You call this consumer advocacy?

Is it about you -- or them? / Photo by Give away boy - Flickr
Do you ever strike out?” readers of my syndicated newspaper column often ask me. They see my Q&A feature in their travel section, and every week the good guys win.

To which I reply: “All the time.” Just read my site.

Case-in-point is the email I received from Susan Mintz a few days ago. She’d been trying to secure a refund from Continental Airlines after being rushed to the hospital with a cardiac condition before her scheduled flight.

“I need advice please,” she wrote. “I’ve sent all my documentation to Continental and received a request ID on Feb. 15. Its refund policy states 20 business days. We’re way, way past this. I have sent five letters and three faxes. Nothing!”

I get hundreds of emails like this in a week, and I usually try to get to a resolution by asking and short series of questions.

Me: I’m sorry to hear about this. Could you send me some of the correspondence? I’d like to review it.

Mintz: Attached is the original letter.

Me: (After reading the email). Did they agree to a refund? Normally they only issue a ticket credit for these situations.

Mintz: I have only received a “request number” and nothing else since February.

Me: You might want to get United to clarify. Have you tried calling?

Mintz: Are you serious! Of course, I tried calling. Have you read the refund policy? There is no need for clarity. It is very simple. I am entitled to refund.

A ticket credit is acceptable as well. Anything. But my request is being ignored.

I contacted you because your web site states to do such when reaching a dead end. I sent you a copy of my letter asking for advice and you ask if I called them. This is advocacy for travelers?


I tried to explain that Continental (now United) would probably only issue a ticket credit, but that a refund would be unlikely – and yes, I am trying to help.

I haven’t heard back from her.

Something tells me I’m not going to make her holiday card list this year.

My exchange with Mintz is a useful exercise, and it comes at an interesting time.

Earlier this week, I learned that a well-known investigative reporter is working on a story about the “best” consumer advocate in travel. Several commenters who belong to a certain newspaper’s reader panel forwarded the email questionnaire.

My first thought was that ranking consumer advocates makes about as much sense as rating your priest or rabbi.

How can you assign a value to someone who is there to help?

And my second thought was, who cares? I haven’t been a pure-play travel advocate since 2010, although I did help start a nonprofit called the Consumer Travel Alliance, which advocates for travelers (I currently serve as its volunteer ombudsman).

Some of my readers suggested that the results of the survey are a foregone conclusion. They say the writer has a special relationship with one popular advocate for air travelers, and wants to give her a boost by discrediting the competition.

Nonsense, I said. I know this guy’s work – he’s always seemed honest. Besides, if he really cares about helping consumers, he’d understand that having more people advocating for travelers is better than fewer. Or just one.

But the Mintz letter and the leading questionnaire made me wonder: What makes a good consumer advocate?

Mintz probably thinks I’m a fraud.

I think she wanted me to contact United on her behalf immediately and demand a quick payment, even if technically she wasn’t entitled to one. I’d like to be able to do that, but I can’t. My United contact will call me and ask if I’m familiar with the airline’s refund rules.

I’ll say “yes.” And then he’ll say he can’t help Mintz.

Should United help her? Absolutely. The passenger was in the hospital. How about a little compassion? But I’m pretty sure I know what United’s final answer will be.

My job isn’t to get customers what they want every time. It’s to get them what they paid for — and indeed, what they deserve.

If Mintz notified United of her hospitalization before her travel date, she’s entitled to a ticket credit. I can help her with that.

If she waited until after her flight, it would be up to the airline to decide what to do, but actually, it’s allowed to keep her money. Those are the rules.

I suspect she waited until after her flight to tell Continental of her condition.

Who’s the real advocate?

Here’s the thing: There’s no bar or certification agency for consumer advocates. Anyone can call themselves one, and a lot of people do.

So what separates a real advocate from a poser?

I think it all comes down to motives. If you’re in it to help consumers, then everything you do will reflect that desire.

You’ll respond immediately when someone asks for help. You’ll work tirelessly at educating buyers. You’ll push for them to get what they paid for. And you’ll have the integrity to tell them when a company is right, and they are asking for too much, which can happen from time to time.

Above all, it’ll always be about the customer – not the advocate.

Posers use consumer advocacy to build their personal brands. Right and wrong don’t really matter as much as the next travel scandal that will score them a soundbite on CNN, helping increase their visibility.

For them, victims of incompetent travel companies are nothing more than props that can be leveraged to raise their profile, so you’ll find these fakes pushing for folks who don’t deserve any advocacy. Like thieves.

For posers, it’s always about them, not you.

That kind of behavior may be a big turn-off to consumers who truly need help, but I think even posers have a place. They may not be able to do much for you, but they often shine a light on some of the more unsavory practices in the travel industry.

(It could be worse: The clueless producers booking them could ask company representatives to offer their spin on the evening news. How enlightening would that be?)

Losing “Miss Consumer Advocacy” 2012

I re-read the reporter’s questions and considered who he’s sending them to. They’re mostly business travelers. You know, the kind on folks you’d encounter on a certain online forum for frequent travelers that I’m fond of criticizing and that shall remain nameless in this post.

And yeah, a lot of these people hate me because I’ve referred to them as entitled elites, criminals, and crybabies in numerous online commentaries. Because some of them are.

Soliciting nominations for “Miss Consumer Advocacy 2012” is like like asking the College of Cardinals to vote on the one true religion.

My frequent-flying friends will happily denounce me as a heretic. They’ll say I’m in the latter category, that I’m nothing more than a media-savvy poser.

Thanks, guys. I love you, too.

It doesn’t take much to close the loop. Any cub reporter can Google me and find enough dirt for a juicy hit piece. He can track down more unhappy travelers like Mintz, of which I can assure you, there are more than plenty.

If that doesn’t turn up enough, just read my book. Maybe throw in a conflict of interest accusation or two while you’re at it.

Bring it.

When the dust settles from this silly popularity contest, it will be my email exchange with Mintz that troubles me the most.

I think I could have helped her. I’m sorry she wouldn’t let me.

Update (May 7): The story is out. Can’t bring myself to link to it. Just not gonna go there …

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 Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

More Posts - Website - Twitter - Facebook - LinkedIn - Google Plus

  • y_p_w

    I’m feeling a little dizzy reading this.  I zoomed out  to the absolute minimum supported by my browser, and it still looks like a 25 point font.

  • Gary Arndt

    You need to fix the font. 

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Ignore the haters, Chris. (Not the font haters, because they have a point. The other haters.) You’re doing a great job and I almost wish I had an unsolvable travel problem so that you could help me! Almost… Now if you’d only hurry up and organize the Hunger Games for Greedy Posters. We’re all waiting…

  • Jeremy

    Indeed this article is unreadable!  I had to scroll down for ages just to find the comment section which fortunately is showing in a normal font…

  • Carver Clark Farrow II

    Frequent fliers don’t see you as a heretic.  We see you as plainly wrong on this issue of loyalty programs, but that’s just one aspect of traveling.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Forget the haters. 

    The work you do for those who deserve it (and even those who don’t) is not only important, but respectable. 

    (When I say “those who don’t” I mean the ones the commenting crew has suggested as contestants for a Reality Show Road Trip.)

    I think Ms. Mintz needs a kick to the head. Sounds like she was on non-refundable ticket, didn’t follow the rules for canceling it to get a credit, and instead of playing nice with someone who could help her, immediately went into accusatory mode.

    I also think it’s funny to see the letters on your individual airline contacts pages. Do some of those people actually think YOU are the airline? Half of them are incoherent, but some are just NASTY. Do you pull cases off of these comments?

  • Christopher Elliott

    Sorry! I had a few coding problems this morning. It’s all fixed now.

  • Cam Edwards

    The fact is you help people that contact you for nothing and work tirelessly to help them all you can. If people are going to be rude because you ask a few questions and attempt to explain how things work they have contacted the wrong person. You aren’t going to drop everything at once and demand they refund your money. That’s not what you do and you can’t otherwise no one will respond.Mediation takes time and calmness is a important factor. Don’t waste your time on people like this, they are just not worth it. Sometimes they are in the wrong, and won’t accept no for an answer and try and blame it on you.Keep up the great work, I’ll always frequent your site no matter the outcome of the award.

  • emanon256

    I am a frequent flyer, who also visits the un-spoken forum, and I don’t hate you, I think the public needs you!  You teach the public how to advocate for themselves, and when a business is bad you help.  You also have a lot of people who I think demand a little too much, or just make really stupid choices, or are simply immature, but they learn from their experience, as do your readers. 
    Thank you!

  • Nikki

    If you were able to solve everyone’s problems, I might think you’re suspect.  You can’t please everyone.  I do agree with emanon256 though, in that you’ve actually given good info on how to be our own advocate.  Most of the stuff you’ve posted though, makes me want to kick the OP in the pants. – whoever said sense was common, lied.

    You’re an advocate – you help folks help themselves.  Now, I’m not always going to agree with a solution you’ve come up with, but then again, I can take that as a lesson that there’s more than one way to skin a cat. (No offense to any cats reading this.)

    But you’re not in this to please everyone – just to get what’s fair for both sides.  How the blue hell you manage THAT balance, I’ll never know – but don’t let anyone or anything try to give you a guilt trip over you and your job.  You get enough travel agents for the guilt trip, please don’t try to add more, even if it’s for our amusement. :D

  • Christopher Elliott

    Thanks for the words of support from you and the others here. Really appreciate it.

  • TonyA_says

    Oh Chris, don’t worry about it. There are people who really should be fighting their own wars by themselves because everyone is the enemy.

  • Christopher Elliott

    Agreed. I don’t think there’s anything to be gained by seeing the world in “us” vs. “them” terms, and hating any company or industry (even airlines, which get a lot of criticism on this site). There is no enemy, as far as I’m concerned.

  • John Frenaye

    Screw them! As others have said you have given the tools to the consumer to do their own advocacy (perhaps to lighten your own load?? hmmm) and probably given “birth” to many other advocates–poser or not.

    You do a great job–let the FlyerTalk Elite have their survey.

  • KMiller4816

    This says it all, Chris:  “I think it all comes down to motives.”  Sometimes, it is very easy to see right through yours — promoting yourself as the one almighty.  You need more balance like this — stories of those who simply aren’t entitled to a refund.  That is a service you can provide by educating consumers.  Consumers unfortunately think they are entitled to anything, regardless of the rules, because someone feels sorry for them.  There is no such thing as a free handout.  Rules are rules.  If people don’t like them, it’s a free country with competition.  Try out another airline, company, etc.  You don’t get something just because of “compassion” which unfortunately you site a little too often should be the reason for a refund. 

  • Christopher Elliott

    You’re right, finding a balance is difficult. But to your point, I will be the first to agree that I make lots of mistakes in my advocacy practice, sometimes the good guys don’t win, and I have to live with myself for letting that happen. But I love my commenters because they keep me honest and hold me accountable.

  • LadySiren

    Chris, you don’t need a worthless beauty pageant title. Having integrity and a strong code of ethics means that you realize the consumer is NOT always right and won’t always (and often doesn’t deserve to) win. Meaningless titles are just that – not worth a red cent.

    As a consumer, I don’t judge by titles – so what if JD Power says your 3D super-sonic widget is the best one out there? As someone who works closely with the media, I know how easy it is to skew both polls and poll results (and sadly, how often it’s done). What matters to me is action and how that action impacts my life.

    Having followed your work for a long time now, I can say that I think yes, you have had a positive impact on me personally. I’m now better educated about what to do and not to do when I travel. I’ve got a good idea of what pitfalls to watch out for, and the steps to take if I think I’ve got an issue. It’s tangible knowledge that makes my travel experiences easier.

    So yeah, while winning the sparkly Really Photogenic Consumer Advocate Guy tiara might be fun for a few minutes, in the end it’s just stuff and nonsense. Titles mean nada. Action means everything. Keep up the good work and ignore the cranks out there who take pleasure in debasing others. You’re doing just fine.

  • betsy514

    I feel your pain – I do some advocacy for student loan borrowers and every once in a while I get someone like this or worse.  While I’m always tempted to respond I never do – I just try to remember the ones I’ve been able to help.  You know you’ve made a real difference to a lot of people Mr. Elliott – so focus on them and don’t give this one another thought

  • Chasmosaur

    I’m an Internet consultant for small business.  And I can assure you, there are plenty of entitled people out there.

    My favorite “Client from Hell” story: I went through my contracts and non-binding estimates with a client three separate times to make sure she understood the process and fees.  She seemed clear about it, signed on the dotted line…and then dumped twice as much work on me, saying she expected the work completed in a few days, as opposed to the few weeks that had been discussed and was laid out in both the estimate and contract.

    When I called to tell her we hadn’t discussed much of the work she sent me and it was going to probably double the discussed production schedule and fees, she told me she was the client, I had to please her…and she planned to pay me only one-third of the agreed to fee, anyway. (I did cocktail napkin math – it was less than minimum wage.)  Because she thought about it – since she was a “hobby” business, and should pay “hobby” rates.

    Blessing my lawyer for writing contracts that allow me to fire any client, I told her that since I had only done a few hours of work, I’d just eat the small amount she owed me and rip up the contracts so we could go our separate ways.  Except she interrupted me at “rip up the contracts” and said “Oh that’s awesome – so you’ll have it all done by Friday?”  When I finished the sentence she got angry – “How is someone supposed to get a nice website if you ‘webby’ people expect us to pay for it?”

    Some people – despite knowing the rules and costs of things – simply want services for less than the stated worth or for free (or you should pay them for the pleasure of having them for a client *snort*).  Whether that’s the situation they get themselves into with travel costs, or contacting an advocate/ombudsman to help mediate a supposedly “unfair” case.  And being popular doesn’t always mean you’re doing the right thing, I’ve found.

  • Christopher Elliott

    :-) Much appreciated. I agree with your assessment of awards. I don’t really want to win America’s favorite consumer travel advocate award, because 1) I’m not just an advocate for travelers, and 2) I don’t believe in awards. 

    I have policy against submitting my work for any awards or fellowships, because I view these accolades as pointless distractions from the work of helping people. So any awards I might happen to win are done without my participation.

    My concern is that this project will be a takedown of other advocates, including me, who are trying to make a difference. You know, elevating one person by discrediting the others. That’s just so petty and counter-productive. And it doesn’t help consumers.

  • Christopher Elliott

    Thanks! I am in a car driving from El Paso to Phoenix today, and the Internet connection opportunities are not the best, so I wanted to let you and any other commenters know that I’m not ignoring you, and that I truly value your feedback.

  • LadySiren

    I actually wouldn’t worry too much about it. You’ve got strong brand reputation built up behind and despite what the competition’s organizers will tell you, any recognition generated by this award thingie will fade quickly. And that’s especially true if the “power” of the award isn’t backed up by accessibility and action.

    Unless they’re actively doing a negative whisper campaign, it’s not something I’d expend a lot of effort on. Monitor things, but don’t let this get in the way of you doing what you do best. If you really want to be snarky, when the shoe-in wins, put out a press release congratulating him/her on finally being recognized as a “real” consumer advocate. ;)

    PS: Loved you in “Eagleheart”. Great show! (I kid, I kid…) :D

  • severnwatcher

    From the transcript,she just sounds like a demanding, nasty person.  Sorry she had a heart episode, but maybe all that anger locked up inside caused it?  I mean her flip, sarcastic responses to someone she wants to help her are over the top.  Was her correspondence to the airline in the same vein?

    Relax Chris, you’re a great guy and some people are just….not….

  • Joe_D_Messina

    The OP, Susan Mintz, may want to rethink the whole strategy of insulting people she’s asking for help.  And given she almost immediately copped an attitude with Chris, I can only imagine what she was like to the phone rep when she called in. I think some people like this go through their whole lives thinking everybody has it in for them without once realizing they contribute to many of their problems.

  • l2y2

    I was thinking the exact same thing. 

  • l2y2


  • Wrona

    Raven, I agree that Ms. Minsk’s attitude is way out of line.  But it’s very possible she did follow the rules for cancelling it for a credit but got caught up in the mess when United made their system switchover on 3/3.  Try getting hold of someone to get a problem resolved and you might as well hit a brick wall because even if they want to help you they can’t figure out how to do it with their system.

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Yes, you love us all, but you love me the most, right?

  • l2y2

    Chris, I don’t know if we have too many advocates, but you are certainly the only one that I follow. You provide a multitude of tools for people to advocate for themselves first, and come to you after not being able to resolve something on their own. You also provide a forum for people to share experiences, in an effort to educate them of what to, and not to do.  You can only help people who are willing to work with you and be professional. Susan Mintz didn’t sound professional. My guess is that she offended the airline in the beginning and that set the tone for her ability to work something out with them. Do you really want to tarnish your reputation with the airlines helping someone like that? You are in it for the long-haul and need to maintain a cordial, professional, working relationship with them. Keep doing what you are doing and you don’t need a little plaque to know you are appreciated.

  • Karen Esvang

    I think you are doing a great job!  Keep up the good work!

  • Raven_Altosk

    True, but more often than not we see folks who want extra special help for their extra special situations and they don’t follow the rules.

    I’m sure Chris might have been able to get her some goodwill, but after her snappy attitude, she deserves nothing.

  • Christina Conte

    In any kind of customer service related business, there are always the “ones” with an inordinate sense of entitlement who don’t think they need to play by the rules, or deserve more than anyone else. Nothing you can do about it, and as you said Chris, you probably could have helped her, so it’s her loss.

    As for your correspondence with Mintz, you have to ask all the questions you asked because you cannot assume the consumer has done all those things. This is like a patient berating a doctor for asking background medical questions!!! This is just ignorance on Mintz’s part.

    As for “rating” you as a consumer advocate, I must say that on the
    expediency of your responses I would give you an A+ on that criteria
    alone! I think you’re doing a great job on helping many, many consumers who would otherwise have been taken advantage of by large and small companies. There are many of us who do appreciate what you do! Thank you!!

  • Raven_Altosk

    Wow. Yes, do my website for free because I’m a “hobby.” What an idiot. Glad you were able to back away from that crazy.

  • Raven_Altosk

    This X1000.

  • bodega3

    I am guessing that she had an international ticket, which for medical or death of the passenger, the ticket price is refundable.  I am also guessing that due to the UA/CO merger, this is caught up in the mess of that.

  • Michael__K

    Chris, I wouldn’t take the reactions of travelers like Ms. Mintz personally.  Any of us (whether we admit it or not) are probably capable of lashing out rudely in frustration (at the wrong person) after going through a hospitalization and then grappling with an airline’s customer service hamster wheel for a month.

    I’ve learned a great deal about travel pitfalls by reading this site.  You’ve made a genuine and generous contribution to the travelling public not only by “saving” numerous trips that could be saved, but by publicizing these situations and thereby educating your readers.  

  • Raven_Altosk

    Either that a or a cage match. I could totally go for watching the Bridezilla with the Bowl and the Di$ney Served My Kid a Drink going three rounds…

  • jebaker

    Chris, you are an asset to us all, including to the very frequent fliers – of which I am one.  In the old and better days, we had travel agents to protect and guide us to making the right decisions.  Now the consumer is on his own – thanks to the airlines who killed off the profits for the ta – to many mistakes navigating the system.  If we don’t question the system the airlines will maximize their profits from these errors.

    As far as the rude person who is critical of someone who is trying to help them, I’d say the heck with them.

  • AAmerican1

    Making mistakes means you’re doing something. No one is perfect and the fact that you’re not afraid to publish both your successes and failures means that “You’re the Real Deal”. Keep doing what you’re doing, trophy walls are for losers.

  • Sadie_Cee

    I voted “No, we have too many.”  The way I see it, only committed, genuine and knowledgeable people should volunteer their services as consumer advocates.  This is not a field in which ‘the more the merrier’ applies, nor is the consumer always right.  An advocate must be prepared to tell consumers when they have no case and to educate them as to how they should proceed in future.
    Those advocates who are doing the work for the notoriety and personal aggrandizement could do the cause more harm than good.  Yes, we want to shine light on ‘iffy’ business practices, but at the same time unwarranted mediation could have a negative effect.   Travel providers will be less prepared to show compassion in borderline cases if they are constantly bombarded with cases that have no merit. 
    On the subject of entitlement, some comforting words at a time when I needed them were spoken by a wise colleague.  She said, “Not to worry, some people believe that the rest of us are only here to serve them.”  Ms Mintz would seem to fall into this category.  Very sorry for her cardiac trouble, but by treating others with respect she could have had a better outcome.
    I count myself fortunate to have happened on this blog three or so years ago.  No one would imagine the number of lessons I have learned!  What amazes me, though, is the patience with which Chris handles some of the OPs and their cases here.  Shows me that he has what it takes to be an sincere, empathetic advocate! 

  • judyserienagy

    You know the description of a leader, Chris.  You go out there to do the best job you can and people throw rocks at your head.  It’s just part of the job.  Your asking a simple clarifying question obviously hit Mintz the wrong way, but that’s not your problem. 

    On another note, I also have had a tough time reading your daily emails over the last few weeks due to the size of the type.  I just thought it was my inexpertise.  Today’s email is very readable on my screen.

  • jennj99738

    If Ms. Mintz used this attitude with the United reps on the phone, I’m not surprised she did not receive any assistance.  As my momma always told me, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.  Eh, my mother never told me that.  I just like saying it. 

    I deal with haters all the time.  I’m an attorney and I work for the state government.  It’s in the job description.  You can only help so much with people who actually try to help themselves.  The rest you have to try to let roll off your back.  Good luck to Ms. Mintz in removing the chip off of her shoulder.

  • KarlaKatz

    Mrs. Mintz would be well advised to remember: “one can catch more flies with sugar, than with vinegar”… not that you’re a fly, Chris, but at least she could have been professionally polite with you.  Whenever I’ve had the occasion to ask for assistance from an advocate, I always was genuinely thankful for any assistance offered.  And, with Ms. Mintz’ apparent entitlement attitude (me, me, me), there’s little wonder she had a cardiac condition.

  • KarlaKatz

     rats!  I used the same quote you did, before reading your post :-)… but, it certainly is appropriate in this case

  • emanon256

    I had a very similar experience with a large national fast food chain.  I was young and naive and still did the work in the contract accepting the much lower than agreed upon pay.  I did refuse to do the additional work, though if I knew than what I know now, I would have walked away up front.
    When doing private work like that gig, I had clients from large corporations to small hobbyists.  I was shocked how many of the small business and hobbyists demanded to pay less because they were small or they weren’t “in it to make money.”   The worst one was a woman who did part-time bio feedback therapy, I estimated 10 hours at $30 an hour to setup and configure a new PC, some strange equipment, a printer, install some software and a few other sundries.  When I was done and gave her a bill she gave me $20 and thanked me.  I explained that the bill was $300 and she said, “It looked like you had a lot of fun doing it and learned new skills, so I think that pays for itself.”  I argued and got the, “Well I’m not in Biofeedback for the money; I do it to help people.”  I stopped working with small/hobby business after that.

  • Lindabator

    HEY!  I’m one of those TRAVEL AGENTS – and I love what Chris does! 

  • KarlaKatz


  • betsy514

    And not texting while driving I hope  – she’s not worth it!  LOL

  • AgentSteve

    I too am a travel agent and I appreciate all that you do, to educate me and the public.  To me, Mintz appears to think that it is your sole responsibility, to right her grievance.  When you offer to help someone and in return, they “demand” services, the lights are flashing and the alarms are going off: Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!!!

  • TonyA_says

    Thanks for mentioning this. Occasionally we do have walk-ins who have such a hateful attitude. I think they are called customers from hell.

  • TonyA_says

    Unbelievable !!!  Are you suppose to starve? I wish I could do the same thing when I am in a grocery store or at Costco.

    Can anyone here explain how these people think? What gives them the right to think they are Charity cases?

  • bodega3

    We have encountered this with our family business too.  We actually have a doctor that hasn’t paid because he didn’t think what we did was worth what we charged which is less than what he charges for an office visit.  Get real!

  • Bruce Burger

    Chris, you do a few great things that most consumer advocates don’t: 1) You try to suggest what the customer could have done to avoid the problem in the first place. 2) You try to suggest how the customer could have solved the problem without your intervention. 3) You ask your most dedicated readers to help you decide which cases to work on. I hope you keep doing what you’re doing.

  • TonyA_says

    With all due respect, I have shopped around a bunch of forums where I could have fun and maybe feel I can contribute something. This is the best. I know of no other consumer travel advocacy site that bats for shortchanged travelers. Don’t stop. Keep on Truckin’, Chris.

  • TonyA_says

    My sister is married to a doctor. She is a businesswoman and told me that lawyers and doctors are her worst deadbeats.

  • Trudi

    I firmly believe that I am my own best advocate. Going into a situation calm and well informed is the best tool for any advocacy situation. However, sometimes it just isn’t enough. A little advice, a little ‘there, there, it’ll be okay,’ a little support from someone who understands the ins and outs of the travel industy is so helpful! When I was cheated by a home renter, having you there to at least listen to my story and offer me support made me feel so much better. I’m still poorer, but I learned an expensive lesson, and you get my vote for consumer advocate of the year!

  • y_p_w

    What about the TSA?

    Still – I know of people who complain that if they had a product that failed catastrophically from a certain manufacturer, that they would never purchse from said company ever again.  Of course sometimes the industry only has three or four players, and eventually they’re going to get burned and have no product to buy if one failure is enough to mean never buying from the manufacturer ever again.

  • Daves

    Like everyone else here, Chris, I think you’re doing a fine job anyway. I just thought of a few things.

    I don’t recall how you worded things like this on certain sections of your site in previous versions:

    “If you’re having trouble with a business – any business – and you’ve reached a dead end, maybe I can help. Send me an email and I’ll look into it for you.”

    On the surface that looks fine. Not saying you’re doing anything wrong, but the phrase “I’ll look into it for you” might be a possible culprit.

    Just imagining as if I’m the most (heh) entitled consumer around, I will honestly get the impression you can indeed do something for me. Worse, I might even think (rightly or wrongly) you can even solve that problem for me.

    I know that’s crazy, and it’s sometimes amazing what certain words used in certain contexts can do. I can also understand if you’re trying to keep things simple, less is more, stuff like that.

    Personally, I’d “test” that by rewording it to something like “Send me an email and let’s see what can be done”. Heck, I’d add it with “no promises, but…”.

    Off-topic a bit, do you use some kind of “heat map” to see what portions of your site gets clicked on the most? There are free and paid services doing that, and I can recommend you a few (no strings attached) if you’re interested. (if you’re using one already, disregard…)

    Anywho, keep up your passion, Chris. We love ya. :)

    Dave_Z (formerly DavidZ who foolishly deleted his profile when trying to merge stuff, arrrgh…)

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Hey Chris:

    I just saw your blog listed as one of the top 24 Best Travel Blogs and Websites by Fathom. Kudos!

  • LZ126

    I work for an agency that enforces consumer rights, and I get lots of calls from people who think they’re entitled to a particular outcome, rules and regulations notwithstanding.  An advocate can press your case for you, and explain the situation for you, but can’t guarantee the outcome you’re expecting.  What she really wants is a miracle worker. 

    Thanks for all the work you do, Chris!

  • TonyA_says

    I like your post. I’m not sure how many impartial facilitators there are for the travel industry. Personally, I only know of one – Chris Elliott.

    In this industry where the supply chain is getting more and more disintermediated, customers have lost their typical advocates – the travel agent(s). So when trouble occurs from a D-I-Yed  purchase, who are they gonna call? Who else but Elliott?

    Even travel agents nowadays are becoming more and more frustrated with their travel suppliers and are finding it harder to advocate for their customers. Case in point, the recent United-Continental merger. If you are put on hold for several hours just to get a change done or to get a waiver code, then how successful can you advocate for your customer? You feel like you are just standing in line for someone in front of an Apple store waiting for the iPad 4 to come out.

    Sometimes I wonder how much [enhanced] travel protection there really is. If one reads the articles in this site, it appears that airlines, hotels, cruise lines, can rental companies can do whatever they pretty much want to do and get away with it. It certainly behooves consumers to support and defend endangered sites like this one.

  • Christopher Elliott

    I like that idea. I’ve changed the text based on your suggestion.

  • Daves

    You’re welcome, Chris. Should be interesting to see if the wording makes a difference after. :)

  • Chasmosaur

    It’s basically severe cases of entitlement.  They want something nice, but feel it should be given to them.  Because they are, obviously, awesome.

    My favorite clients are the ones who ask why I don’t send them bills until I’m done with the project – they know I need paying.  *sniff* I love those types of clients.

  • Chasmosaur

    Did she ask you if you wanted $300 worth of biofeedback services?  I love when they offer barter, thinking their services are EXACTLY what you need in your life.  (As opposed to the antique jeweler I frequent – I would happily barter for her site ;) )

    My favorite attempt at barter has been aromatherapy candles.  What I would do with several thousand dollars worth of candles that smelled strong enough to set off my allergies, I have no idea.

    Oh, and any time someone tells me they aren’t in their business to make money? I say “Well, I am.” With my favorite Evil B****h Stare of Death. That usually ends the conversation ;)

  • Chasmosaur

    I’m actually still trying to figure out what a “hobby rate” is. 

    I do have a reduced non-profit rate for certified agencies.  But the last time I checked, if you take money for services or goods, you’re a business.  You may be operating it at a loss, but that’s not the same as a non-profit agency.  And you still have to pay me. 

  • Christopher Elliott

    Thanks again for all of your comments. After a lot of thought, I’ve revived my FAQ section to address some of the issues raised by this post: