Expedia is fighting a major social media and PR fire after one of highest profile tech blogs on the planet slammed the agency for poor customer service.
In a highly personal post, MG Siegler, a writer on TechCrunch, took Expedia apart for ruining his Valentine's Day trip to a hotel with a female companion.
The row has cause such a furore that Expedia officials say that an internal investigation was launched today and is being "led at the highest level".
Siegler, who also goes by the name Paris Lemon and is one of the site's more controversial writers, alongside its founder Michael Arrington, says Expedia failed to honour his pre-booked accommodation and he was only notified after arriving at the hotel.
In the 1,800-word article, Siegler explains in detail the series of phone calls he made to an Expedia call centre to attempt to resolve the problem.
He was eventually offered a refund and $100 voucher as compensation. Expedia was unable to find an alternative room in the unnamed city Siegler was in at the time of the incident.
The resulting and somewhat inevitable storm in the comments (140 at the time of writing this post) below the original story included general nods of agreement and recounts of similar experiences.
The article has been retweeted on nearly 500 occasions and is also syndicated to Washingtonpost.com.
Siegler defended his use of TechCrunch to report what was essentially an highly unfortunate yet personal experience:
"I say we have to hold these companies accountable for their crap customer service. It shouldn’t matter if they’re talking to a writer for one of the biggest blogs in the world or anyone else. Expedia routinely fails in customer service, but they get away with it because most of the time people don’t have this type of platform to expose these stories."
At the centre of the incident is the use of faxes to confirm bookings made via the Expedia website. Siegler says Expedia "apparently" faxed the booking to the hotel in question and received a confirmation in return.
Expedia will not discuss any details of the case until the investigation is complete, officials say, including whether it still uses faxes with hoteliers.
The OTA claims it does not treat complaints differently - like a sliding scale of intervention - based on the ability the customer has to create a public fuss.
However, Expedia says in a statement:
"Obviously this is a high-profile case, but the profile doesn't dictate the response. The details do. I am sure that they are going to do everything possible to try and make things right but can't offer any particulars right now, since the internal investigation - which is being led at the highest levels - isn't complete.
"In this instance, they will quickly work to deduce what happened and why (which is not to imply that the veracity of his complaint is in question) and those details will govern the response and whatever steps are necessary to try and make things right."
- Expedia emails to confirm some hotels still use faxes for booking requests and confirmation. "The hotel's preference dictates the method Expedia uses. While the majority of hotels rely on the more advanced confirmation systems offered by Expedia, some small properties elect to communicate by fax," an official says.
- Siegler also replies to an email. He will not name the hotel involved in the incident "just in case the screw up had absolutely nothing to do with them", but confirms it was located in Carmel, CA. "As far as I know, Expedia hasn't contacted me or Michael since the incident. I might put them on hold for an hour if they do," he adds.