find some cheaper travel alternatives. Being a savvy shopper led me to look for various options for flight and hotel. Travelocity seemed like a good enough option. I made my reservations for air and hotel well in advance of my travel dates. Another task crossed off the list. Or so I thought.

Arriving to the airport at my customary two hours ahead of flight time, I was looking forward to just relaxing a little, and doing some work. I then noticed a message on my phone which had just come through. I usually don’t play messages from numbers I don’t recognize since no one who I care about ever calls me. A foreboding sense of doom (along with the red exclamation point) compelled me to listen to the message. I was treated to the following regarding my hotel reservation, “…we are unable to accept your reservation for your stay. Travelocity would like to assist you in finding a comparable alternative…” And they closed with “Thank you so much for choosing Travelocity.”

Yes, I understand.

Yes, I understand.

Pardon me? I had made my reservation over a month ago, and you sure seemed able to accept it then. What does it mean when you say, “we are unable to accept your reservation”? Am I being discriminated against? Is it a personal thing? This brought back a lot of feelings from when I was young and would hand out birthday party invitations. “I’m sorry, Gary. But I am unable to accept the invitation to your party at this time. I would be happy to assist you in finding a comparable alternative person who would be willing to go.” Now into my adulthood I’m being rejected by hotels. Things sure have escalated.

Calling back Travelocity, I spoke to a delightful woman from parts unknown. “What do you mean you don’t have a reservation?” I asked. The response was, “The hotel has booked all of their rooms, so we are not able to provide a room for you.” Huh? “But I had a reservation, which means I had a room. Where did my room go?” I further queried. “Yes I understand,” the delightful women assured me. She said “Yes I understand” quite a bit. This is a big no-no according to my wife, the clinical therapist. Bill Clinton said, “I feel your pain.” It would have been quite different if he would have said, “I understand your pain.”

To say you understand means that you have been in the person’s shoes with whom you are speaking. The delightful woman (from parts unknown) never indicated HOW she understood. There was no next thing said which would have shared with me the occasions upon which she had been in an airport two hours before travel and been informed she had no place to stay upon arrival. THEN she would have understood (maybe). Otherwise, saying she understood was just a conversational token taught during a training program which was having the adverse effect of making me feel better about the situation. Lesson #1: Don’t say you understand. Acknowledge the caller’s feelings without creating equivalency unless you have personal experience to back it up

“Would you like me to help you find another reservation?” she asked. Now that was an interesting question. My choices here are: 1) have no place to sleep upon arrival, depending on the kindness of strangers and finding overpasses to sleep under near my meetings; 2) hang up the phone and frantically search for another hotel while waiting for my plane to depart; 3) have DW (delightful woman) remedy their screw up by finding me another place. I told her that since I indeed needed a place to put my stuff and sleep, it would be grand if you could help me find another place.

Chocolate chip cookie, you really do understand me.

Chocolate chip cookie, you really do understand me.

DW proceeded to quickly get me a reservation at a Doubletree Hotel just 0.8 miles (this is what DW said) from my original hotel. She also said that even though the new hotel was more expensive than the original, they would give me it at the original price. Gee thanks. You mean that you are not going to charge me more for your screw up? Whether or not it was in fact their screw up, they are my customer point of contact and therefore own it. And I was still not thrilled with the situation as this is not the hotel I wanted to stay at, or had reservations to stay at. While Travelocity did provide me with a place to sleep and put my stuff (that was better than an overpass), I would not say that they made me whole. They did just enough to have me not be homeless, but not nearly enough to repair the damage to trust and reputation.

As a side point, it would have been a good move for DW to talk about how the Doubletree has higher ratings and better reviews, they have fresh cookies, anything to make me feel like she was actually doing me a favor by saving me from the god forsaken other hotel of my original reservation. Additionally DW could have called ahead to the Doubletree and told them to give me a food or drink voucher at their bar. Again, anything to make me feel like I was winning in this exchange. Lesson #2: Pain and suffering is a real thing. Acknowledge the inconvenience made by doing more to make the customer feel better about being put out.

It was a lovely moment when I received my customer feedback survey in my email, ultimately asking me if I would recommend Travelocity. Seriously? I can no longer trust that a reservation made in Travelocity will be honored. I was not told by DW that this was a really rare and unique situation. The ease with which she moved through it led me to believe it is not that unusual. I asked around with people who travel a lot, as well as the Doubletree staff, and no one had any idea that you could lose a reservation once you made it. I’m still not sure what happened. So how in the world am I going to even consider recommending Travelocity again?

Not doing so good.

Not doing so good.

But it didn’t end there. Upon my return home and doing my expense report, I noticed that I was billed TWICE by Travelocity: once for the original hotel and once for the new one. So now I had to call back Travelocity, talk to another person in parts unknown, and figure out what happened here. I did, and got a delightful young man (DM) who put me on hold, checked things out, and told me that the higher charge would be taken off, but it might be 7-10 days. Luckily this was my corporate card and not personal card, and luckily it did not involve me having to pay my credit card bill in the intervening 7-10 days. Again, nothing to make up for the inconvenience of me having to call them. Nothing to build my loyalty or trust in Travelocity. Nothing to try to salvage our relationship. Lesson #3: Beware of the Peak-End Rule 2.0: if there is no peak in the relationship, might as well end it.

I won’t be using Travelocity again. No way that I could trust that the reservation made is a reservation kept. They could have done a lot more along the way to mitigate the damage, things easily done and built into their system. I will cherish the time that DW and I spent together. In a moment of reflection, I did notice that DM never said “I understand.” Maybe DW really did “get” me afterall.