Here’s another Travel Money Tuesday post. Click to check out all our money-saving posts.
It can be hard to get good value for your travel dollar. It can be even harder to get those dollars back should you not be satisfied.
So what are your travel rights?
And how do you protect them?
One way is to be right in the first place and then be noisy about it.
Last year, on less than 24 hours notice, I received an email that changed the seats for my elderly mother, my sister and me from business class to economy for a flight to Florida. We had paid the extra for my mother's comfort. I complained but got nowhere with customer service so I had the call escalated. Finally, a supervisor said he had to get the recorded version of my booking to determine whether they would help. It was late at night when I got his returned call. Yes, I was in the right and they magically found seats for us in business class. Imagine if English was not my first language. Imagine if it had been a person not quite as persistent as me.
Another way is to be very precise with your rights, any restrictions on them and have a plan.
In December I booked a flight with an online booking engine that cost more than if I had purchased it directly through the airline. However, I wanted the points that I would get from the booking engine. There was a price guarantee and in Ontario we have 24 hours to cancel any reservation. Unfortunately getting that guarantee proved impossible within the 24-hour time frame. I cancelled, didn't get the extra points but I did save $256 by booking with the airline directly.
Yes, things can go wrong.
Avoid Travel Complaints in the First place
There are many things you can do to protect yourself from the pain of travel problems, complaining about them and spending time getting compensation.
- Know the law in your jurisdiction. The 24-hour cancellation law in Ontario is helpful.
- Double-check all reservations before confirming. Like proofreading, reading out loud can help you hear any mistakes.
- If appropriate buy insurance. Read When to Buy (and not buy) Trip Insurance?
If things still go wrong, here's what to do.
Six Steps to Getting Travel Complaints Resolved
- State your complaint early. Take a moment to clarify in your own mind that the problem was within the company's control (for example, weather conditions cannot be controlled by a resort) and that, based on what was promised explicitly or implicitly, you have a reasonable complaint. If not, it's really not a consumer complaint – just an unfortunate situation. If it is:
- Relax and find your calm, polite voice.
- Complain immediately to whomever is available from the company. It might be the desk clerk at a hotel or a tour guide. Try to get it resolved at this point as it will save time and frustration down the road.
- Get Organized. If your complaint was not resolved on the spot, start documenting your information as soon as possible. Whether in a computer or paper file:
- Add the name of the person to whom you made your original complaint in step one, including notes on the conversation.
- Note the time, date, place and who was involved with your problem situation.
- Attach any documentation you have such as emails or photos taken of the problem.
- Write down the reasons you believe that your complaint is justified.
- Keep detailed notes on all emails or conversations relating to your complaint.
- Know your rights. It's preferable that you know your rights before you buy but essential if you want to take your complaint past the venting stage and get it resolved. Read any fine print and know the laws in your jurisdiction.
- Make contact. The place to start is customer service. Try to get your problem resolved there first. If that doesn't work, ask for a supervisor. If you're still getting nowhere, contact a more senior person in the organization. elliott.org, a consumer advocacy site for travel run by Chris Elliott has a page that points you to the responsible people in a number of travel companies.
- Exhaust all avenues. If all of the above fails, check the consumer protection branch of your state or province for assistance with travel complaints. In Ontario travel companies and tour operators are accredited through the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO). They facilitate a consumer complaint resolution process and administer the Ontario Travel Industry Compensation Fund. The fund is designed to compensate travelers for services not delivered by a TICO-registered company due to bankruptcy or insolvency.
- Contact Chris Elliot. If you've tried everything, contact Chris Elliot. He not only has a great website full of resources for people trying to navigate the complaint process but he will also go to bat for you if your claim is legitimate and you've done your homework. Here are his recommendations for managing the travel complaints process.
Travel should be a pleasure. I hope that you don't need any of the above but in the real world, problems happen. I hope the above is of assistance.
See you next Travel Money Tuesday.