What should a traveler do when service with a smile turns into service with a scowl?
Count to 10.
Unfortunately, when things go wrong on a trip and travelers seek an explanation or apology from a hotel, airline or other travel service, they often get neither. It is rare for an organization to offer a refund or a credit toward a future purchase.
To improve your chances of correcting a problem, here are a few general rules:
Complain immediately. Begin with the hotel manager or other on-site supervisor. Explain the problem and specify what you want. Be firm but not argumentative. If the problem is major and you are dissatisfied, let the person know you are going to call the Better Business Bureau and the executive officer of the corporation. Then do it. The best time to solve a problem is when you're living with it.
If your problem was not corrected, create a written account of the incident, succinct but as full of detail and as devoid of emotion as possible. (All of the groups listed below, except the Department of Transportation, require complaints in writing.)
When complaining directly to a travel company, specify what compensation you want.
To register a complaint, begin with your travel agent, if you used one. Next, write to the company that made you unhappy and keep a copy of your letter. If the company replies, keep a copy of that too. If you're dissatisfied with the response, consider contacting one or more of the organizations listed below. Writing directly to the head of the company, rather than to the customer service department, gets better results.
If all you really want is an apology, steel yourself for disappointment. Tell your friends which company disappointed you and how, then move on.
Here are other places to turn to when you have a travel-related problem:
Travel Consumer Restitution Corp.: This quasi-public state agency was created in the mid-1990s to protect California consumers who book certain travel services through California companies. A reserve fund of more than $1 million has been established to reimburse travelers who don't get paid-for services from a California-based travel seller. For claim forms, contact the organization at P.O. Box 6001, Larkspur, CA 94977- 6001; fax (415) 927-7698. (No public phone, website or e-mail is available.)
California attorney general: All travel agencies and others who sell travel in California must register with the state and post a bond or set up a trust account to guarantee that funds will be available to repay consumers if a trip is canceled or other services aren't performed. Consumers who want to check on the registration of a travel seller, report an unregistered seller or file a complaint can contact the office at 300 S. Spring St., Los Angeles, CA 90013-1230; (213) 897-2645. They also can contact the attorney general's Public Inquiry Unit, P.O. Box 944255, Sacramento, CA 94244-2550; (800) 952-5225, fax (916) 323-5341, http://www.caag.state.ca.us .
American Society of Travel Agents: This trade group takes complaints only about its member companies. It will tell consumers if a member has two or more unresolved complaints in the last six months. Contact its Consumer Affairs Department, 1101 King St., Suite 200, Alexandria, VA 22314; (703) 739-2782, fax (703) 684-8319, http://www.astanet.com .
U.S. Tour Operators Assn.: The organization tracks complaints only about its members. It reviews complaints and forwards them to tour company executives. Contact it at 275 Madison Ave., Suite 2014, New York, NY 10016; (212) 599-6599, fax (212) 599-6744, http://www.ustoa.com .
Better Business Bureau: For complaints or general information about businesses in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, call (909) 825-7280, fax (909) 825-6246 or go to the bureau's website, http://www.labbb.org . In Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, call (805) 963-8657, fax (805) 962-8557, http://www.santabarbara.bbb.org .
U.S. Department of Transportation: This agency takes travelers' complaints, mostly about airlines. Monthly figures, available on the agency's website, track late flights, mishandled baggage, oversold tickets and consumer complaints. Contact Department of Transportation, C-75, Room 4107, Washington, DC 20590; (202) 366-2220, http://www.dot.gov/airconsumer .
— Rosemary McClure