What did you learn in 2011?

You have the power. That’s one of the biggest lesson of 2011, for consumers — and one of the key takeaways of my new book, Scammed. You can find out what else the last year taught us in my latest Mint.com column. You don’t want to miss it.

Speaking of the book, now is the time to order it online. You’ll get it in time for the holidays, and it makes a great gift, because it will protect you from all the scams that await you in 2012.

Order Scammed now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes. You can also download it immediately as an ebook on the Kindle and Nook platforms.
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Carnival kicks mother and son off Christmas cruise

This is Rebecca Dickerson and her son, Jordan. A few days ago, they were cruising to the Bahamas on the Carnival Fascination. But last week, they were removed from the ship in a “shocking” turn of events, according to Rebecca Dickerson.

Their nightmare began shortly after boarding the vessel on Dec. 10 in Jacksonville, Fla. On the first day, Dickerson reports that her room was burglarized.
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TSA Watch: These terrorists don’t need to be screened — they have uniforms

Today’s word is “inconsistent.”

Say it with me: inconsistent.

If the last week’s events have shown us anything, it’s that the federal agency guarding America’s skies is inconsistent.

Dangerously inconsistent, sometimes.

Consider the outrage over rapper Freddie Gibbs, who slipped a bag of marijuana in his checked luggage on a flight last week. But when the TSA found his stash at the airport, it didn’t report him. Instead, it let him off with a lighthearted warning when an agent allegedly wrote, “C’mon son” on the official “you’ve been inspected” card.
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Do I really need travel insurance? This might help you decide

Do you need insurance for your next trip?

That’s a question we ask all the time on this site, and it was the topic of a popular series earlier this year.

Truth is, if you have to make just one large claim, you’ll be glad you had travel insurance. But what, exactly, are your chances are of making a claim on a travel insurance policy, and what kind of claims are typically filed?

This infographic is pretty enlightening.

Many thanks to our sponsor TripInsurance.com for giving us an early look at these numbers. Here’s a link to the full-size graphic.

Stay tuned for a sequel to the travel insurance series in early 2012.

A holiday surprise from the travel industry

Sometimes when you travel, it’s the little gestures of compassion that make the biggest difference — especially during the holidays.

For Becky Brand, it was the bus driver on Washington’s L2 line who went out of his way to help her during Thanksgiving week. “While I was struggling with a heavy suitcase in the rain, he made my day by stopping to let me on instead of having me run to the bus stop a block away,” says Brand, who works for a legal advocacy group in the capital. “Although a small and random act of kindness, it made my holiday week and definitely gave me something to be thankful for.”

Jenny Block remembers the nameless American Airlines employee who answered her plea on Twitter. Her cousin had been left in a coma after a traffic accident, and she needed the airline to bend a flight change rule. Block, a writer who lives in Dallas, received an immediate reply: Of course the airline would help her.

“You won’t believe this part,” she told me. “It happened on Thanksgiving morning.”

Oh no, that part I would believe.
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The lights went out, but Holiday Inn kept my money

Question: We recently checked into the Holiday Inn Express Hotel Poulsbo in Poulsbo, Wash., and experienced a lapse in service. We need your help with a refund.

There was a winter storm with ice on the road, and after a treacherous drive from the Kingston Ferry, which was shut down after we disembarked because of wind, we arrived in Poulsbo. We checked into the hotel at 5:30 p.m. or so. At 6:45 p.m., the lights went out.
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New on Elliott: 12 things you shouldn’t do in 2012 – Sponsored by TripInsurance.com

It isn’t too soon to start thinking about your New Year’s resolutions. If you’re a smart consumer, here’s 12 of them to consider from my Mint.com column. It’s the kind of advice that will help you avoid what I call the Money Apocalypse. Also, check out my rant on 7 holiday scams that can cost you money over on the Huffington Post.

I want to call out one of my underwriters in this newsletter: Cheapflights.com. They’ve been supporting my consumer advocacy work for years. Cheapflights is more than just a site that finds low prices on airline tickets. It cares about top-notch customer service, and I’m happy to say this, I’ve never had a complaint about a Cheapflights itinerary — ever. So thank you, Cheapflights for your long-time support!
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My hotel promised a refund, but my travel agency refused

Serban Constantinescu’s Scandinavian tour didn’t get off to the best start. He missed a flight connection from Cleveland to New York because of bad weather, and was a no-show for his hotel in Copenhagen.

But when he phoned the Quality Airport Hotel Dan, it let him off the hook. “We will cancel the reservation and will not charge a cancellation fee,” a representative told him. He even was able to get their promise in writing.

So where’s his refund?
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Getting a bite on a flight (ouch!) – Sponsored by TripInsurance.com

I‘m leading off today’s newsletter with the unusual story about a passenger who says she suffered multiple bug bites on a recent flight. Did her airline do enough to help her?

Before I get to the rest of this week’s posts, I wanted to thank you for the outpouring of support during the first week of our holiday fundraiser. Many of you ordered my new book, Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals — and many more became underwriters.

By the way, Scammed is available as an ebook right now and copies have been sighted at bookstores, so now’s the time to order!

We’re continuing the fundraiser today with a very special offer from our newest corporate underwriter, TourSaver. As you probably know, TourSaver publishes a pocket-sized coupon book full of travel deals and attractions in Alaska and Seattle. The deals are really unbelievable — more than $20,000 in savings in a single book!

The first 10 underwriters to sign up at the benefactor level will also receive a copy of the TourSaver this week.

Here’s how to become an underwriter.

By the way, if you work for a business that puts customers first and want to support the consumer advocacy on this site, please contact me directly for details.

I have lots more in this issue of my newsletter. Check out my Washington Post column on how Congress is trying to help travelers during the holiday season. Are our elected representative doing more harm than good? Plus, find out why one reader’s Maytag microwave just won’t work, and what can be done about it.


• Read the latest TSA Watch column on efforts to strip officers of their title, and a few items of clothing. You can also read it over at the Huffington Post.

• Find out about the Sandals honeymoon that didn’t go quite as expected. There’s lots of drama, deception and intrigue in this installment of “Can this trip be saved?”

• Vote now on your favorite travel blogger. I compile these lists every year, mostly because I’m curious. Who are you reading? You’ll be surprised at the preliminary results. I sure am.

And a final note today: Whether you’re reading this newsletter online or offline, whether you’ve been a subscriber a day or a decade, you probably know these are challenging times to be a consumer advocate. News outlets are cutting their budgets to zero; companies are looking for uncritical, sales-friendly news outlets on which to advertise their products. It is thanks to your unwavering support that I can continue working for you.

Thank you for being there. It means a lot to me.

(Photo: Fly for Fun/Flickr)

Bitten by bugs on my Delta Air Lines flight to New York

Patricia Sweeney says she suffered multiple insect bites on a recent Delta Air Lines flight from Atlanta to New York. “The bites were most likely bed bugs or fleas,” she says. “I had a severe reaction to them and developed an infection.”

But that wasn’t the worst part. Sweeney, who later that day made a connection to another Delta flight to Shannon, Ireland, notified her flight crew about the bites. She says they gave her three choices:
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