New on Elliott: Playing the ratings game, becoming a better customer, and more tarmac trouble – Sponsored by TripInsurance.com

We’ve just returned from Palm Coast, Fla., the latest stop on our Away is Home adventure, and there’s so much going on, I hardly have room for all of it.

You’ve gotta check out my investigation into hotel ratings in the latest issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine. Also, see my advice on becoming the ideal customer (just in time for the holiday shopping season!) on Mint.com. (By the way, if you haven’t tried Mint.com, you should. There’s an excellent app for the iPhone and iPad, too.)

We also have some really heated discussions on the site this week, from to getting your freak on with the TSA.

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Are you missing the most fascinating debate on the Internet? Every morning, there’s a lively discussion online about travel and consumer advocacy. And unless you’re signed up for my free daily email newsletter, you’re missing it. At 9 a.m. sharp, you’ll get a link to the latest story. Stop by. Leave your opinion. Join the debate. Here’s how to sign up.

Travel

The ratings game
As any frequent traveler already knows, there’s no consistency among American hotel ratings. But garden-variety guests like you or me could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

The Travel Troubleshooter: A broken Disney Vacation Club promise
David Willard is offered help with making a booking at a Disney Vacation Club — a promise Disney reneges on after his salesman goes on medical leave. Is there any way to get Mickey to keep his word?

Case dismissed: “The insurance will not cover our tickets”
Beware of the pre-existing medical conditions clause in your travel insurance policy! Oh alright, maybe that’s a little dramatic. But could you at least pay attention to it? I mention this because of Ingrid Murray, whose claim against Access America recently crossed my desk and then made its way into the “dismissed” file.

Ridiculous or not: Just who does the TSA think it is?
Hardly a day seems to go by that I don’t get a complaint about the Transportation Security Administration.

Is this too much compensation? Airline removed me a because of confusion about medical supplies
Here’s an unusual case with an equally unusual resolution. It involves two Lufthansa passengers, and FDA-approved portable oxygen concentrator and EU airline passenger law.

Can this trip be saved? If “everything is covered” why are you charging me for this flat tire?
One of the most common car rental complaints I get — no, the most common — involves travelers who declined the optional collision-damage waiver and ended up with what what they believe to be a fraudulent claim. But it rarely goes the other way.

Here we go again! Another tarmac stranding incident — beware of outraged talking heads on TV
It seemed eerily familiar: A JetBlue aircraft, a freak storm, passengers stranded on an aircraft for hours — and all happened near the media capital of the world.

TSA Watch: What getting your “freak on” really means for air travelers
Almost everyone who heard about the “get your freak on” incident had a good laugh about it.

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Customer Service

Anatomy of a successful customer
I love tick lists and “how-to” stories as much as the next consumer advocate, but here’s the funny thing about them (and I mean “funny” in the least humorous way): You can follow them and still come up short.

What’s your problem? Lost in a government maze, and I’d like a refund, please
Mary Ann Hoey thinks she’s applying for the government’s Global Entry program. Instead, she pays $50 for a similar program called Nexus. Now, the government is refusing to refund the fee. Can she get her money back?

The smarter consumer: Learning to speak corporate-ese
American businesses speak another language.

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Also

Get it every week. Now there are even more ways to get Elliott’s E-Mail. Try subscribing to my RSS feed, my daily e-mail newsletter or my biweekly newsletter on Yahoo! Groups.

This newsletter is making a switch. I’m making some changes to my newsletter and site next month. I’ll be segmenting this newsletter between my regular consumer advocacy content and our Away is Home project. I’m also planning to switch my email delivery system to ActiveCampaign, which should ensure that you always receive your copy of my newsletter. Finally, you may see one pop-up when you land on my site, but I assure you, you’ll only see it one time if you have cookies enabled on your browser.

Join me on Google+ I’m on Google+. Add me to your circles; I’ll add you back! Here’s where to find me.

Away is Home Please check out our family travel site, Away is Home and follow our year-long, cross-country adventure.

See you online! If you’re not following me on Facebook or Twitter, then you’re only catching half the conversation. Join me for a lively discussion about travel, customer service and anything else you might find interesting.

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BookMyAward.com – We’ll book your business- and first-class mileage seats even the airlines cannot find. Let us show you how!

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(Photo: The facade of Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, taken by yours truly on Wednesday.)

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.

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