Oh, for Chrysler’s sake — honor the advertised price!

When Larry Chrysler saw a good deal posted on American Express Travel, he was ready to book it. His flight of interest was on Air France, going from New York’s JFK airport to Tel Aviv, Israel.

The advertised flight listed all the pertinent details, times, layovers, flight numbers, even the declaration: “3 tickets left at this price” and the price, of course. Continue reading…

Hey Dollar, about this $53,467 charge on my American Express card …

I’ve been a marshal in the PGA’s Memorial Tournament for the last several years.

I travel from Salem, Ore., to Dublin, Ohio, to work the tournament, and stay with Bob Gardner, my former boss, and his wife, who live on one of the courses at Muirfield. They take excellent care of me the entire week, and the only thing I ever spend money on is my plane ticket. They pick me up at the airport, ferry me back and forth to the course, and take me out to dinner every night.
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A surprise $600 bill for my Mexico car rental

Arjun Aiyer receives a surprise bill for an extra $600 after renting a car in Mexico. The company alleges the vehicle was damaged while Aiyer was driving it. But where’s the proof?

Question: We recently rented a car from Thrifty for a week at Cancun airport. We were quoted a rate of $136. The estimate at pick-up time, with mandatory accident insurance and one additional driver, was $371 for the week, which I accepted and signed.

One or two days later, while driving on the highway, the car overheated and stalled. Obviously, they had given us a car with very low radiator coolant. We called Thrifty road service and asked for a replacement car, which they delivered about three hours later, ruining our afternoon excursion.
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The Travel Troubleshooter: Help, my Amtrak tickets were accidentally canceled

Question: I’ve been trying to resolve a problem with Amtrak, and have spent hours on “hold.” I need your help.

I recently purchased Amtrak tickets to Reno, Nev., on my American Express card. I paid $156 for the roundtrip ticket and in return, I received 11,000 rewards points, which allowed me to buy another roundtrip ticket.

There was a misunderstanding when I booked the second ticket, and my first ticket was somehow canceled.

I didn’t find out about the cancellation until I went to the train station in Emeryville to get my tickets. An Amtrak agent said I would have to spend another $236 for a ticket.

Since then, I’ve spent countless hours on the phone, including a three-way call between Amex, Amtrak and myself, to try to get this sorted out. They’ve asked me to mail proof of payment and proof that I’ve taken the trip, which I have done.

I just received a message from Amtrak that they will not refund the ticket. I have disputed the charge with American Express. Now what? — Mel Jung, San Rafael, Calif.

Answer: When the erroneous cancellation was discovered, Amtrak should have found a way to reinstate them at the same price. That would have fixed the problem and prevented you from having to spend half an eternity on the phone to chase down a refund (your time is more valuable than that).
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Do green airlines send their customers boxes of Styrofoam?

Doug Marshak wants to know. The airline in this case is Delta, which mailed him a box of … well, I’ll get to all that in a second.

But before I do, let it be noted that Delta and other airlines want us to think of them as good corporate citizens. As my colleague Harriet Baskas pointed out in a recent story,

Delta Air Lines, which also has an in-flight recycling program, is currently the only airline recycling airplane carpet through Mohawk Group’s ReCover program, which turns old carpets into new carpets and other products.

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“I do not know where else to turn”

If you’re a frequent flier, maybe you covet a Delta Reserve American Express Card. It offers access to Delta’s Crown Rooms, a first-class companion certificate and a generous 10,000-mile bonus when you sign up.

Vincent Petty did. So he signed up for one. But when American Express or Delta — it’s not clear which one — failed to credit him with the promised points, he set off on an odyssey that led him nowhere closer to getting the miles he’d been offered.

Can a card company simply refuse to give you what it advertised?
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Worst. Honeymoon. Ever.

sandalsAdam Salamon’s honeymoon did not go well.

His all-inclusive resort wasn’t what he expected. The food was lousy, the staff was rude, there were bed bugs and his travel agent didn’t care, he claims.

Although the companies involved in this vacation debacle offered some compensation, it wasn’t enough for Salamon. He wanted a full refund, and he wanted me to help him get it.

Here are the unpleasant details. (A warning to those of you who are squeamish: his account is somewhat graphic.)
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“American Express has lost its mind”

creditOn Oct. 1, the annual percentage rate on Mike Golden’s American Express Platinum card will jump by about 25 percent.

Yes, 25 percent. That’s no typo.

Since American Express has always billed itself as the traveler’s best friend (“Don’t leave home without it”) I thought this would be of interest to other readers. The Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights Act, the new law meant to protect credit card customers from surprise fees that goes into effect next year, is supposed to protect cardholders from these kind of rate changes. Did Amex send out the wrong notices?
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Hey American Express, where are my 50,000 points!

amexReidun Gauger and her husband Georg have been loyal Northwest Airlines customers and American Express cardholders since 1972. So when they were offered 50,000 each from Amex during their transition to a Delta awards card, the couple jumped at the chance.

They should have read the fine print. Amex withdrew its verbal offer when the Gaugers tried to collect their points, leading to a series of heated exchanges between the company and its customers.
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“American Express abandoned me in Italy”

Mariah Nunn has been a loyal American Express cardmember for the last quarter century. When she heard the line, “Don’t leave home without it,” she took it to mean Amex would never leave her either, especially when she was out of the country. But she was wrong.

Nunn, who now lives in Italy, had her card stolen recently. Then she missed a payment. And then she discovered that more than 25 years of loyalty to American Express were meaningless.

I called to cancel the stolen card on April 5. They were very friendly and told me not to worry, a new card was being issued immediately. Look for it within the week.

Two weeks later I called to say it had not arrived. Apologies, apologies, sending it right out. Watch for it in the next week. Another two weeks passed. Today I called again to be passed to three different people only to find out that they have canceled my card completely. No reissue. The lady tells me it is for inactivity.

I was told, sorry, if you would like to re-apply for a card, I can transfer you, but your credit history with us is gone. American Express abandoned me in Italy. Can you help me?

I asked Amex to take a look at Nunn’s case. A representative responded to her by e-mail:

I deeply regret any inconvenience you have experienced with the Account listed above. Our records reflect where the Annual Membership was not paid within the terms of the Cardmember Agreement; therefore the Account was cancelled as Inactive.

Unfortunately, due to the amount of time that has elapsed we are unable to reinstate this Account and must ask that you apply for a new account in the country in which you reside.

Ms. Nunn, please trust that we would never take any action to intentionally damage our valued relationship. Thank you for taking the time to advise us of this matter.

It’s no secret that American Express is trying to get rid of some cardholders. But this may not be the most customer-friendly way of doing it.

Nunn is taking it in stride.

I have decided to look at my canceled card with American Express as a gift. It’s like showing up to the dock only to find out that because I am wearing red my ticket has been revoked. At first I am incredulous, but after the Titanic sails without me, I have a nice lunch in a little nearby pub.

Not only has American Express lost its mind but it is in dangerous waters with the masses.

I think Nunn will find plenty of readers who will agree with her.

Help! I’m a few points short of a ticket

Question: I recently found an American Express Business Gold Rewards credit card deal that promised that if I applied and spent $1,000 by a certain date, I would have enough points for a domestic airline ticket.

Not wanting to be fooled by fine print, I engaged in a lengthy online chat with a representative to clarify this deal. I was promised there would be no blackout dates or restrictions. I specifically asked about a flight I wanted to book from Salt Lake City to Dallas, and was told that I could apply 5,000 points from a purchase and 20,000 points from the $1,000 to have enough for the ticket.

Now that I have accrued the points and attempted to redeem them for my “free” ticket, I’m being told that my points will be converted to $250 to be applied toward the purchase price of a ticket. A ticket costs $350.

I have spent a number of hours on the phone with American Express trying to get them to honor the statements of their representative. They have told me there is no way to track down the individual with whom I had the initial chat, no way to honor the promise and no way to speak with a supervisor.

I applied for this card specifically to get the points for a ticket and completed the process in reliance on the statements furnished by American Express. Shouldn’t it be held accountable for the information its representatives give customers? — Kim Bouck, Salt Lake City

Answer: If you have the transcript of the online chat, this should be an open-and-shut case. American Express owes you an airline ticket.

You were correct to be skeptical of this “free” ticket offer. In my experience, these promotions — indeed, the loyalty programs as a whole — benefit the companies offering them far more than they help customers.

Consider what happened to you. In exchange for this ticket, American Express required that you apply for a card and spend money. Lots of money. Now who is that helping? You?

Likewise, airline loyalty programs dangle “free” tickets and other perks in front of their frequent fliers. But in exchange, they not only demand your loyalty, they also require you to do stupid things, like make so-called “mileage runs” designed to reach one of their generally meaningless elite levels.

Of course, American Express can offer any program it wants to, as long as it’s legal. It can make its own rules. But when it represents the promotion to you in writing, as an online chat, it better be prepared to stand behind the offer. That didn’t happen.

I’m disappointed, but not surprised, by your case. I’ve worked with many travelers who complain that American Express is difficult to reach and does not allow grievances to be escalated to a supervisor. I think you might have had more luck by putting it in writing. Here’s how to submit your comment on its site.

When all else fails, you can always find the name of an executive and copy that person on your appeal. The naming convention for e-mails at American Express is

Keeping the instant messages between you and American Express was brilliant. I contacted the company on your behalf and included your correspondence with the representative.

American Express issued another 15,000 miles to your account, which will more than cover your flight to Dallas.

Membership doesn’t have its privileges: Passenger dumps Delta after card confusion

Membership has its privileges. Unless you’re Donna Jordan.

Every year since 2001, she’s paid Delta a $134 annual fee for a co-branded American Express Platinum card. The card allowed her to collect Delta miles for each dollar spent and entitled her to a free “companion certificate” on Delta.

Jordan had no problem collecting the miles. But the companion ticket? Not so easy.

When she tried to redeem the certificate for two flights from Portland, Maine, to Orlando, the only flight available had an inconvenient connection and would have cost $865. Or she could pay $329 per ticket for a better connection without cashing in her certificate. That didn’t make any sense to her.

She expressed her frustration in an email to Delta:

I will have to say, my free companion ticket from my Delta Amex was always a bargain in the past. Last year we went from Portland, Maine, to Los Angeles and the tickets were only about $450 each. Now they are literally scamming their customers!

Scam? Well, Delta is still offering something, so that might be too strong a word. But I was curious to see how the airline would respond to her letter. Maybe it would recognize that the certificate wasn’t the deal Jordan was lead to believe it would be when she signed up for the card. Perhaps it would bend a rule or two to make her happy.

And here’s how it responded …

I understand your disappointment in not being able to use the certificate for the schedule you want to be upsetting, and in comparison you found that the fares differ.

By way of explanation and not as an excuse, Delta offers a variety of discounted fares and each one has specific rules and restrictions. We realize that because some of these fares are so deeply discounted, there may be other fares available that are lower than the fares associated with the Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card Companion Certificates.

However, we hope you will understand that we are unable to allow two promotions or discounts to be used toward the same ticket, which is why you are unable to use the companion certificate in connection with an Internet promotional fare, or other special discount offer. We regret the certificate does not offer significant savings for your planned trip in June.

I love the line about the answer being “by way of explanation and not as an excuse.” That’s some excellent form-letter writing.

Jordan says she’ll cancel her card.

A black mark against the black card? Here’s the sad saga of a Centurion slip-up

The American Express “black” card is legendary among upscale travelers. In order to qualify for the invitation-only card, you have to spend at least $250,000, plus pay $2,500 in annual fees. In exchange, you expect nothing but the best customer service. But that’s not always what you get.

Take the case of Pamela Johnston, who had made reservations at the Ritz-Carlton South Beach through American Express Business Centurion Travel Service, the travel agency that caters to the black cardmembers. She phoned me yesterday to conference me in on a call with Brandi, an agent with Centurion Travel Service, after she learned a hotel reservation for today had been accidentally canceled by Amex.

The e-mail from Brandi explains what went wrong:

I apologize for the frustration and inconvenience that has been caused by this situation. You had booked two room at the Ritz-Carlton South Beach Hotel. On April 8, Gabrielle called to cancel one of the two rooms. The agent she spoke with contacted the hotel directly to cancel the one room. The agent then canceled that room in our system.

This created a cancel message to the Ritz-Carlton South Beach. Their system then canceled the second room per this message. American Express Centurion Travel was unaware of the situation until you had called on April 17 requesting some general information. Currently, the Ritz-Carlton South Beach is sold out, so they cannot reinstate your room reservation.

So why not switch to another hotel? Easier said than done. Pamela explained in a follow-up note:

My original Ritz-Carlton room had a balcony and was $550 a night and through Centurion came with benefits of breakfast daily and lunch one day for two. Now they have me at the Delano for $935 a night but say that I have to book it and then wait four to six weeks to see if they’ll do anything about any cost adjustments.

All of which brings us to the phone call.

So there’s Pamela and Brandi arguing over what Centurion should be doing about this, and I’m conferenced in on the call. I’m not sure who to feel more sorry for — Pamela, who might be homeless in Miami, or Brandi who is now talking with The Travel Troubleshooter.

Brandi says she can’t continue the conversation because she’s not authorized to speak with a journalist. (Amex is notoriously media phobic, and trains its employees to never speak with reporters unless they’re chaperoned by a PR person). So I suggested Brandi connect us with a supervisor.

I’m almost certain that Brandi simply handed the phone to a colleague, who abruptly hung up on both of us.

Case closed? Not quite.

I offered Pamela a few contacts at Amex, and by that evening, her reservation at the Ritz-Carlton had been reinstated. With any luck, she’s checking into her room as this is being posted.

But this entire episode raises a few important questions for all travelers. When travel agents make mistakes, what should a customer expect from them? Should Amex have eaten the difference between the room rate at the Ritz-Carlton and the Delano? Should it have covered her meals, too?

Also, when you pay $2,500 a year to belong to an exclusive club like the “black” card, are you entitled to more than just competent customer service?