Here’s to new beginnings

Christopher Elliott at the German Clock Museum. Photo by Aren Elliott.
Christopher Elliott at the German Clock Museum. Photo by Aren Elliott.
I’ve published this site since 1997, which is half an eternity on the Internet.

You’ve seen features come and go, from my first foray into travel commentary — as’s Crabby Traveler — to my adventures in mainstream media columnizing at The New York Times, Washington Post and USA Today.

If you’ve followed this site, you know that the only constant is change. But today’s changes are so significant that they merit their own story.
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Your New Year’s travel resolution? Don’t be a jerk

Here’s a New Year’s resolution we can probably all agree on: Don’t be a jerk when you’re on the road.

There’s something about travel — whether you’re flying, driving or sailing — that brings out the jerk in all of us. Like the guy in seat 26B just in front of me right now on a flight from Honolulu to Los Angeles, who is probably a nice guy on the ground. But put him on a plane, and shortly after takeoff, he jams his seat into my knees without so much as an apology.

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The smarter consumer: How to fix a customer service problem now

The best way to fight bad service is right now, in real time.

Don’t wait until you get home. Businesses expect you to put it off, so by the time you’ve written a letter or figured out what to say by phone, you can bet the company has prepared an appropriate response. Or, in some instances, an inappropriate response.

Say something. Now.

Not always easy, I know. You have to take a deep breath and speak up and be prepared to stand your ground. But it’s by and large the fastest way to fix something.
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How to win the car rental claim game

Tim Carpenter thought he had done everything he could to avoid a frivolous damage claim on his rental minvan.

He took pictures of his vehicle before he picked it up and after he returned it. He noted every pre-existing scratch and dent in the paperwork.

But he thought wrong.

An Alamo representative at Orlando International Airport informed him that “none of that mattered” when he brought the minivan back and that his vehicle, which had a small scratch on the rear bumper, would be processed by the company’s claims department.
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My car rental rate doubled — should I split the difference with Hotwire?

When it comes to fixing travel problems, every happy ending isn’t necessarily a Hollywood ending. Consider the case of Samantha McCormick, a 23-year-old Hotwire customer whose car rental rate unexpectedly doubled.

McCormick turned to me to fix the problem, but now she’s at a crossroads and needs your help. I’ll get to the proposed resolution in a second. But first, a few words about compromises, and, of course, the details of her story.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, there are varying degrees of happy endings. A company will sometimes admit partial liability and offer to meet you halfway on compensation. These can be some of the hardest cases to wrap up, because no one likes a partial victory.

Often, travelers will walk away from a perfectly adequate settlement agreement on principle.

Is that what McCormick is about to do?
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A quicker complaint fixer: How to speed up the resolution process

Why does it take forever and a day to get an answer to a customer service complaint?

Like reader Michael Trout, who filed countless grievances and waited a year before his auto insurance claim was processed. Or William Osuna, whose airline ticket took almost two years to get refunded. (Ironically, or perhaps appropriately, the airline is now out of business.)

Truth is, many customer inquiries are addressed quickly and to everyone’s satisfaction. A 2010 survey found that 75 percent of all call center questions were resolved in a single conversation. And not only that, but they were fixed quickly – it took less than 30 seconds to answer the call and slightly more than five minutes, on average, to address the problem.

Not bad.
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The Olympian task of going head-to-head with travel businesses

When Judy Galliher of Silver Spring sent me her hotel horror story, I had a reflexive, Scrappy Doo-like reaction: Lemme at ’em!

My rescue complex is the natural result of a career spent solving travel troubles. And Galliher’s problem was a doozy. She’d reserved a motel in Vancouver for the Winter Olympics, but her booking had been canceled twice — once because of an “error” and then a few months later because the property lost its franchise contract.

Suddenly she had no place to stay during the Games.
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