Wednesday, April 25, 2012

My Perspective of Compensation - The Art of Complaint

This is life. Everyone will experience troubling issues with travel. It is only a matter of sooner or later.

In this case, dealing with complaints is basically unavoidable.

I will not describe myself as a road warrior, as if I compare to others, I am simply an amateur. However, based on all the materials that I have read (like Consumerist, Christopher Elliott, FlyerTalk, even local channel news), a lot of travelers in fact do not know how to deal with these troubling issues. Lucky me (or I should say I am unlucky that I have learned a lot), in my course of life, I have learned the best way to deal with these issues and get the most reasonable (Remember – not maximum) compensation that I can. And here they are.

1.      Never ask for a full refund.

A lot of people think if you have trouble with your travel, you should ask for a refund, right? I was used to have this idea as well. But in fact it is all wrong.

Never ask for a full refund. Never.

Trust me or not – by asking for a full refund, you have basically shut down the entire communication channel. Regardless how reasonable you are, the company will stop listening to you because you simply ask for a full refund.

Then in what situation you can ask for a full refund?

a.      Your arrangement was not used at all.

Like shopping in a retail store, if you have bought an item and you have never opened it, unless it is a special item or all sales are final, the retail store has basically no excuse to offer a full refund when you return your item.

Same theory here. If you have booked a hotel but did not check it for some reasons, the security deposit is for sure gone. But if you can demonstrate and convince that it is out of your control, it is possible that the company can make some exceptions in this case.

b.      The amount in question is so small.

I will demonstrate this by my own example.

I have once stayed in a major chain hotel (3-star quality) by booking through Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price”. The cost is about $50. I was booked for 1 night.

Here is the issue – the bathtub was so dirty. I discovered the issue in the morning when I supposed to check out. I was having a shower at that time.

If I went down and complain, how would that hotel think of me? In most of the case, they might think that I was trying to make troubles (as why didn’t I make the complaint earlier until check-out).

What I have done was instead complaining to the hotel, I made a complaint to Priceline through American Express (aka chargeback). What surprise me was – Priceline agreed with me and issued a full refund. In the entire case, what American Express had offered was their assistance in this case. The decision of refund was made exclusively by Priceline.

2.      Make your case.

How to make a complaint effective? It is simple. Make your own case that even the company can’t resist. What it means is basically evidence.

And here is a real life example.

I was currently dealing with Singapore Airlines for my family members’ baggage issue. The short story was Singapore Airlines refused to compensate for damaged baggage because the damage was so minor. So I wrote to Singapore Airlines Corporate for a review. When I received the response a month later, I was stunned – basically totally two different thing.

Fortunately, I have the evidence – a “courtesy” damage report from Singapore Airlines describing the damage, as well as photos of the damaged baggage with baggage tag intact (to prove the bag was not used afterward).

Although I have not yet received Singapore Airlines’ final response yet, at least Singapore Airlines knows something was not right.

3.      Know your right under the law.

This one is easy – but as far as I know, a lot of people do not in fact know what they are entitled under the law.

4.      Calm Down

Remember – regardless who you deal with, they are trained to comfort you. Yelling at them will not do the work (but I know that there are some exceptions). Somehow, what you should do is calm yourself down and make sure that whoever you deal with can understand your position.

5.      Don’t make an offer.

Believe me or not – most of the companies’ internal policies allow authorized employees to issue compensation for issues. But it is basically a trade secret that unless someone is willing to speak up or sharing in the internet. So in theory, no one knows how it works.

So – make it simple – let the system works for you. See what they are willing to offer.

Usually by now, if you can calmly make your case, the company should have given you a decent compensation already.

6.      Always follow the chain of command.

Consumerist has an “almost guaranteed” method – Executive Email Carpet Bomb or EECB. Basically, what EECB is you launch a mass email campaign toward the company executive and hopefully they will look into the issues.

It is a good idea in my opinion and experience. However – a lot of people seem to forget – there are people for that (and sure executives are not designed to do complaint as well).

Always make your case to the proper channel first. Then ask for a higher review (this usually associates with unsatisfactory compensation). Don’t send to the executives until you truly exhaust all resources.

7.      Never says “Never”.

Never says “Never”. Remember you make a complaint because somehow you want the company to win you back as a customer. So it is always unwise to say “ I will never...again…”

In this case – as you have said the magic word – why would the company have the excuse to do anything for you?

8.      Accept the form of compensation, as soon as the amount is reasonable.

Of course, cash is king. But if a company offers you gift card, voucher, and even points, don’t always reject the offer if it is a reasonable offer.

Remember – what the company is your business. By providing gift card, voucher, and even points, the company in fact encourages you to try again and give the company another chance to make it up.

Have some faith and take it. In some cases, these offers are usually more generous than the actual cash value.


  1. Quite a nice strategy!!

  2. wow you complain a lot.

    1. I don't categorize that I complain a lot.

      I will simply label myself as "unlucky" - something has to be happened when I am in the sky.