7 Tips for Getting Compensated After a Travel Problem

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Recently, a Money Talks News reader told me she received 15,000 extra miles shortly after completing a 1,200-mile flight. She’d gotten them at my suggestion by writing a three-sentence email to the carrier, detailing her dissatisfaction with the flight. She promptly received the miles from the airline as a gesture of good will.

Travel was once an experience to be savored, but these days it’s too often an ordeal. For example, while airlines can’t control the weather, they often fail to effectively communicate delays – or to otherwise treat their customers with respect.

When a trip goes wrong, travelers often feel like writing a harsh letter to the airline, hotel, or rental car agency. While mistreated customers do deserve compensation, there’s a right way and a wrong way to express dissatisfaction. The correct letter will result in a reply with some form of compensation, while the wrong message will only receive a generic response – and no gesture of good will.

Here’s the right way to complain…

  1. Try resolving the problem onsite. Some travel service providers have managers who actually care about your satisfaction. If you’re unhappy with your hotel room or your rental car experience, find a manager and tell him or her that you’re dissatisfied. Not surprisingly, this tactic is less effective with airlines.
  2. Be brief. When it comes to written correspondence, always put yourself in the shoes of the reader. How would you feel about spending all day reading long letters that begin, “I was traveling to Spokane to visit my Aunt Martha on her birthday last Thursday….?” Trim it down to a paragraph that begins along the lines of, “I boarded Flight 179 from Minneapolis to Spokane on October 17.” Sticking to the facts will allow the reader to quickly determine the core issue, saving your time and theirs.
  3. Be polite. It’s understandable that people get emotionally charged during travel delays and disappointments. Once you return home and collect yourself, compose a professional correspondence describing the service failures you experienced – and that were within the company’s control. Refrain from sarcasm, profanities, and personal insults.
  4. Document the problem. Travel companies can be inundated with tales of woe from everyone who feels that they weren’t treated like royalty. Naturally, they’re skeptical of extraordinary claims. Therefore, if your carpet was soiled in your hotel room, take a picture of it with your phone and include it in your email. If you have the names of the employees you spoke with during your travels, include that as well. Of course, always try to include as many ticket numbers and confirmation codes as you can, as well as your loyalty program account information.
  5. When demanding cash, be specific. In most cases, companies will only compensate you with their points, miles, or perhaps a voucher for future use. Personally, if that’s all I expect for the transgression, I treat it as a gift and ask for bonus miles. On the other hand, if I feel I’m due a refund or a cash reimbursement, I’m always careful to detail specific charges. If you incurred additional travel expenses as a result of a mistake that was entirely within the control of the company, include a copy of those receipts as well.
  6. Offer loyalty, not threats. So many travelers write to airlines, hotels, or rental car companies insisting that their experience was so bad, they’ll never use their services again. If you do that, many of these companies will take you at your word – and not bother to offer you compensation. Instead, briefly remind them of your loyalty and the travel decisions of others that you have influence over, such as family or coworkers whom you book travel for. Express your dissatisfaction and thank them for looking into this matter. They will get the idea.
  7. Pay a compliment every now and then. Travel experiences can go horribly wrong, but there are still many people out there working very hard to get you safely where you’re going – and take care of you when you get there. When you meet employees who go above and beyond, tell their managers. Not only is it the right thing to do, but companies occasionally throw a few points or miles your way just for being a good customer and giving them feedback.

By effectively alerting travel companies about actual service failures, and successes, you are actually helping them to improve their quality. Should the airline, hotel, or rental card company choose to compensate you, so much the better. Otherwise, you know where not to take your business in the future.

And here are some ways to avoid travel problems before they happen…

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