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Michael Russnow

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How to Cut Travel Costs and Hassles: Bitching Can be Effective

Posted: 06/25/08 04:46 AM ET

Have you ever traveled and been less than satisfied? It's very debilitating considering the effort it took to get there -- the flight and numerous hours of planning. Even more so when you return to a place you've enjoyed many times in the past only to find the latest experience either disappointing or you endure conditions that are downright unacceptable.

You might think your only recourse is to bear the suffering and take the lumps, with the only payback a vow never to return -- to the hotel, the travel agency or air carrier -- or possibly even to the locale itself. However, instead of feeling sorry for yourself, there are ways to be compensated for your troubles, well short of litigation. It may take a bit of time doing research for a plan of attack, but in the end more than likely you will receive some measure of success.

A case in point, a couple of years ago I returned to London for my eighth time, staying at the same hotel, which is situated on the Strand in the heart of the West End. It is not a luxury hotel, but it is a major commercial venue with shops and restaurants and quite economical for its location in one of the most expensive cities in the world.

I immediately noticed a change in service, mostly in the attitudes of the staff. There was a "take it or leave it" -- almost civil service sense of demeanor -- that I found rather off-putting. Even complaining to the manager provided no sense of reassurance, as he just parroted and/or backed up what his subordinates had done.

In particular, I'd been talking with one of the desk clerks in the evening when it was slow and wondered what the usual costs were, as I was there on a special rate booked on the Internet. I was surprised when he told me that they offered a walk-up weekend special for four pounds a day cheaper than I was paying, and he could not readjust my account.

The manager was unconcerned, even when I related an incident at the hotel years before when I happened to be reading a brochure about the hotel on my nightstand. It advertised a rate, including full English breakfast, for those staying four days or more that was 33% lower than what I was paying without any breakfast at all. Plus, the special rate included vouchers for meals at one of the hotel chain's restaurants for each of the days of the stay. As I was a guest for five days and felt entitled to such a rate, I complained to the executive management and my rate was changed, including the breakfast and meal vouchers.

However, this tale did not move the current manager, and I learned the hotel was under new ownership. He happily gave me the name of the new proprietary company, no doubt with the confidence they would respond as he did.

I might not have bothered to contact them if I'd not been beset by some other circumstances, including the hotel's new charge of two pounds per bag for use of the luggage room, which was formerly gratis after checkout when it was necessary to store belongings while waiting for a late flight. I was told they had outsourced the service to a concierge company.

Pity that they did, as the concierge was often preoccupied and didn't give the best advice. I distinctly asked how I might get to Gatwick Airport besides the expensive Gatwick Express and was told there was no other way. When I was on the plane, my seat partner told me that the rail service offered a fare for quite a bit less and was only negligibly longer in time. Ironically, my ticket from London to Cologne, Germany on Easy Jet was about $25, while the train just to get to the airport was $22.

What really made my blood boil was when I paid part of my bill in cash, and the clerk refused to accept some of my five and ten pound notes, telling me that they had been discontinued by the government. She didn't say they were no longer legal tender and told me to go to a bank to exchange them. I suggested that the hotel, as a service to its guests, might accept the pound notes and then just as easily exchange them during one of the staff's regular deposit trips to the bank. I received a robotic response from the desk clerk. What if I were late for an appointment or had to hurry to the airport? Not a concern for this person.

When I returned home I researched the phone and fax numbers of the head office and wrote a letter to the chairman of the Board. Within a couple of weeks I got a telephone call from the vice president in charge of the hotel in London. He said he would look into the matter and, upon doing so, he called back and apologized. As an appreciation for my having taken the time to write and my prior stays at the hotel, he offered me a complimentary long weekend at the hotel the next time I was in London.

Anyone who has been to London knows full well that this is the most expensive part of the trip (barring a shopping spree at Harrods), and I made sure to take the man up on his offer the following year. I must admit I went back a little sooner than I needed to, but I was concerned the offer might not survive a change of ownership or this particular executive's tenure at the company.

He positively honored the guarantee, and I was greeted with an upgraded double room with king-sized bed, plus a basket of fruit and bottle of wine presented as a welcoming gesture. Indeed, there was another basket of fruit on the second day of my four-night stay as well.

What does this tell us? It pays to get something off of your chest even when you think it might fall on deaf ears. You don't always get satisfaction, but more times than not you will receive some form of recompense. Bitching can be effective and sometimes profitable.

 
 
 

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