I sent these cases to the forums – did I make the right call?

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Sometimes, advocating for someone can mean not advocating for someone.

What do I mean? Well, on any given day, we receive between a dozen and two dozen fresh requests for help.

These aren’t emails that can be answered quickly (I get many, many more queries than that). They’re full-fledged cases sent through our help form. If you haven’t filled it out yet, let me tell you it’s a fairly detailed intake process, so getting through it means you have a serious problem and need help.

And as my team and I review them, the first question we ask is: Does this need the personal touch or would it benefit from a more public airing?

In other words, should we send this case to our small group of advocates, or should we refer it to our help forums.

There are several benefits to posting a case on the forums:

  • It’s a public airing of a grievance, so other consumers can read about the problem and learn from it.
  • We have a team of dedicated experts available 24/7 to offer quick answers.
  • It’s a great place to get a second (or third) opinion about a grievance. You can also quickly find out if you have a valid case, because our valued forum experts are never shy about sharing their opinions.

But as any of our advocates will tell you, we sometimes send a case to the forums that we should have handled ourselves, or vice versa. Today, I wanted to share a few recent cases we sent to the forums. I’ll explain why we did so, and ask you to tell me if we made the right call.

Here’s an easy one from reader Jason Shi. He recently rented a car from Payless Car Rental and didn’t receive a receipt when he returned the vehicle. So he requested an invoice for his records. A week later, not a peep from Payless.

“I still have not received a receipt,” he says.

This didn’t rise to the level of an advocate-able case because there really wasn’t anything to advocate. Our forum advocates could help Shi find the name and email address of an executive, who could easily look into the invoice issue for him.

Why didn’t I contact Payless myself? I could have, but with so many cases arriving every day, you can’t fix everything.

Next case: Viviana Iglesias.

“Back in 2014, my husband, daughter and I had tickets to travel from Chicago to Fort Lauderdale,” she says. “Unfortunately my husband was diagnosed with colon cancer. What a tragedy, with chemotherapy and radiation treatments. We couldn’t fly. I contacted Spirit Airlines, but they only gave us a month to use the tickets.”

Spirit Airlines. Sigh.

“My husband’s treatment went on for more than nine months. How could we fly? We lost our money. I know is kind of late but I didn’t know about your advocacy. If there is anything you could do for us, I’d appreciate it,” she adds.

This case is problematic on several levels. First, there’s the fact that it happened two years ago. Most of our cases have a statute of limitations, if for no other reason than companies don’t keep records going any further back. But yes, it’s also Spirit, which has a reputation for taking a hard line.

What’s more, our team felt that taking this to a public forum would be better. It’s a warning beacon for others who might consider booking one of Spirit’s highly-restrictive tickets. A difficult call, to be sure.

Next up: Mario Cohan.

“I’m trying to use my miles with LAN,” he says. “I have over 570,000 km accumulated.
For a trip from Miami to Sao Paulo, Brazil, I would be charged 70,000 km plus $995 in taxes. But if I want to buy that same ticket it will only cost $657, including taxes. I think this scam from this and other airlines should be stopped by a consumer protection agency.”

Miles. I mean, kilometers. Sigh.

I stay away from cases like this because I can’t offer any advice about loyalty programs beyond: “Stay away from them.” Oh, I know there are readers who fly all over the world for “free” in first class, and I’m happy for you. But I firmly believe we’d all be better off without these programs, so I abstain from commenting.

I’ll make an exception for Cohan. Of course the numbers don’t make any sense. Why would you offer an airline your miles plus pay $995 when you can pay $657 for the same ticket? Is it a scam? Hell, yeah!

But we send this to the forums because other readers need to know, and also because we do have real loyalty program experts who lurk in the forums and might be able to offer some advice about more efficient ways of burning up his useless frequent flier kilometers. And I’ll be spared another argument about the folly of frequent flier programs. Really, what’s the point?

When consumers are sent to the forum, they sometimes believe we’re telling them they don’t have a case. That’s not true. Our forum advocates know more than I do, particularly when it comes to travel issues, and they frequently resolve a problem that I wouldn’t have been able to. So the forums are sometimes the best chance to get a problem fixed.

It’s just a question of which cases should go there. And that’s never an easy decision.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on our help forum.

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  • Alan Gore

    The only defense we have against Spirit is to keep telling the world about it as often as we can. It’s like putting up a sign on the riverbank warning “Do not swim in bottomless whirlpool.”

  • Joe_D_Messina

    This brings up a question given the recent article about how the site was being refocused. What is the long-term plan with the forums? I seem to recall once hearing that the hope was to eventually better integrate them into the site. It still makes little sense why there are separate logins required between these boards and the forums; it’d clearly be ideal if people could just freely post on the same login wherever they wanted. I’m not even sure the forums couldn’t be part of the main site if not for requiring separate logins.

  • KanExplore

    A knowledgeable person in the use of miles (kilometers) will always check the cost of a paid flight to see whether there’s good value or not. If his $657 ticket is round-trip Miami – Sao Paulo (that’s the only reason it would take 70k kilometers), this is a good deal, and it would be foolish to use kilometers for that. Use them when the paid ticket would otherwise be expensive, as I did not long ago when my uncle died. To make a flight the next day would have cost me $700 round-trip, but I did it with 9,000 British Airways Avios and $11.20 instead. There are plenty of blogs and forums to go to for generous help on using miles wisely, and I hope Cohan discovers them. He could ask a question on best uses for LAN kilometers and get good ideas.