Should companies break their own rules? Yes, and here’s when …


Last week, when I suggested that consumers should sometimes apologize to a company, a few of you thought I had completely lost it.

You believed I’d gone soft or turned into a corporate shill — or both — for suggesting that sometimes you should apologize to a business.

So today, in the interest of fairness, I’ll look at the flip side: when companies should offer a no-questions-asked refund on a product, even though they aren’t required to.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Vermont and the University of Iowa found that retailers with restrictive exchange policies may be losing potential business, a finding that should find some traction among highly competitive businesses.
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Why don’t we end the silly rules that make flying a misery?

Anatoliy Lukich /
Anatoliy Lukich /
When it comes to air travel, there’s a growing rift between informed and uninformed passengers.

I see it every day. A reader contacts me asking for help with a refund on a nonrefundable airline ticket or to change the name on an unchangeable reservation or to get their expired airline miles unexpired. Common sense tells you it shouldn’t be a problem. But spend a little bit of time studying the rules, and you’d know it is.

Ah, rules. They’re dense, cryptic, wrapped in legalese. But they do not apply to all customers.

A small subset of air travelers has taken the time to obsessively study every restriction, paragraph and clause. They often spend hours figuring out a creative way around those silly roadblocks that are meant to extract more money from customers. They get “free” airline tickets, as they did last week. That doesn’t make these “hackers” better or more deserving of the preferred treatment they get — they’re just better-informed.
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Changing the rules of engagement (for the better, let’s hope)


It’s been an interesting few months for this site. Late last year we introduced a crew of volunteer moderators and a few simple rules of engagement.

But like everything else, both the rules and the roles played by the moderators evolved.

Today, I’m proposing to clarify some of the rules of engagement and to more clearly define what the moderators do.

Until now, we’ve had a very succinct comment policy and no real definition of moderator duties.
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3 surprises lurking in your airfare — bet you don’t know what they are

Joseph Hanus/Shutterstock
Joseph Hanus/Shutterstock

Your airline ticket isn’t what it seems to be.

I’m reminded of that whenever I hear from readers like Heidi Fox. Her husband tried to switch his United Airlines ticket from Chicago to Orlando to an earlier flight on the same day, and an airline representative assured him he’d only have to pay a $75 change fee.

But what the rep apparently didn’t say is that Fox’s husband would have to shell out a $744 fare difference, too.

“It was only after he received the emailed receipt that he was made aware of the $744 cost differential,” she says.
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New rules for airline fees are a partial victory for travelers

If airfares confuse you as much as they confuse me, then I have some good news: Several new rules are going to make it easier to calculate the total cost of a ticket.


Starting Jan. 26, a new U.S. Transportation Department rule will require airlines to include all taxes and fees in their advertised fares. Other provisions of the rule — banning post-purchase price increases and allowing passengers to hold certain reservations without payment or to cancel them without penalty for 24 hours after booking — will take effect Jan. 24.
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Ridiculous or not? Airline rules were meant to be broken (by elites)

You don’t have to fly frequently to know the airline industry has some of the most ridiculous rules in the travel business. But if you fly enough, you may not have to follow all of them.

For example: Most passengers are herded through boarding areas in large, disorganized groups. Unless you’re an elite-level frequent flier; then you skip through a “breezeway” or over a red carpet, away from the long line, directly to your preferred seat. Frequent fliers also get to shortcut the lengthy security line at some airports, and they don’t have to pay many checked luggage fees and other surcharges.
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When should travel companies waive their change fees during bad weather? Survey says …

More often than they do.

A majority of travelers (69 percent) said change fees and penalties should be suspended when bad weather prevented “a significant number” of travelers from from reaching the airport, hotel or port. Slightly fewer (62 percent) also said they should put the rules on “hold” when bad weather prevents the travel company from operating safely.

More than one-third (35 percent) said the rules should be waived when bad weather prevents an individual traveler from reaching the airport, hotel or port. And only 3 percent said a weather-related exception should never be made.

Your comments reflected the responses on the survey. Reader Jim Johansen said rules should be bent on a case-by-case basis.
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Priceline promised to bend the rules, but now it’s backtracking

Rules are rules, but what happens when a travel company promises it will bend them? That’s the question Rebekah Conlon wants to answer. Her rental car, booked through Priceline, was non-refundable and non-changeable, and she knew it.

But just before she arrived in Toronto to pick up the car, she got a troubling call. “A family member had passed away,” she says. “We had to abruptly change our travel plans.”

She continues,

I contacted Priceline within 10 minutes of when we were supposed to pick up the rental car and informed them of the death in the family. They said they would contact me with details about a refund.

Nice of Priceline to agree to bend the rules for her. But when Conlon followed up, Priceline backtracked.
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“The hotel manager hung up on us”

Gary Benedik was driving through Memphis recently when he decided to stop for the night. He made a reservation at a Holiday Inn, but discovered a short while later that the hotel was too far out of the way. But by then it was too late: he’d already been charged for the room.

Shouldn’t Holiday Inn cut him a little slack?
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Two-faced TSA ticks off air travelers: Here’s what you need to know

No wonder we’re so confused. The Transportation Security Administration is telling airlines one thing, and it’s telling us another.

“Passengers flying from international locations to U.S. destinations may notice additional security measures in place,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a prepared statement yesterday. “These measures are designed to be unpredictable, so passengers should not expect to see the same thing everywhere. Due to the busy holiday travel season, both domestic and international travelers should allot extra time for check-in.”

Meanwhile, the TSA has been busy ordering airlines to take specific actions (Emergency Amendment EA 1546-09-01, which I can’t confirm or deny that I have received from several sources). The interpretation of this order is certain to inconvenience travelers. Airlines have already turned off their in-flight entertainment systems, forced passengers to remain in their seats an hour before landing, taken away pillows and blankets and limited the use of electronic devices and in-flight wireless Internet connections.

Worse, TSA hasn’t said a word about these directives to the flying public, despite repeated requests for comment.

It’s as if TSA is operating in a parallel universe: In one, everything is just fine; in another, it’s having a kneejerk reaction not unlike the kind the government had after 9/11, when it federalized airport screeners. Based on some of the comments I’m getting from air travelers, I’d say no one is happy with this duplicitous behavior.

Here’s what we know so far:
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Government to airlines: limiting lost-luggage compensation “a violation” of regulations

airportterminalThe Transportation Department has warned airlines against limiting compensation for passengers who purchase necessities because their baggage is lost or delayed.

In a notice (PDF) issued today, the government said policies that arbitrarily limit reimbursement are a violation of federal regulations.

“Travelers should not have to pay for toiletries or other necessities while they wait for baggage misplaced by airlines,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a prepared statement. “We expect airlines to comply with all of our regulations and will take enforcement action if they do not.”
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How the travel industry can win you back

The travel industry wants you back.

But before you say “yes,” listen to Laura Salisbury, a teacher from San Jose, Calif. She mistakenly typed the wrong return date when she booked a vacation for her and her mother through Expedia.

“All I wanted to do was give my mom a trip of a lifetime to celebrate the successful end of her cancer treatment,” she says. The two women planned to visit Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.
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“Should I just take the money and run?”

virginatlanticMegan Boing booked two tickets from Chicago to London on Virgin Atlantic Airways for her honeymoon. Then the airline canceled her flights.

Normally, it would offer her two options: either a full refund or a new flight of its choosing.

But that’s not what happened.
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