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Make Your Gripe Count

SmarterTravel

Whenever you have a complaint with an airline, hotel, cruise line, tour operator, or any other travel supplier, you should take it up first with that supplier. That often works, at least partially. Unfortunately, however, a supplier will sometimes completely ignore your complaint. As a reader put it:

“My wife and I were wrongfully evicted from a hotel recently. All complaints regarding this have gone ignored at every level of customer service. In frustration, I just posted on a website about this hotel in the hopes of getting some sort of response. Are we following the right tack?

The short answer: At least you’re off to a good start—not just the website, but because you also posted reviews on Travelocity and IgoUgo. But you can and should do more. Given what happened—as corroborated by the local police—I’m amazed that neither the hotel nor its parent chain has even responded to you. But nobody did, so your response is a good start. And your case is a good base for me to explore the complaint process in more detail.

The Basic Options

As I’ve noted, when a supplier is totally unresponsive to your complaint, you have only four realistic options:

  • Write your experience off as another lesson learned the hard way and get on with your life.
  • Try to enlist the support of any or all organizations that might help you—a government agency (state attorney general, consumer protection agency), a trade organization, a media outlet with an ombudsman or consumer function, or such.

  • Do as much as you can to give the supplier a black eye.
  • Take the supplier to court—small claims or higher, depending on what’s involved.

If you’re too steamed to simply write the experience off, you’re left with three options. And with any supplier other than airlines, third-party support is iffy: No government agencies or regulations specifically deal with hotels, cruiselines, or tour operators; no trade associations provide any consumer assistance; and the chances of attracting the attention of one of those “ombudsman” columns are slim. That leaves giving the supplier a black eye—which I believe this reader should do—and going to court, which he should also do. Over the years I’ve written several columns and reportsreports about airline complaints and hauling recalcitrant suppliers into court, so for this response, I’ll concentrate on the black eye.

Go Where Other Travelers Post Reviews

These days, you’ll get the widest exposure for an unfavorable hotel, cruise, or tour review if you post it on the sites where other travelers go to find out about hotels, cruises, and tours:

  • Specialized hotel sites: TripAdvisor (our sister site) is by far the biggest of the travelers’ hotel reviews sites. It covers conventional hotels, motels, resorts, and some vacation rentals. Other big hotel review sites include Global Hotel REview, Hotel Shark, IgoUgo, and TravelPost.
  • Specialized cruise sites: Like TripAdvisor, CruiseCritic (another sister site) probably posts more cruisers’ reviews than any other, but you also find reviews on CruiseReviews and CruiseMates.
  • Tour operators. I don’t know of any US-based sites that specialize in rating tour operators. In Canada, TripAtlas posts tour operator reviews, as do several sites in the UK, including Which?, the UK equivalent of Consumer Reports, Ciao, Review Centre, and TravelTruth.

An unfavorable review on one of the big online agencies will also get a lot of attention. All of them now post traveler reviews of at least some of the hotels they list. Typically these reviews are limited to travelers who booked through the site. Several of them link to cruise-review sites through their cruise booking system.

Guidebook postings can also help. Fodor’s posts extensive hotel reviews posted by travelers. You can also submit a bad review to the AAA and Mobil guides—those won’t post your comments but they do keep score and drop hotels with multiple complaints.

Also Try All-Purpose “Gripe Sites”

Several websites position themselves as places where consumers can post complaints on a wide range of consumer products and services. Travel is prominent on most of them, a reflection of the travel industry’s generally poor record in handling consumer complaints.

  • Complaints.com appears to be one of the larger complaint sites, with lots of travel listings, easily searched.

  • Consumer Affairs limited but detailed reviews (only 41 hotels mentioned).

  • ConsumerExchange runs a for-pay complaint service; I have no idea whether it’s effective.

  • My 3 Cents, with hundreds of hotels and reasonable cruise and tour operator coverage.

  • Squeaky Wheel promises aggressive follow-up to complaints, including e-mailing the named supplier every time someone reads a complaint, but searching for travel companies is difficult.

These and similar sites post complaints; some also provide links, snail mail addresses, and even names for places and people where you might want to send messages.

Although I have no figures, I suspect that posting a complaint on a general gripe site would be less effective than posting on one of the sites that travelers visit, anyhow. And although they claim that many suppliers read and react to complaints, again, I’ve seen no figures. Still, there’s no harm in posting.

Better Business Bureau

If you’re mounting a campaign against a supplier—especially an individual hotel—a report to the BBB is another option. The BBB is not likely to help you get any money, but at least it’s a black mark that other travelers will see if they check.

Do it Yourself

Our reader has already mounted a website devoted strictly to the single hotel where he had the problem. And I’m sure that lots of travelers add unflattering hotel, airline, cruiseline, and tour comments on their blogs and in twitters. This is certainly a good way to vent, but I have no idea about how likely it might be that such a posting will come to the attention of other travelers.

Court

Keep in mind that giving a supplier a black eye is a last resort, if nothing else works. In most cases, you’d really rather have a resolution of your complaint—and some monetary compensation. As I’ve noted before, going to court definitely does get the attention of a misbehaving travel supplier, even if that supplier has previously stonewalled you. If a supplier has really done you dirt, by all means go the last mile.

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