Getting compensation when a trip goes wrong
If you're a frequent business traveller, include your loyalty program number when writing your compensation letter. (BBC)
A perfectly planned trip is like a finely tuned watch. There are a lot of moving parts, but if one tiny pin or wheel stops working, the watch stops.
Just like that watch, an unplanned traffic jam, a thunderstorm over the airport, a missed wake up call, or even a volcanic eruption can stop your trip in its tracks.
Sometimes travel glitches are no one's fault. That's when you have to roll with the punches and make the best of a bad situation or rely on the governmental protections available in places like the EU and US.
But at other times, when it's clear that someone has goofed up, it makes sense to contact the provider and seek to resolve the issue.
If you think you have a good case, start your quest for compensation by writing a letter or email offering the supplier the opportunity to make good.
Here's some advice on writing that first email or letter:
Be concise and professional
While you may be upset, it's best to extract any emotion from your complaint letter. Write your emotion-packed "I'll-never-use-you-again" letter first, then put it in a drawer or file it away on your hard drive. Revisit and re-write it a few days later.
State your case, propose a solution and (this is important) always suggest what you feel would be fair compensation for your inconvenience. Be reasonable. For example, if a flight attendant treated you poorly, you may want to ask for a few thousand miles deposited to your frequent flyer account – not a free ticket to anywhere in the world. Find a hair in your hotel room bathtub? A reasonable request might be $50 off your next stay, or a hotel dining credit, not a free night in Manhattan in December.
Make it short and sweet
If you cannot get past the need to make your note longer than two or three paragraphs, provide an "executive summary" at the beginning with the gist of your complaint and your proposed solution for compensation. Then show the details below. But never write more than a single page (about 500 words if you're writing an email).
Let them know who you are
If you're a frequent business traveller and can prove it with a loyalty program number, be sure to include that. If you work for a company that gives the supplier a lot of business, be sure to copy your corporate travel manager or travel agent.
Don’t broadcast the issue
Don't threaten to copy the media or post your complaint to traditional or social media websites (such as TripAdvisor) in your first correspondence. Save that for later.
Play nice at first and see what happens
You might be surprised to find the supplier to be as eager to resolve the issue as you are.
"An airline’s social media account can also be a good starting place to get information or to direct you where you need to go for the best help," said Abby Lunardini of Virgin America.
For example, Delta Air Lines’s twitter handle @DeltaAssist was launched in May 2010. A staff of 12 dedicated agents monitor the site, and they have so far responded to 60,000 tweets from customers. To find these accounts, search Twitter or Facebook using the supplier's brand name.