Fred Rotgers’ recent flight from San Juan to Newark was canceled because of the weather. At least, that’s what United Airlines claims.
Rotgers doesn’t believe it.
“The weather at both the origin and destination was just fine from the time of cancellation until two days later,” he says. “United called this a pre-emptive cancellation.”
Question is, what was United pre-empting? Like many passengers, Rotgers suspects it had other reasons for canceling the flight. Maybe it was having plane trouble or maybe they failed to sell enough seats on the plane. Continue reading…
Just ask someone like Daphne Gemmill, a lifelong US Airways frequent flier whose allegiance to the company goes all the way back to its predecessor, the old Piedmont Airlines.
“With the merger of US Airways and American, I thought my combined lifetime miles might put me in the million-mile category,” says Gemmill, a retired federal government employee. (Million-milers get VIP treatment, a coveted perk for passengers.) So she logged into her account, only to find her “lifetime” miles were gone — voided because of “inactivity” on her account.
“Guess those miles aren’t really lifetime miles, since I’m still alive,” she sighed. Continue reading…
I understood that in the abstract sense — who doesn’t? — but it wasn’t until one day exactly 20 years ago that I learned what it really meant. That’s the drizzly, bitter cold Northern California day I discovered I was broke.
I lived in a rat-infested tool shed that had been turned into a spare bedroom in a run-down part of East Berkeley. Down to my last $20, I trudged up to Telegraph Ave., to visit my bank. There, an ATM delivered the bad news dispassionately: I didn’t have enough money in my account to cover next month’s rent.
To call Ron Giancoli a loyal US Airways customer might be something of an understatement. A sales manager from West Chester, Pa., he’s flown on the airline — which recently merged with American Airlines — almost exclusively for the last three decades.
“I flew US Airways even when it wasn’t the lowest price,” he says. “I flew US Airways even when it was a less convenient schedule.”
Giancoli says he’s been an elite-level customer for 27 out of the last 30 years. He stuck with US Airways through good times and bad, through bankruptcies, reorganizations and customer service meltdowns. In exchange for his loyalty, US Airways offered him upgrades into more comfortable seats and award tickets. Continue reading…
Yeah, so did I – until I took this job. Now that I’m immersed in the wacky world of forgotten passports, flat tires, missed connections and trip-ending calamities that I thought only happened in the movies, there’s one thing I know: I am not the world’s smartest traveler.
If you’re not a book person, don’t worry: I distill my favorite takeaways from the book here. Peruse them before your next vacation and I promise you’ll come home a little smarter, if not happier. Continue reading…
Tom Ungar and his wife spent $128 to fly from Venice, Italy, to Naples, which is a ridiculously low fare. But when their checked luggage tipped the scales at just over 20 kilos, their airline demanded an additional $152.
A luggage fee that exceeds your airfare? Welcome to the wacky world of a la carte fees — a world filled with consumer “benefits” that airline apologists believe you’ll love.
Ungar’s case is something of an extreme example. He was flying on easyJet, an airline known for its preposterous luggage policies. But ignore his cautionary tale at your own peril, because this is the world the Big Three legacy airlines aspire to, if we, their captive customers, would just let them.
Ungar’s misadventure began when he checked in for his flight in Venice recently. After placing their baggage on the scales, an easyJet employee informed the couple that their luggage was “a bit” overweight and pointed them to another representative. That person said their luggage was free to fly for an additional fee of $152. Continue reading…
I came to that somewhat Magrittesque conclusion after hearing from Julie Eisenberg, a loyal United Airlines customer who last year spent $1,700 per ticket to fly her partner and herself from Washington to Sydney.
For just $600 more, plus 30,000 miles, United promised her a chance to upgrade into a slightly roomier seat. But the ticket agent she spoke with failed to mention that there were no guarantees and that the money and miles would be deducted from her account then and there, many months before her flight.
“The only way I can get the miles and money back is to cancel my upgrade request,” she says. “They will have possession of the money and the miles from the date I booked, on May 10, 2013.” Continue reading…
When you spend most of your waking hours advocating for consumers, it’s easy to lose your sense of perspective. Complaints pour in, often hundreds per day. I can’t help but feel like the customer-service apocalypse is imminent.
My New Year’s resolution is simple: Stop Servicemaggendon by putting what really matters in my consumer advocacy crosshairs and keep the discourse civil and fair.
What matters? Well, from my point of view, it’s obvious that we’re halfway down a long slide into the customer-service toilet, with only a little pipe to go before we’re flushed out to the sewer. How we approach this precipitous decline matters. It requires a clear-headed, well-reasoned and polite discussion — otherwise the problem could get worse. Continue reading…
The intoxicating combination of junk fees and loyalty programs seems too powerful for even the most consumer-friendly airline to resist.
At least that’s what passengers like Peter DeForest are discovering when they try to change an award ticket.
He’d saved up enough frequent flier miles on Virgin America, an airline with a stellar reputation for taking care of its customers, to fly himself and a companion from San Francisco to Las Vegas. But shortly before the trip, his companion fell ill. He asked Virgin if he could cancel the trip and get his miles back.
Sure, a representative told him. If he paid the airline a $100 per reservation “redeposit fee.”
Would you remain true to a company, no matter what it does, in exchange for a platinum card or the promise of “free” or discounted product?
Target is hoping so after more than 40 million customer credit-card numbers were compromised on Black Friday. Its response? A 10 percent-off bribe offered to holiday shoppers last weekend.
Perhaps the retailer knows its customers too well. Give ’em a few bucks off — or better yet, something “free” — and they’ll overlook anything. (Never mind that almost nothing is free and that the definition of “free” we’ve come to accept is misleading, harmful and wrong.) Continue reading…
He and his wife were flying from Fort Lauderdale to New York this summer on Spirit Airlines, but the their flight was canceled because of mechanical problems. When a representative offered to fly the couple on Delta Air Lines if they accepted a voucher, he should have known to ask: Is there a catch?
“A Spirit representative offered us two free round trips each,” says Perilman. “More than fair, we thought.”
Someone should have warned Enterprise before she rented a Toyota Corolla from the car rental company earlier this year. Maybe it wouldn’t have sent her the repair bill, which Kotzin claims was bogus.
Then again, maybe it would have. Hard to know.
Here’s what I do know: Kotzin’s tale of fighting what she believed to be a fraudulent damage bill, is an inspiration to anyone who thinks car rental companies are enriching themselves from frivolous damage claims. Continue reading…
It’s one of the most common questions I get as a consumer advocate: How did you get that job?
The answer: It started with coffee.
Seriously. My odyssey into advocacy began in 1984 with my first gig at a small business in Mountain View, Calif., that specialized in roasting gourmet coffee. It happened to be owned by my late uncle, who offered my younger brother and me a job and a place to stay in his spare bedroom.
You’re probably picturing me delivering lattes to the pilots at Moffett Air Field. Cushy job, right? Continue reading…