Unresolved Complaint? Post a Gripe

Travel suppliers often fail to deliver what you expect, and when you complain, they all too often ignore you or send you a canned reply. When a supplier actually fails to provide the service, engages in outright misrepresentation, or causes a monetary loss, you have some remedies in law: asking for a credit card chargeback and—if the loss warrants—hauling the offending supplier into small claims court.

But failures don't always rise to the level of measurable financial loss; often, they just result in annoyance, inconvenience, and disappointment. After a final brush-off, many travelers' final response is something like, "I'll never fly your airline" or "I'll never stay at your hotel" again, and maybe "I'll make sure none of my friends will, either." But telling your friends may influence, at best, a few dozen people. If you want to have more of an impact, tell the world. These days, the Internet allows you several ways to do just that.

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  • The technically savvy can mount their own company-specific websites. But the half-life of these sites seems to be fairly short: Although deltareallysucks.com soldiers on, many others have departed.
  • Post on social media. In 2009, songwriter-performer Dave Carroll wrote and uploaded a song about uncompensated damage to his instrument on YouTube; so far, "United Breaks Guitars" has almost 13 million views. Unless you're extremely clever, you can't expect that much impact, but there's always a chance. A really clever tweet can also go a long way.
  • Post to a popular review site. Skytrax posts reviews submitted by travelers and incorporates them in its widely recognized star ratings. TripAdvisor, "the world's largest travel site," accepts and scores hotel and airline reviews; affiliated site SeatGuru posts and scores complaints about airline seating. Also, major guidebook and magazine sites provide for traveler reviews and complaints. Post hotel and cruise reviews to a big online travel agency (OTA). Outfits such as Expedia and our sister site Cruise Critic post ratings based in part on consumer reviews, but they don't score airlines.
  • Post to the Better Business Bureau. Check their website for a link to the office nearest the supplier's headquarters. Although BBB takes action, it generally doesn't pursue a complaint that doesn't involve financial loss, contract default, or law violation.
  • Send an airline complaint to the Department of Transportation, by letter or online. DOT seldom takes up individual cases that don't involve a violation of law, but any complaint you send will count against the airline in composite scores that get a lot of nationwide attention.

The advantage of posting to a big site is that Skytrax ratings, TripAdvisor scores, OTA hotel ratings, and DOT reports gain a lot of traction and do influence other consumers. But keep in mind that a high percentage of posted complaints are fairly trivial—and often very poorly written.

You can submit complaints to as many places as you want; at least you can give the supplier a black mark. But except in rare cases, you can't expect a supplier airline to react to a posting by offering anything of value or even an apology. Posting a complaint may make you feel better, but don't think anyone will lose their job over your plight.

Ed Perkins Seniors on the Go is copyright (c) 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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