How to find your adoring travel blogging audience (and keep it)

Editor’s note: This is part five of my series on becoming a successful travel blogger. Here’s the first one, the second one, the third one and the fourth one. I’ll have the final installment tomorrow.

You’re missing a key ingredient to your super-successful travel blog: your audience.

Notice that I said “your” audience. Not “an” audience or “the” audience. When you become a travel blogger, you will make a deep connection with your users that goes beyond anything you had in old media. These aren’t simply readers, viewers or listeners; they are members of your extended family.
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New on On Your Side: more appliance contacts!

We can’t leave well enough alone. Our researches have been hard at work adding to the appliance category. I’m happy to share the results today.

Everyone knows that appliances break down from time to time. When they do, you face a maddening game of “find the warranty” and “retailer vs. manufacturer.” It should be that way.

These contacts should help you get the right person right away.

Today we’ve added to the appliance category a number of important companies with elusive customer-service departments. They include Japan Tiger, Panasonic, Siemens, Sub-Zero, Sony, Staber Industries, Sunbeam, Swizz Style, Viking, Whirlpool and Zojirushi.

I hope you find these new wiki categories helpful.

(Photo: coo kbook man17/Flickr)

The Travel Troubleshooter: Airline won’t refund my ticket after my husband dies

Question: I bought a pair of tickets through Expedia for my husband and myself. We planned to visit Germany this fall for as part of a retirement trip. Shortly after that, my husband passed away very suddenly.

I contacted Expedia about a refund, but was advised to get in touch with our airline, Lufthansa, directly. Lufthansa told me my husband’s ticket was nonrefundable. I asked if they would resell his seat, since he couldn’t make the flight, and they admitted they would.

When I said that it appeared that Lufthansa would profit from the death of my husband, they admitted that that was the case. This really offended me. I tried to send an email to Lufthansa’s president, but they have turned me down. What would you advise?
Ursula Maul, Wynnewood, Pa.

Answer: My condolences on your loss. Most airlines refund tickets – even nonrefundable ones – when a passenger dies. What’s more, it’s highly unusual for a representative to “admit” that the airline will profit from the death of a passenger. Maybe the representative you reached was having a bad day. I certainly hope so.
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New on Elliott: The three levels of scam, more problems solved and your chance to support this site – Sponsored by

Before I get into the terrific content I have lined up for this issue, a few words about money. Consumer advocacy doesn’t come cheap. Your support is critical to making this site run, and now more than ever, I need your help.

And as a way of saying “thank you” I’m offering my new ebook, 0-60 Travel Insurance to anyone who signs up as an individual underwriter. It’s the definitive guide to buying and using travel insurance, and if you’re taking a trip anywhere, you’ll want to read it first.

I hope you’ll consider becoming an underwriter. Without you, none of this would be possible.

This week I examine the three levels of scam over on I solve real-world problems, including a lost camera and a missing ticket refund. We have debates — oh, do we ever have debates! — on everything from stealing vouchers to hotel fees. And our On Your Side researchers have added new wiki categories so you can help yourself when you run into trouble. Plus, if you’ve ever wanted to be a travel blogger, you absolutely must catch my series on the subject.
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How to be a travel blogger: And now, a few words about money

Editor’s note: This is part four of my series on becoming a successful travel blogger. Here’s the first one, the second one and the third one.

Let’s talk about money.

If you’re going to be a successful travel blogger, you’ll need some to pay your Internet service provider and web designer. You’ll have to pony up cold, hard cash for the equipment I recommended in the second part of this series.

It would be nice to have a little left over to pay the rent, too.

People think you have to take the vow of poverty when you become a travel blogger, or that your “payment” is press trips. Not necessarily.
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Here are the reporting resources you’ll need to become a successful travel blogger

Editor’s note: This is part three of my series on becoming a successful travel blogger. Here’s the first one and the second one.

OK, you have your topic and some of the basic tools.

Now it’s time to find the content for your soon-to-be incredibly successful travel blog.

But before that, let’s get one thing out of the way: This is not journalism. I think it helps, in some ways, to have no formal training as a journalist.
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Ridiculous or not? Hotels eye airline-like rebooking fees

I‘m always on the lookout for new fees, so when Katherine Walton emailed me about her recent stay at the Chateau Timberline, a hotel in Packwood, Wash., she had my attention.

Walton needed to cancel her reservation a day before her arrival.

“An agent told me they would charge a $100 fee – the price of one night,” she says. “So even if they are able to rebook the room I will not get a refund.”
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Be a travel blogger now: Here are the tools of the trade

Editor’s note: Here’s part two of my series on becoming a successful travel blogger. You can find the first one right here.

Now that you have found your topic, let’s get your blog up and running.

Remember when I said you could literally set up a decent-looking travel blog in the time it takes to read a few paragraphs? I wasn’t lying. I wasn’t even exaggerating. But let me walk you through the process slowly.
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Is this enough compensation? Rescued from Spirit’s fare club, but still unhappy

Spirit Airlines’ “$9 Fare Club” is probably one of the most controversial legal travel clubs in the country. Scratch that. It is the most controversial travel club in the country.

The problem isn’t that customers are offered lower fares in exchange for joining the club ($59.95 a year) but that they’re automatically renewed, as per the club’s terms. That’s often a surprise, and it seems to be a scam, at least to some customers. Even scammier: Spirit is reluctant to refund the autorenewed $59.99, even though the customer no longer wants to be part of the club.

Rules, says Spirit, are rules.

Meet Judi Breinin, one of the club’s “victims.” Rather than narrating her story, I’ll just replay the correspondence between her and Spirit.
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Get your copy of my travel insurance ebook now!

If you’re a regular reader of my site, then you know that consumer journalism is a tough sell. That’s why I rely on you to keep this site running.

As we begin this fall fundraiser — the first in almost a year — I want to start by saying “thank you” to my visionary corporate underwriters and to you for your unwavering support.

Your comments, tips and suggestions have made this the number-one site for consumer advocacy on the Internet!

(Speaking of which, I have lots of cool stories to share with you in a second, including my Washington Post column about new airline rules, a mudslinging fest about the new Homeland Security headquarters and the unfortunate case of a canceled cruise vacation.)

And as a way of saying “thanks” I’m offering my new ebook, 0-60 Travel Insurance to anyone who signs up as an individual underwriter. It’s the definitive guide to buying and using travel insurance, and if you’re taking a trip anywhere, you’ll want to read it first.

I hope you’ll consider becoming an underwriter. Without you, none of this would be possible.
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The smarter consumer: How to find a manager’s email address

If you’re not getting the service you want, maybe you’re asking the wrong person.

Consider what happened to Kara Jones when she was having trouble with a JetBlue Airways ticket recently. Two weeks after sending an email through its website, she still had no response from the airline. So she started searching for the email address of a customer-service manager. Within a few minutes she found one.

“I re-sent the email – and bam!” she says. “I got a phone call about two hours later from them.”

Knowing the right person can mean the difference between being ignored and getting the service you deserve. It’s a sad fact that some emails never reach a company, while others are lost or are ignored.
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So you wanna be a travel blogger? You can do it — here’s how

Editor’s note: Want to be a travel blogger? Almost every day, someone asks me how it’s done. So I’ve decided to spend the next week answering that question. Comments? Please send ’em along or leave one below.

You can launch a travel blog right now, in the time it takes to read this post.

But not so fast! Just like every house needs a blueprint, you don’t want to build without a plan.

The blogosphere is littered with great sites that started with passion and fanfare and then flamed out. Why? They had no foundation, no plan, and ultimately, no reason for being. You don’t want to become a statistic.

I can help.
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Can this trip be saved? They overbooked my cruise and all I got was a refund

Beth Mann and her husband were looking forward to a European cruise they booked through Vantage Travel for months. They’d been preparing for her ports of call in Helsinki, St. Petersburg and Tallinn by reading books on Russia and the Baltics.

But then the hammer fell on their plans.

A few weeks ago, they received a call from Vantage. “Oops, we’re sorry,” a representative told them. “We overbooked.”

Never mind that they’d already paid $11,920 for cabin 246 on the MS Tolstoy. The Manns weren’t going.
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