Hey Hotels.com, what happened to my Internet connection?

Question: I recently reserved a room at the Ramada Charleston in Charleston, S.C., through Hotels.com. When I checked in, I was told there was no Internet in the rooms despite what the Hotels.com Web page said.

I explained that I needed Internet access and that the Ramada would not do. I called Hotels.com from the Ramada lobby and the Hotels.com representative, whose English language skills were poor, confirmed with Ramada that there was no Internet and canceled my reservation.

I then went across the street to the Red Roof Inn, confirmed they had Internet in their rooms, and called Hotels.com back to book it instead. This time the phone representative (whose English was even worse) told me my credit card was declined. This was because she couldn’t understand me and input the wrong number.

Finally, I had to book the room with the front desk of the Red Roof Inn using the same credit card that the Hotels.com agent said was declined and the same credit card I used for the initial Ramada reservation. I lost four nights of Welcome Rewards and about 35 minutes on my cell phone.

I think, at the least, my four nights of welcome rewards should be reinstated. But Hotels.com refused, instead offering me $50 worth of “Hotel Bucks.” They promised them within four to six weeks, but it’s been five months, and there’s no sign of them. Anything you can do to help would be appreciated. — Michael Rosenthal, Miami

Answer: Your room should have had an Internet connection, as promised. I can understand how some hotels might think of a wireless high-speed network as an amenity, like a TV or a hair dryer, but if you’re traveling on business, it’s a necessity.

I reviewed the Hotels.com listing of the Ramada Charleston several weeks after working on this case, and I saw that the hotel still claims to offer “high-speed Internet access” on site.
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Help! My baggage didn’t make the connection

Question: I am a Marine based in Nicosia, Cyprus. I have a situation, and I am looking for some guidance.

I recently bought tickets from Travelocity for my fiancee, Cara. Her return itinerary had her flying from Cyprus to Athens and then on to Munich on a Lufthansa flight operated by Aegean Airlines.

Her stopover in Athens was 50 minutes, which was not a problem. But when we checked in at Cyprus, she was only given a boarding pass to Athens and was told to pick up another boarding pass in Athens after retrieving her luggage. It didn’t make sense.

To make a long story short, I contacted Travelocity but Cara missed her connection in Athens and had to pay $250 to change her flight, and had to stay in a hotel for the night until the next day, which also wasn’t cheap.

I don’t know if this is just a mix up and we just got the short end of the stick, or if there is something we can do. Any help would be greatly appreciated. – Joshua Smith, Nicosia, Cyprus

Answer: Cara should have been able to check her baggage all the way through to Munich, no questions asked. When you phoned Travelocity, they should have given you a straight answer about why that wasn’t possible and helped you and your fiancee figure out a solution.
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“How can this possibly be legal?”

At first glance, Deanna Dawkins’ flight itinerary from Jacksonville, Fla., to London looked perfectly normal. There was only a change of plane in New York, according to Travelocity.

But neither she, nor her father, Robert, examined the schedule closely. If they had, they’d have noticed a small notation: “Airport change from New York La Guardia (LGA) to New York J F Kennedy International Airport (JFK).”

That’s right. Dawkins would have to take a cab across town.
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“The representative asked me if I had been drunk when I booked the flight”

If there’s just one thing we’ve learned this week, it’s that alcohol and booking travel don’t mix. And just in case you had your doubts, here’s yet another case in which booze may  — and I stress the may — have played a role, at least according to the airline.

Arnar Hjartarson booked two roundtrip tickets from Minneapolis to Reykjavik through Icelandair.com a few months ago. He thought they were nonstop flights.

He thought wrong.

Upon closer inspection, I found that we would be taking a Northwest Airlines flight into Newark and then switching over to JFK for our Icelandair flight.

The total time between the arriving and departing flights was approximately three hours. I wasn’t familiar with those airports and when I looked them up on the Port Authority, I found that the travel time between those two airports was between 75 to 90 minutes. Considering that we would have to retrieve our luggage, find a taxi, re-check in, and go through security — three hours seemed too little a time.

I called Icelandair and they said they could not help me. I called back again and the representative asked me if I had been drunk when I booked the flight. I told her that I had booked the trip directly through their Web site and with the itinerary that they created for me. Her response was that the laws only required them to give three hours of time between flights and that they would not be responsible if we missed the flight — even though she conceded that there was no way we’d make the flight considering Icelandair’s policy requires you to be checked in one and a half hours ahead of time.

I even offered to take a separate Northwest flight (on my own dime) that would take us directly into JFK giving us plenty of time to change flights. She said they would cancel our entire reservations if we did not check into our original flight.

They basically offered no help, nor apology. Given that we had to be in Iceland, I had to pay extra for a separate flight directly into KEF and on top of that, they charged me an extra $80 per ticket for changing fees! Overall, I paid nearly an extra thousand dollars.

It seems unethical to me that Icelandair would offer flights that even they admit are impossible to be on time for. What can be done about this?

First of all, Icelandair has no business selling a flight with an impossible connection through its site. However, Hjartarson should have checked his itinerary before hitting the “buy” button.

I contacted Icelandair, and here’s what it had to say:

Mr. Hjartarson made an online booking for himself and his travel companion on our Web site. In his haste, he booked travel from Minneapolis to Keflavik via Newark, New Jersey – and purchased the tickets. Mr. Hjartason then called our call center and arranged to have the flights rebooked to depart on our direct flight from Minneapolis to Iceland.

As the fare on the direct flight from MSP was only available in a higher fare category, the difference of $384 per person, was collected – in addition to the $80 per ticket fee to have the tickets reissued. Mr. Hjartarson was advised of the difference in fare and the fees associated for his re-routing and gave his permission for the credit card to be charged.

In his letter to you, Mr. Hjartarson takes issue with our booking engine in routing him via Newark. However, the system is not programmed to question a passenger’s selection in routing. The booking engine offers a number of routing possibilities from which the passenger may choose, and it is not unheard of for a passenger to plan a routing to allow for a meeting in one city while en route to another.

In proceeding with his original booking by supplying his credit card details, Mr. Hjartarson was assenting to the routing, as well as to the terms and conditions of the purchase. Our booking engine will not allow a passenger to proceed with an online booking without selecting the box confirming that they have read the terms and conditions of purchase and accepts them.

Regardless, we empathize with any passenger who finds themselves in a situation in which they made an error in booking – and will always try our best to improve the outcome which we feel we have done in this case.

I agree and disagree with Icelandair’s rebuttal. Hjartarson agreed to the terms and should abide by them. But not everyone knows New York’s airports and can be expected to understand that the ticket they’re buying makes a connection all but impossible. How hard would it be to disallow such a difficult connection in its booking system?

Hjartarson isn’t pleased with the response, either.

Icelandair never provided an explanation as to why they sold me a flawed itinerary and they still haven’t in their response to you. They are blaming me for “making an error in booking.” Basically what they’re saying is, “Yes, we offered you a bad deal but you fell for it, so it’s not our problem!” What Icelandair is doing is just plain wrong.

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Good on ya, mate! United Airlines rescues failed New Zealand flight all by itself

There’s been an interesting question raised by an earlier post about Southwest Airlines’ lost-and-found luggage debacle. What role, if any, did yours truly play in retrieving the passenger’s bag?

The answer is: None whatsoever. And that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be.

To explain, let me tell you another story. This one is about Barbara Takahashi, who recently flew from Auckland to San Francisco on Air New Zealand and United Airlines.

Here’s what happened to her:

In LA, we had to change terminals and were not able to use the electronic check-in machines to get our boarding passes.

There were so few United agents available to assist with boarding passes that we had to wait an hour and a half in line and could not get to our flight on time. Nearly every person in our long line missed their connection. There were no alternate flights available that day as it was the last day of a holiday period.

We were given standby tickets and told to wait. After our first try at standby, it was clear that there was no way a group of four people would be able to get seats on one of the many oversold flights. The only option we were given was to wait all day for a flight and then, if that failed, try to get a flight the next day.

Because Takahashi was traveling with three children, waiting until the next day wasn’t an option. So she bought tickets to San Jose, Calif., on Southwest.

I would be much more understanding if there had been weather or mechanical issues, but this was a case of being sold defective merchandise. Our flights were not late. There was simply no possible way to use the tickets as sold.

She asked Air New Zealand why she couldn’t make her connection. It responded by punting to United.

While you were travelling under an Air New Zealand flight number, your flight between Los Angeles and San Francisco was a code share flight, with UA being the operating airline. As such, any boarding passes would have been issued or permitted to be issued by UA system. When you checked in Auckland, it appears that UA did not allow our system to issue your boarding passes as yet which is beyond the control of Air New Zealand.

There’s a much bigger issue here involving “legal” connection times and the reservation system used by airlines. But for the purposes of this discussion, let’s focus on Takahashi’s next move, which was to contact me. She wrote me a note, asking what to do next.

Now, there are some of you out there who believe I should have immediately contacted United on her behalf and asked it to look into this. Isn’t that what an ombudsman does?

Actually, no.

It’s important that the airline has a chance to review Takahashi’s complaint and respond. So I suggested that she take the matter up with United and provided her with a few names.

She did, and just yesterday, I heard back from her.

I can’t believe it. I got a call at home yesterday saying that they had received my information and would look into some sort of refund. Frankly, I was just happy to get a call. This morning, I got a message that they were refunding $1,120 to our account. That is over twice the amount that I requested. I truly would have been happy with a sincere apology, but this is amazing. United is back in my good graces!

I agree.

My point? The system sometimes works. It did for Takahashi.

You don’t always need a reader advocate to hold your hand when things go wrong. And that’s the point of this blog: to offer tips on how to work within the system and get the results you deserve.

If you read my syndicated column, The Travel Troubleshooter, you’ll see plenty of examples of the system not working. Thank goodness, those are few and far between.

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