What a ‘hot’ week for travelers means for you

It was a hot week for travel. Literally.

A British Airways Boeing 777 caught fire on the runway at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. Billowing black smoke and orange flames could be seen pouring from under the plane’s wings, sending passengers fleeing quickly from the aircraft and across the tarmac before approximately 50 firefighters doused the aircraft in minutes. The cause of the fire isn’t clear yet, but it didn’t appear to breach the cabin. Continue reading…

Does the timeshare industry love ignorant consumers?

parisvegasBusinesses like to say their best customers are educated ones. But that doesn’t necessarily apply to the timeshare industry.

After you hear Mike Seldin’s story, you might be forgiven for thinking that industry’s best customers are ignorant ones. And you might wonder which other businesses prefer to keep their customers in the dark.

Seldin and his wife attended a timeshare presentation in Las Vegas recently and purchased a trial membership that failed to deliver on its promises. But don’t worry, this story has a dramatic but happy ending.

The couple was hooked with the promise of free show tickets, which is the preferred bait of Vegas timeshare peddlers. Their two-hour, high-pressure presentation emphasized a VIP program, which the Seldins would have access to for their first two years of membership.
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Las Vegas ATM stole $990 — can you help recover it?

Question: I wanted to ask you about an ATM dispute that occurred last August. I tried to obtain funds from a single ATM in Las Vegas multiple times and my card was continuously declined. I received no cash. The following day, I checked my online banking and it showed that these transactions were pending on my checking account.

I then contacted Bank of America customer service and the representative assured me that if I did not receive any funds then my account would reflect this the following Tuesday.
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No ‘super’ savings on my Las Vegas strip hotel

vegas babyQuestion: I hope you can help me with a Hotwire Hotel reservation. I booked a three-star “Las Vegas Strip — South Area Hotel” on Hotwire recently. I got a room at Hooters Casino Hotel for $47 per night, plus taxes and fees.

There are two problems with the result. First, it’s not on the Las Vegas Strip; it’s more than half a mile away. And second, it’s listed as a “Super Savings” rate, which Hotwire classifies as “more than 30 percent off retail price.” But most websites have the normal price at about $45 to $50 per night. Where’s the “super” savings?
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Socked with a $450 resort fee — is that fair?

You owe more for your room, baby! / Photo by imaqine – Flickr

Resort fees fall under the category of “nuisance” surcharges because they’re usually so insignificant that they’re not worth fighting. And travel companies know it, which is one reason they keep piling ’em on.

But what happens when these extras rise to the level of a major expenditure?
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Surprise! Fall bargains will abound — and here’s where to find them

Tired of high hotel rates and airfares this summer? Just wait. Travel prices may be about to go into a tailspin — again.

But doesn’t this happen every year, as fall approaches? No. Not like this.

When I talk to travelers who are making plans this autumn, I hear about dramatic, unexpected bargains. Connect the dots with what I’m hearing from travel companies, who are telling me that some rates will be on par with last year’s record-low prices, and you might reasonably conclude that things are about to get interesting.

And then there’s this: The feeling that the worst is yet to come. Know what I’m talking about? It’s like the pit in your stomach right after the first drop on the rollercoaster, that premonition that you’re about to go freefalling off a precipice. I don’t know why I feel that way, other than the fact that the pundits have been talking about a double-dip recession for the last few weeks.

It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. Airfares, car rental rates, cruise prices and hotel rates should be recovering from their record lows in 2010. And for a while, it looked as if that was happening. But one ash cloud, an oil spill and a wobbly recovery later, room rates are basically on a par with last summer’s record low rates and air fares, which are up slightly now, are already starting to head south for the fall in selected markets.
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Yes, you can fight a resort fee — and win

Mandatory resort fees have been annoying hotel guests for almost as long as I’ve been covering the hotel industry, which is to say, a long time. But how do you persuade a property to remove these unwanted extras from your bill?

In the past, simply asking to have the additional $10 or $20 a night stricken from your bill was enough. Not anymore. Now, your friendly hotel clerk is far likelier to take a hard line when you’re checking out.
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Forget this volunteer vacation — let’s go to Vegas!

Question: I am a teacher at a high school in San Francisco that has lost $5,000 to Southwest Airlines. Our 12th-grade class did fundraising all year to raise enough money for a trip to Bahia de Los Angeles in Baja, Mexico, to stay at a Marine Biology lab owned by Glendale Community College. This trip was to allow the students to perform community service at the elementary school there, and for the Sea Turtle rescue station.

We booked seats as a group and per our contract paid in full by cashier’s check for our 39 tickets. A few days later, a travel advisory was issued because of swine flu. Since these are minors on a service project, we felt we had to change our plans. Southwest would not refund our tickets, so we accepted our only alternative to fly somewhere else of equal value. This only option was Las Vegas — not really a suitable alternative.

As time passed, and the restrictions eased, we asked if we could go back to our plan of flying to San Diego where we would pick up a bus to Baja. Southwest says it would not accommodate this request. We are dumbfounded. Can you help us? — Ellie Capers, San Francisco

Answer: Since when is Las Vegas an acceptable substitute for a volunteer vacation to a marine lab in Baja? Southwest should have found a better way of accommodating your class group.

Your case raises several red flags. The first is the cashier’s check, which is pretty much the same thing as forking over cash. Wherever possible, you should be using a credit card, since it protects you in case something goes wrong (for example, the company files for bankruptcy or sells you defective merchandise).

When any travel company insists on payment in cash or as a cashier’s check, don’t walk — run.
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“I am jaw-droppingly amazed at the lack of customer service”

Here’s a common problem for travelers who book a hotel room online: Once they “confirm” their accommodations with a credit card, the hotel doesn’t assign a room, leaving them wondering if they’ll have a place to stay.

My standard advice to homeless guests is: Don’t worry, you’ll have a room. And they always do.

But Robin Ross needed more than verbal assurances for an upcoming stay at the Signature at MGM Grand, a condo-hotel she’d booked through a discount luxury booking service called Blue Chip Vegas. In an email to Ross, Blue Chip had promised a “PH level corner unit one-bedroom suite” at $199 a night, not including the extras that Vegas hotels like to throw in, like daily resort fees, and taxes.

But in subsequent messages, after Ross plunked down a $499 deposit, Blue Chip Vegas seemed to waver.
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“This ruined what was to be a joyous day”

Gerald Zekas’ youngest daughter, Caryn, wanted a destination wedding in Las Vegas, but right about now, he probably wishes she’d stayed home. Their special vacation was riddled with bad customer service experiences from start to finish — and worse, no one has bothered to acknowledge a single one of them.

But his vacation horror story is more than a case study in hospitality gone awry. It’s a valuable lesson in how to complain effectively.
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