Mad about travel? Then you probably shouldn’t read this

It’s the time of year when the days get shorter and my mood grows darker.

And I’ll be honest: that government shutdown, the legislative gridlock and the shoot-out at the Capitol aren’t exactly the kind of pick-me-ups I was looking for.

It’s probably not the best occasion to write a mission statement, but who cares?

(Admit it, you’re not reading this post because you give a hoot about my purpose in life — you’re glued to it for the angry comments that are certain to follow. Scroll down a little and feel the flames, my friends.)

Anger management

I wanted to get this story out of the way quickly and then move on, as opposed to the train wreck that happened last year. Maybe you’ll recall the string of grumpy stories on my consumer advocacy blog that began last October and didn’t stop until Daylight Savings Time resumed in March. I’m not nice when it’s dark outside.

I chose my targets without discrimination. If I offended you, I’m not sorry. You probably deserved it.

But a little righteous indignation can provide focus, and that’s exactly what this exercise did for me. As I reviewed the long laundry list of issues that get me all fired up, I realized that behind the bile there lurked a bona fide mission statement.

And, despite having done this consumer advocacy thing for the better part of two decades, I still didn’t have a mission statement.

Maybe I needed one?

So let’s get right to it. Here are the issues that really chap my hide:

Anti-competitive mergers. I’m unaware of any merger that has created jobs, improved customer service, lowered prices or increased competition. If you can show me just one that did any of those things, I might consider revising my position that mergers are bad for consumers. American Airlines and US Airways, love ya both. But I think the government should let you compete separately.

Junk fees. Whether it’s a mysterious “access” fee on your cell phone bill or a “convenience” fee on your airline ticket, I stand firmly opposed to meaningless fees that line the pockets of companies. By the way, “junk” is in the eye of the consumer, not the experts. So a poorly-disclosed luggage fee can also be junk. Because I said so, that’s why.

Loyalty programs. Frequent flier, frequent stayer — frequent anything — programs are addictive and expensive for the average consumer. What’s more, they encourage companies to quietly remove necessary amenities and services from ordinary, non-elite customers. Loyalty programs should be more closely regulated and in some cases banned by law. Disagree with me? Who cares. This is a lecture, not a debate.

Security without dignity. No matter how you travel, you have the right to be screened in a dignified way that respects your constitutional rights. I’m deeply troubled by the false choice of a scan or a pat-down that the TSA offers us at the airport. The invasive searches must end and the scanners need to be decommissioned now.

No privacy. You have the right to share your private information with a company on your terms — not a company’s. Where possible, you should have the right to be anonymous as a customer, and to stay that way. The EU has shown us the way forward. All we have to do is follow, if we dare.

Lying labels. A product should say what it does and do what it says. In travel, that means that when you buy a ticket on one airline, for example, you should actually fly on that airline. Airline codesharing is a fundamentally anti-consumer practice. Companies are lying about themselves when they codeshare — and it shouldn’t be allowed.

I also added two specific types of businesses — travel clubs and timeshares — to my target list. Most travel clubs, at least the ones that require you to pay thousands of dollars for expensive memberships in exchange for unrealistic discounts, are fraudulent. Timeshares are fundamentally sound products marketed in a scammy way. I can’t encourage my readers to participate in either, at least in their current form.

For extra drama, I also gave an honorable mention to “false” consumer advocates who do little more than toe the corporate line, even when it’s clearly a lie. I don’t even have to name them, because their comments will almost certainly appear at the bottom of this story. They just can’t help themselves.

These six things should make you come unhinged, too. They’re flat-out wrong and beg for regulation.

But a few of you, dear readers, will hit the roof for all the wrong reasons. Maybe you’re a card-carrying frequent flier, and think the hopelessly convoluted programs shouldn’t be regulated — or God forbid, banned — and maybe you also think the cheapskates in the back of the plane deserve to be tortured and hit with a million fees as punishment for not obediently giving all of their business to an airline or hotel. Maybe you think mergers are good.

You’re wrong. I’m right.

Any questions?

Mission statements shouldn’t be meek, feel-good one-liners for the masses. They should be manifestos that make your customers confident — and your competitors mad. Here’s mine.

Cue the flames.

Does my mission statement offend you?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • polexia_rogue

    you are awesome, never change. :highfive:

  • Ward Chartier

    Good constitution. Very complete. Fighting words. A mission statement, remembering the comments you received when you first queried readers, needs to be short and pithy. Imagine an affirmation statement you could put on your computer desktop which would remind you daily why you get up in the morning and fight the superb fight you do for consumers. Then add the mission statement to the top of your web page.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Mission statement: Enforcing the “Golden Rule” in business – consumer relationships.

    It’s early and it’s still pre-caffeine; feel free to run with or run over this thought.

    I did like in the constitution (as you put it) where consumers also have responsibilities.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    @Christopher Elliott: I admit it: it’s going to be another crazy day, yet I’ll find myself sneaking back to the site, just for the entertainment that the comments are going to provide.

    Your comment “Mission statements shouldn’t be meek, feel-good one-liners for the masses.” struck me as funny (because of the word “masses”). My parish church has a great one sentence mission statement. But the rest of the documents governing my church fill up entire libraries! I like @wardchartier:disqus ‘s suggestion of calling your statement of purpose a “constitution”. Your title of “Our Values” was smart, and avoids the semantics that goes along with the phrase “Mission Statement”.

    To offset the problems with shorter, cloudier days, have you thought of moving someplace nice and sunny, like oh, Florida? :)

  • Raven_Altosk

    My manifesto: “Never underestimate the ability of people to be stupid in large groups.”


    “The world is not your internet!”

  • Christopher Elliott

    You’re right, I should move to Florida. :-)

  • KarlaKatz

    Yawn…..As an avid fan of yours, I find your Mission Statement an unnecessary redundancy; Must of “us” already know where you stand, and that’s why we’re here.

  • Harold Hauser

    I have read your stuff for years, have gotten valuable advice from you, and admire how you do it all. Know I support whatever you feel is right.

  • MarkKelling

    I agree with some of your article today, and I disagree with some of it (and have pointed out my disagreements when most of these topics came up individually in other articles of yours). But I guess since nothing I say will change your viewpoint, right or wrong, I have nothing to say.

  • Fishplate

    Remember, though, some people are new here. Perhaps they are drawn by the sexy avatars, but Chris wants them to stay for the actual content. It’s nice to give them a shortcut.

  • Extramail

    I sometimes suspect that the airlines wish they’d never started the “loyalty” programs. Sure, it generated a boatload of extra revenue but it has gotten so cumbersome. I haven’t purchased an airline ticket in years because of the “free” tickets my husband “earned” through his business travel but I don’t dare travel without him because I don’t want to be treated as a second class flyer. If there were no loyalty programs, then we would all be treated as sub-human cattle, not just those who “don’t belong” to the elite class.

  • Christopher Elliott

    That’s true. More than half the visitors to this site are new. I’m grateful to those of you who have stuck around to continue reading, and interacting, with this site.

  • emanon256

    Offend, no, of course not, its your mission. And I even strongly agree with most of it :) I know we always disagree on a few points, but I am glad you are here to help the people anyway. And what would life be like if everyone agreed on everything all the time?

  • commentfromme

    I am so grateful that you left the VRBO’s alone this time.

  • Kenji Inu

    The original frequent flier programs were marketed in the early 1980’s as “Free Travel” to anywhere we fly. Our last trip on American Airlines to Europe this year cost $600 in fees to the two of us. When I complained, the agent told me the courts let the airline do anything it wanted to do. Keep up the good work, Elliott.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    Stay with it, Chris. You do a great deal of good in the world and give the little guy a fighting chance.

  • Janice Waugh

    Thanks for speaking so clearly and making issues of what should be issues. And, again, I’ll be sharing your post with my readers.

  • Fishplate

    “I have nothing to say.”

    Apparently, you /do/ have something to say. :)

  • Daddydo

    When is the world going to realize the 25-27 billion fees allows for the airlines to sustain themselves…………………………wow, do you think that the airlines care?

  • Alan Gore

    Good list, Chris. I would add: No more one-way contracts. A contract is a contract only of it binds both parties equally. If the airline gets a do-over for human error, such as posting a fat-finger fare, then so should the customer.

  • Ronay

    I LOVE your mission statement! No BS, so we know exactly where and how you stand. I say hooray for you AND us–the consumer folks who benefit by any/all/some of your moods. Thank you.

  • omgstfualready

    Was I supposed to find this amusing because I did. I’m not offended by your mission manifest (the word statement is inaccurate). This site is typically interesting and at times educational even to a seasoned travel person. However I think an educated consumer is the answer to many of these items (other than the merger since that is not in our hands). I would love to have that as part of your mission too; stop people from doing it to themselves.

  • MarkKelling

    OK, technically I have SOMETHING to say. :-)

  • William_Leeper

    I have to say…most of this is dead on, but when I travel, I do so on a tight budget, and I fly only when I have to. Those hotel loyalty programs have managed to get me a room when “there were no available rooms.” They have save me a lot of money, and they have gotten me upgrades.

    Now with that said, I still shop around for the best deal in a hotel, and I don’t just go with the one I have a rewards card with, I have several different hotel loyalty cards.

    Other than that…spot on!

  • Mark Carrara

    maybe I am naive but what is wrong with loyalty programs for consumers?

    I do agree that timeshare marketing is borderline criminal. The sales people know EXACTLY where the line is and walk ever so close, a few do sneak over. While legal it is still pretty unethical. I say that as a happy timeshare owner, but I know we have been cheated in the past, but once they got you hooked, there is no cheap way out.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    So happy to read a non-PC statement – proud to be your fan, Chris I ran into a new one in the deceptive practices field this morning. Enterprise Car Rental at the Lexington Airport. Let’s see if I can get this question exactly right: “Do you want Enterprise to cover the car while you’re in it?” Ummm, what are you talking about? She refused to use the word “insurance” until I did. If I had been at that counter at 9pm on the end of a grueling day flying across the country, I just might have nodded yes. Presto! Another substantial fee for Enterprise.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    Besides, it was entertaining as hell.

  • pauletteb

    I don’t always agree with you, Chris, but I usually respect your opinions and definitely respect your right to have them.

  • pauletteb

    Really, why ignore some of the biggest travel scammers out there?

  • Regina Litman

    Chris, I pretty much agree with everything you wrote. Regarding mergers, and whether anyone benefits, sometimes I’ve observed, say, a small software company that can’t afford to provide comprehensive health insurance benefits to employees bought up by a larger computer services firm. The employees of the small company benefit by now being eligible for health insurance. There is often a synergism instead of a duplication of much staff, so layoffs don’t result. As for loyalty programs, recently we stayed several nights at a hotel that’s part of a chain whose name starts with H. To get free wi-fi or even free wired computer service in the room, we had to not only be members of the company’s frequent stay program but we had to be elite type of members. Oh, and by the way, that $12.95 per night charge is PER DEVICE! We traveled with five devices. At least wi-fi was free in the lobby. We were in a major U.S. city on an upper floor with a river view. Across the river was another state whose name has three syllables and ends with “y”. As for resort fees, I have a different take on them that I’ll share some other time. But suffice it to say, they should be disclosed up front.

  • Regina Litman

    Here’s the type of person I am. Suppose there are three hotels. One of them charges $149 per night for the room, plus $20 parking and $10 for Internet in the room. If you need to park a car and want to use the Internet, that comes out to $179. If you don’t want one or the other or either of them, it’s less. Another one charges $179 per night, with free parking and free Internet in the room. There is no resort fee at either place. The third one charges $149 per night with free parking and Internet touted, but it has a mandatory $30 resort fee. The one I’m going to choose if I’ve got a car to park – hotel #2, with everything included in one price that’s given to me up front. The one I’m going to choose if I don’t have a car with me – hotel #3. Yes, the one with the resort fee, because I don’t want to pay “extra” for the Internet. Now, if hotel #1 charged $159 per night, with free Internet but $20 to park, that’s the one I’d choose if I didn’t have a car with me.

  • JewelEyed

    Maybe it’s just me, but I’ll pick the snow in New York over the increasing probability of a bath salts fueled zombie apocalypse in Florida. It doesn’t help that heat and humidity that high makes me feel like I’m breathing a tepid puddle.

  • BMG4ME

    I lived in Europe for 30 years and now I live in the USA because of it. If you want to be more like Europe just be prepared for some of the issues that brings.

  • Abigail_W

    Reminds me of the beginning of Jerry Maguire… ;)