He’s out the money, but not out of the woods

Everything looked set for Adam Khammixay’s trip from Thailand back to the States, a flight booked through Expedia on EVA Air.

He’d received his confirmation booking information, including references to both EVA Air and Expedia, for himself and his companion.

But everything was not set.
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Are e-checks a safe way to pay for travel?

As she paged through Viking River Cruises’ glossy brochure one recent afternoon, Diane Moskal noticed a new way to save money: If she booked the Waterways of the Tsars itinerary sailing from Moscow to St. Petersburg with something called an e-check, the cruise line promised to knock $100 off the fare.

An e-check is an electronic debit to your checking account, and it’s billed as a quick, convenient way to pay for your vacation that is “as easy as providing your credit card number,” according to Viking.

But like any smart traveler, Moskal wasn’t content with that explanation. “I see that the cruise lines advocate consumer savings if you pay by e-check,” she says. But she also found several complaints online, which made her hesitate. She wondered: Are e-checks safe?
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Something’s still “phishy” about vacation rentals

If you think the words “vacation rental” and “phishing” are all but synonymous, you’re not alone. Just talk to Ann Schutte, who recently found a rental villa with a “million-dollar” view in Sedona, Ariz., through the rental Web site

A woman claiming to own the property quoted her a $645 rate for five nights if she wired her the money. “After a number of e-mails back and forth, I agreed to the rental,” says Schutte, a property manager from Phoenix. “I received a contract. Everything looked correct on the contract. It even had the rental property address and logo. I signed the agreement, and wired the money through Western Union to the U.K.”
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Hey, where’s that refund on my all-inclusive vacation?

cancunQuestion: I’ve read your columns frequently over the past several years and always wondered if I’d ever need your help. Well that day has come. I need assistance in obtaining a refund from Palace Resorts. I paid $2,785 for a seven-day, all-inclusive vacation at their Aventura Spa Palace resort in Cancun, Mexico a few months ago. I had no problems whatsoever with that reservation.

But last fall, the Palace had a sale, and I was able to cancel that initial reservation and book a new reservation for a cheaper rate, saving me $278. I was told by the agent that my refund would be processed in six to eight weeks.

It didn’t happen. The credit card with which I made the original reservation was lost, so I had to send additional information to the company. Since then, I have not received any communication from anyone at Palace Resorts regarding my refund. I have sent multiple emails, and have been told each time that someone else who can help with refunds would contact me. I’ve tried everything, including contacting their public relations manager on Twitter and using “live” chat.
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How to be a travel blogger: And now, a few words about money

Editor’s note: This is part four of my series on becoming a successful travel blogger. Here’s the first one, the second one and the third one.

Let’s talk about money.

If you’re going to be a successful travel blogger, you’ll need some to pay your Internet service provider and web designer. You’ll have to pony up cold, hard cash for the equipment I recommended in the second part of this series.

It would be nice to have a little left over to pay the rent, too.

People think you have to take the vow of poverty when you become a travel blogger, or that your “payment” is press trips. Not necessarily.
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5 secrets for getting superior customer service

It’s been almost a year since I started sharing customer service secrets with you on this blog. But it’s always been their secrets – not mine.

Oh yeah, I have a few of my own.

So today, instead of offering insights from experts or business owners, I’m going to share Mr. Fixit’s very own strategies for getting the best customer service.
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That’s it? 5 times when you should ask for more

Sometimes, customers let a company get away with murder — figuratively speaking.

When something goes wrong, they take the first offer, whether it’s a voucher for a future hotel stay, a refurbished product, or an empty apology.

You should almost never take the first offer.

Yesterday, I introduced you to the term “gimme pig.” But there’s an opposite problem that affects far more consumers. I call it “aw, shucks” syndrome.

As in, “aw, shucks, I don’t deserve anything.”

But sometimes, you do.
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Does Secure Flight program mean more money for the airlines?

Jesse Demastrie and his wife flew from Washington to Las Vegas without incident the day after Christmas. TSA agents waved them through the screening area, and United Airlines allowed the couple to board the aircraft.

But Demastrie had been worried that they might be turned away from their flight. When his father booked their tickets through Travelocity as a gift, he typed his daughter-in-law’s name as Dianne Elizabeth Demastrie instead of her legal name, Dianne Tharp Demastrie.

“I called both Travelocity and United to see if we could get the ticket changed,” said Demastrie, a media buyer from Washington. “But the best they said they could do was to make a note on the account of the name change.”

Small discrepancies between the name on a ticket and a passenger’s driver’s license or passport used to be shrugged off by airlines and airport screeners. But under the Transportation Security Administration’s Secure Flight program, the name on a ticket and on an ID must match exactly. If they don’t, you could be delayed or prevented from flying.
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Is Spirit Airlines’ $9 Fare Club worth the money? Can I get my money back if it isn’t?

I take a dim view of travel clubs that charge an annual fee for access to special prices. Typically, these schemes only benefit the company offering them. But is Spirit Airlines’ $9 Fare Club in the same category?

Without even reading the online discussions about Spirit’s Fare Club, which costs $39.95 a year, I have to admit my bias: this certainly looks like a rip-off. I mean, joining a “club” to get low fares? In a market that’s already flooded by discount tickets? You’ve gotta be kidding.

And yet, people fall for it. People like Sheryl Sanford, who believed Spirit’s come-on about having access to “incredibly low, member-only fares, sometimes even as low as a penny.” (Offers like that just confuse well-meaning passengers, as we saw yesterday.)
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