Our Three Worst Travel Customer Service Nightmares (and how to take action)

Airlines, hotels, car rental agencies, and cruise liners make mistakes. 

That mistake can be unfair, unintentional, and unexplainable.  That mistake can ruin an entire vacation or trip.  However, usually the organization will do their best to make everything right.

Unfortunately, sometimes how they handle the complaint is as bad as the problem itself.

Three Biggest Customer Service Errors I’ve Endured

1.  Hilton Hotel’s Price Match is a SCAM

The most frustrating (and longest lasting) dispute I’ve had was with Hilton Hotels and their Price Match Guarantee.  Until someone proves otherwise, I’m going to stand by my original claim that the whole thing is a scam.  Far too many people have said that Hilton looks for the slightest difference to reject a price match claim.  In my case, I booked a 50% off rate at Expedia and filed a claim with Hilton.  The first response I got back was that Expedia is an opaque booking site.  CRAZY STUFF.  Anyways, it was a long nightmare and I finally got the money back.  But I never got the $50 that you’re supposed to get if you find a cheaper advertised rate.

2.  Delta Airlines Refuses to Board My Family

Back in 2007 we (myself, Jeri – 8 months pregnant, and our daughter – 22 months old) were travelling from Alotau, Papua New Guinea to Buffalo, New York.  We were on a Delta flight from LAX that connected in Cincinnati.  Our flight from LAX was late which meant we arrived in Cincinnati only about 30 minutes before our connecting flight.  When we arrived, we went as quickly as we could to the connecting flight (took 10 minutes) and we arrived at the gate 20 minutes before the schedule departure.  The only problem was that Delta had already given away our seats to stand by passengers.  The gate door was open.  The plane was on the runway, but we were denied boarding and forced to stay overnight.  The worst part was the best they said they could do was to get us to Buffalo in two days.  I finally had them change us to arrive in Toronto and we got in the next day. 

3.  Air New Zealand Lies About Infant Bassinet Availability

We called Air New Zealand to reserve a bassinet for our son.  ANZ has a policy that the youngest infants get priority for bassinets.  That didn’t worry us because we had a 3 month old baby.  How many people would be traveling with kids under 3 months, right?  When we checked in, we were told all the bassinet seats had already been assigned to “younger babies”.  “You’re telling me that there have already been 8+ babies under 3 months old already checked in?”  I was told yes.  When we boarded the plane, the first bassinet section was taken up by three men wearing suits.  They didn’t look like a family, and unless they were hiding babies under their suit jackets, they weren’t traveling with kids.  I’m guessing these guys were frequent fliers and just wanted the front row of seats. 

I was irked and planned to write a letter when we got home, but didn’t have the energy.

How to get Results When You Have a Customer Service Nightmare

You gotta’ take the story public (and hope it gets picked up).

Here’s the story of a family that started a blog (http://alaskaairhatesfamilies.blogspot.com/) to vent their frustration at Alaska Airlines. 

The key is to write a controversial and compelling story (using lots of emotion) and hope it gets picked up on social media.

Social media is the key.  Twitter and Facebook are the only way you can get the attention of a large corporation.  Seriously, tell you story (online) to anyone who will listen, and if the story is compelling, it will snowball in such a way that the company will want to satisfy you just to shut you up.  When these organizations are paying millions for advertising, the last thing they want is people publically airing their complaints. 

Do you have a customer service nightmare?  How do/did you resolve it?


  1. says

    That was one gnarly customer service story about Alaska Airlines. I don’t think I’ve ever cut it that close to making a connecting flight, and after these stories, I’m so, so grateful.

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