The Travel Critic

Are travelers frill-seekers? No, but here’s what they really want

Free drinks. Room upgrades. Better restaurants.

That’s what the travel industry thinks you want from your next travel experience.

American Airlines last month announced it would start serving Admirals Club lounge visitors free drinks, adding that it decided to make the move because it’s “committed to investing in enhancing the travel experience for its loyal customers.”

Priceline, meanwhile, announced the launch of a free new service on its site that lets future hotel guests search its database of published-price hotels for all kinds of valuable hotel freebies. (Customers who “name their own price”, however, will still face surprise parking charges and resort fees that add to the cost of their prepaid room.)

Also, details of Royal Caribbean’s highly anticipated Allure of the Seas leaked out. Among the ship’s planned amenities will be a Brazilian churruscaria restaurant and the first Guess store at sea.

But is that what travelers really want? Perhaps not.
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How to fall into a real travel bargain this year

It’s that time of year again.

Summer’s over, the kids are back in school, the weather is starting to cool off and everyone’s thoughts are turning to vacation.

Well, maybe not everyone, but for some contrarians, a fall getaway is more than a passing thought. They wouldn’t dream of going away any other time.
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Believe it or not, the travel industry still cares about you

On a recent flight from Philadelphia to Phoenix on US Airways, Sarah Andrus left her jacket underneath the seat in front of her. “It was a gift from a friend and unique,” recalled Andrus, a director for an Olean, N.Y.-based manufacturing company. “I called the airline with low expectations of recovering my jacket, but I thought I’d give it a try.”

She was lucky enough to get through to a US Airways employee named Tanya, who understood her predicament. “I followed her instructions to the letter, and heard back from someone within two hours. They had found my jacket and would keep it until my return flight,” Andrus said.

Frequent travelers can be forgiven for thinking the travel industry doesn’t care about them, but simply wants their money. Last week’s report that airlines had collected $2.1 billion in fees in the second quarter — an increase of 13 percent from the previous quarter — while continuing to suffer from near record-low customer-service scores, does little to improve that image.
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Revenge of the car rental agents

Be nice to your car rental agent. Otherwise you could end up like Hank Jeffries.

He doesn’t remember saying anything offensive to the clerk when he rented an intermediate-size vehicle in Cancun recently. It didn’t matter: Jeffries’ “confirmed” $325-a-week rate through his travel agency turned into $900 when he checked in.

“I said I wanted to rent the car,” said Jeffries, a retired information technology worker from Los Angeles. “Not buy it.”

That may have rubbed the employee the wrong way.
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Ship of fine print: 7 clauses to beware of in your cruise contract

If you ever want to feel confused, outraged and powerless all at the same time, just read your cruise line’s ticket contract.

Carrie Streahle didn’t know what was in hers until her cruise arrived late in Houston, and she had to pay an extra $1,900 in airfares and accommodations to get home. She contacted Carnival, asking for reimbursement.

“Carnival’s first response was that we didn’t have travel insurance,” she says. She protested. The cruise line responded again, this time blaming Mother Nature. “They said they can’t control the weather,” she says.
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Oh no, you didn’t! 5 ways travelers have lost their manners

They’re loud. They smell bad. And their clothes would make Mr. Blackwell blush.

What is it about travel that makes people jettison their manners?

Whether it’s the Ugly American or the Entitled Elite, travel has no shortage of unflattering stereotypes. They’ve always been with us. They’ll always be with us. But are their numbers growing?

Hard to say. When it comes to air travel, it’s difficult to tell whether unruly passenger incidents are on the rise. Both the Transportation Security Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration keep records on aircraft incidents, but they’re just the cases they’ve acted on, and don’t necessarily reflect any trends. Same for hotel and cruise incidents. There are no reliable statistics.

But the anecdotes. Oh, the anecdotes!
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Travel complaints that fail: 5 kinds of emails you should never write

What kind of a complainer are you?

Maybe you’re the squeaky wheel — the guest who keeps writing back over and over, even after you’ve been told “no” in a dozen different ways. Or maybe your grievances fall into the “special circumstances” category — you’re sick, you’re broke, you’re having a bad year.

Perhaps you’re a name-dropper, copying a vice president or CEO on every customer service inquiry to ensure it receives the proper attention.

You could be the litigious type: “Give me what I want, or I’ll sue.”

At the right time, these are all perfectly reasonably ways to complain to a travel company. At the wrong time, they can doom your customer service request to failure at the hands of a dreaded form response.

A few weeks ago, I was invited to speak at the Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals’ annual conference in Atlanta. After my speech, I witnessed a surprisingly lively and candid discussion among the participants, all of which were customer service managers in the travel industry. The topic? How to value your customer. Specifically, how do you prioritize requests from customers based on their elite status?

During our debate, the audience referred to the kinds of complaints they get, and much to my surprise, I found I had categorized them in a similar way. You need to know about these groupings, because being in one or another can make a big difference in how your grievance is handled.
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