Archive for the ‘Consumer rants’ Category

Does every drop really count in Boone?

August 9, 2011

I sent this to the mayor of Boone, NC, today, a lovely town and home to Appalachian State University.

Dear Ms. Clawson,

This is relatively small potatoes, but as a journalist who writes about travel quite a bit, these things jump out at me. I appreciate the letter I found written by you in the guest book at the Best Western Plus Blue Ridge Plaza  in Boone about Boone’s water conservation efforts, aka the “Every Drop Counts” campaign.

The hotel was wonderful and the staff was great. But I have to say that your letter about water conservation didn’t match the hotel operations. For one, there was NO option/signage in the hotel room about not having sheets and towels laundered. Also, the shower there had to have the most water pressure of any shower I’ve used in years. Let’s just say it was the opposite of low-flow.

Also, I’ll add that at dinner the one night I was there, at Hob Nob Farm Cafe, my partner and I were given two large glasses of ice water without being asked. Not the worst thing in the world, but if water conservation is a goal in Boone, not the best either.

So, I figured you’d appreciate this feedback, which I added to my blog, at www.placeswegopeoplewesee.com. I’ll be sure to post your reply there as well, and thanks for all you do in Boone. It’s a GREAT city. I was visiting from Durham to do a book signing for www.farmfreshnorthcarolina.com, at the wonderful Watauga County Farmers’ Market, one of the best in the state, in my opinion!

Sincerely,

Diane Daniel

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Delta does it again

April 29, 2010

I fly mostly Southwest and Delta. Seems I’m always writing love letters to Southwest and the opposite to Delta. Here’s the latest.

Wessel and I were booked on a flight from NC to Amsterdam, via Atlanta on Wednesday, with a comfy two-hour connection window. On Monday, we got word that the flight was canceled and they were routing us through Detroit, with only a 45-minute connection. That always makes me nervous, but there it was.

Sure enough, the plane left NC 30 minutes late. To top things off, once we got in, with just enough time to spare if we were quick, the plank between the airport and the plane didn’t work properly and we were stuck on the plane for an extra five minutes, maybe more. Even the pilot was yelling at the terminal workers to get moving. When the plank went down, about five of us did our best OJ sprints (remember those?) to our gates a half a mile away. (Of course I asked every Delta person I could to please advise the Amsterdam flight that we were on our way.)

Wessel made it there first, JUST as they were closing the door. Seriously. Not only would they not let us on the plane – here’s the totally annoying part – they said they had no record of us (thanks for alerting the gate, Delta folks) and that the computer had already rebooked us to leave the next day. (We heard different stories from different Delta people about this process.) We managed to get hotel and meal vouchers, and took an overnight kit in lieu of waiting two hours to get our luggage.

Things happen, and though this is a terrible inconvenience, causing us to miss Queen’s Day Eve festivities tonight (waaaaaaaahhhh….),  miss seeing a dear friend, and to pay for a hotel in Amsterdam we’re not using, etc., I realize it’s not the biggest deal in the world. It’s not a weeklong stay because of volcanic ash.

But what really gets to me, and what we the people remain up in arms about, is the airlines’ lack of caring about individuals. You’re a cog in the machine, and if your situation doesn’t fit their machine, even if they caused the situation, so be it.

Rant concluded.

Tides Hotel Waterfront? We think not

January 10, 2010

Ground view from hotel to the water

What do you think? Is the Tides Hotel Waterfront justified in calling itself waterfront even though the hotel has a busy six-lane road (US Highway 1) between it and the Indian River?

I and several of my professional travel-writing colleagues say it’s not, because “waterfront” means that a place is on the water — not near the water, across the street from it, or within view of it. That would be “water view.” When Wessel and I pulled up to the “waterfront” hotel, in Melbourne, Fla., where we had reservations for two nights, we felt we’d been tricked.

View from the waterside looking at the hotel. Be careful crossing the road!

Not surprisingly, the misleading moniker was only one of our problems with the Tides.

Overall, their claim of being a boutique hotel is ludicrous. Fauxtique is more like it. Playing club music in the lobby and decorating with fake plastic grass doesn’t fool anyone.

The worst of the offenses? The shower was lukewarm. (When we complained, we were told we should first run it for 20 minutes! Can you imagine?) The wireless service worked in the lobby but not in our fifth-floor room. (We were told it must be a problem with our computers.) The meager cold breakfast was on par with a low-end Days Inn. Every employee had a different excuse for everything. I had to argue for a partial refund.

To be a boutique hotel, one needs more than fake-grass decorations

Adding fuel to my fire, the owners, Landcom Hospitality Management in Jacksonville, won’t return my calls. In my years of consumer advocacy, whether private or public, I’ve never had a company not return my call. And this is a hotel management outfit. Wow.

Why were we there in the first place? I’m writing a travel piece on Melbourne and the “Space Coast” for the Washington Post. Part of the theme is how downtown Melbourne has come of age. After Googling around, I stumbled upon the website for Tides Hotel Waterfront and read it was Melbourne‘s “only boutique hotel,” and “luxurious” at that. I thought it would be a great example for the story. The opposite  turned out to be true.

We've seen much better at a Days Inn

In all my years of travel, I’ve never seen such a blatant case of hotel deception in the US. This will teach me to study Google Satellite and read Trip Advisor first. I would have read these earlier comments:

“It’s waterfront if you don’t mind looking across and listening to US Route 1, a six-lane road. What a bogus claim.”

View from the fifth floor. Water view? Yes. Waterfront? What do you think?

“The advertising overstated the deliverables — waterfront really meant a four-lane highway between the hotel and the water; boutique really meant remodeled with new paint, fixtures, and furniture, but the hotel still feels like a 1970s concrete block motor inn. As an example, breakfast was prepackaged muffins and pastries along with styrofoam cups for your coffee and juice. This is not what I had in mind when I saw the word ‘boutique.’ ”

I would invite Landcom to remove “Waterfront” from the hotel’s name, along with the “boutique” claims — or start living up to them. Shame on Landcom if they keep up the charade.

To Delta: it shouldn’t be so difficult

May 26, 2009

I’m fuming about Delta‘s online SkyMiles redemption, which took us 2.5 hours to complete. That was half our afternoon.

Amsterdam, a pie in the sky?

How hard could it be to get to Amsterdam on the same flight? Very, it seemed.

Wessel and I tried to book November flights to Amsterdam  by sitting side by side at our respective laptops, plugging in the same information. On most tries different flights were showing up on our screens. We’d try again and then a new set of flights would show than before, and again different on each of our screens. Ridiculous. So we called to make reservations on the phone — for $20 a pop. We were still working online as well, and voila, we each got the same flights on our screens. So we decided to go ahead and book our flights online. We were plugging in our info. and I was actually ahead of him. Just as I entered my credit card info., it said the flight was no longer available. However, it went through on his end.

Booking two Delta tickets online turned out to be a  heavy lifting activity

It takes heavy lifting to book two matching Delta awards tickets online

So now I was locked out and he had a flight. I tried a few more times. Nothing. So I called customer service and asked if we could change his flight and we’d start over with a new itinerary and book both our flights on the phone. To change his flight would be $100, they said, and they wouldn’t waive it, though they had the power to. I spoke with a supervisor who finally, after hearing me cite “total unfairness” a dozen times, said “since you booked online, the online department can void the transaction.” Um, thanks for telling me — finally!

Of course, who knew if the the online department *would* cancel the transition. Guess what? They did! I think mostly because Wessel is a “silver platinum member.” That seemed to impress them.

Good Goes Around! Really?

Delta should practice what it preaches and spread a little goodness around

So, we started over. This time on the phone. No way were we going through that online hell again. I got a totally on-the-ball agent who, after going through some similar frustrations we did, booked us tickets. Wouldn’t you know that the number of miles needed went up on one of them. Just like that.

Here’s what really bugs me. Delta charges $20 to book on the phone instead of online, but it’s impossible to book two matching tickets online. Grrrr….

Moral of story: if you’re trying to get on the same flight but paying separately, HOLD one, don’t buy it, until you know you can get the other. However, does a hold really guarantee a price? I have my doubts.

Bottom line: It shouldn’t be this difficult. It’s disgusting to charge $20 to book on the phone when booking online seems impossible. This is why I fly only Southwest when possible. No fees for changing flights. No phone fees. No second-bag fee, for that matter. I LUV Southwest even more now.

Alas, my LUV affair with Southwest dims

February 20, 2009

There’s an update to this here. I’ll link to the new posting as soon as I get it up. Southwest is back in my good graces. Well, except for that stupid Sports Illustrated swimsuit-decorated plane. What were they thinking?

Dear Southwest,

You probably don’t know how many times I’ve sung your praises, but it’s been often and it’s been in print. Well, now I have a criticism and a big disappointment.

My husband, Wessel Kok, and I were planning to use our Rapid Rewards Awards in April 2009 before they expired. But then we had to change our plans. So we decided to take you up on your kind offer to extend the expiration date “for a year” for an additional $50. Wessel’s Award was to expire on April 25, 2009, and mine on May 15, 2009. We already decided we’d likely use them for a trip to Boston in April 2010. (We’re so happy you’re adding Boston!)

When I called to extend mine I was told that the one-year extension started the day I requested it, so would expire Feb. 19, 2010. That is not good customer service! That would be in effect cutting three months off my rewards time! So I chose to wait and call back mid-May, so it would be good until May 2010.

The LUV affair with Southwest is fading

The LUV affair with Southwest is fading

I called Wessel to warn him. Too late. Not only had he already extended his a few hours earlier, he specifically verified that the new extension date was April 25, 2010. “Are you sure,” I asked him twice. “Yes,” he said. “Well, if I were you I’d call back and check.” Sure enough, the new representative he got told him the expiration date is Feb. 19, 2010. Not only did he lose two months on his award period, they said they couldn’t change the date or issue him a refund. So there goes our awards trip to Boston in April. Even I called and pleaded his case, to no avail, though I was encouraged to write a letter to Customer Service. And so here it is.

To your credit, I see that you do have something on your website (the rep helped me locate it) that says “Awards are reissued with a new, 12-month validity period that begins on the date that the request is processed.” Funny how that one rule is listed in bold type, when the others aren’t. That leads me to believe this happens to many customers, and I’m sure they’re as unhappy as we are.

The crazy thing is you also have a very generous Award policy on the flip side. If a customer doesn’t use or renew an Award, he/she has up to two years to still extend it for $50. Now that sounds like the Southwest I know and LUV. So on one hand you’re in effect giving some people extra years, while on the other hand, you’re short-changing those of us who are trying to plan ahead and didn’t read the fine print or, even worse, were given the wrong information.

What I’ve often praised Southwest for is making it easy and affordable to make changes. In this instance, you’ve fallen very, very short. At least by a few months. I’d LUV to hear how you justify this consumer-unfriendly rule.

Sincerely,

Diane Daniel, a very loyal customer

Happy holidays, and my yearly card rant

December 19, 2008

In the mail, and now online, Americans love sending photo greetings for the holidays. Although the poses can veer to the goofy or boring, I like these a lot — WHEN it’s the whole family in the picture. But every year I get photo cards with just the kids on them — often from people in other states whose children I have never even met!

Happy holidays - Prettige Feestdagen from Q-Kitty, Diane, Sabrina, Roxy and Wessel

Happy Holidays - Prettige Feestdagen from Q-Kitty, Diane, Sabrina, Roxy and Wessel

Parents, I want to see your offspring. I really do. But I want to see you, too. You’re my friends, not the kids. Just as I’m sure you’re dying to see how my wiener dogs have grown, aren’t you also wondering about Wessel and me? Has my double-chin spread?  (In the photo, left, Q-Kitty does her best to cover it for me.) Is Wessel’s hair even longer? (Yes!) Will I ever stop coloring my hair? (I did!)

So, thank you my pal Amy in Maine for continuing the tradition of sending family photos with you, Clarke, and, of course little Eli. (My how he’s grown! Eli, I mean. And do I detect some gray hair? See? Who wants to miss out on that fun!) Alice, thanks to you, Greg, and Olivia, too, for posing together.

OK, rant completed. And truly, I’m thankful to anyone who cares enough to send me any greetings.

Joy to the world, and stuff.

Vroom’s claim doesn’t get my green light

October 9, 2008
           I was momentarily excited when I saw the headline on a press release from PJ Inc. Public Relations in New York hawking an “eco-friendly car rental site.” Cool! I thought. This will be a great place to locate hybrids, and maybe even electric cars!
           Oh, I can be so naive… No, what the “green” refers to with Vroom Vroom Vroom, an Australian company making its US debut, is that it’s providing carbon offsets for customers (it also reportedly offsets its own operations).
             While I’m not complaining that Vroom is spending some money to *in part* mitigate the carbon dioxide it and its customers’ cars will be emitting, this smells more like a marketing effort than an honest attempt to “be green.”
             If you look at all the fleets of all the companies Vroom3 does business with (including Hertz, Alamo, Enterprise) you won’t find a hybrid among them, but you will find all types of SUVs and pickup trucks. Yes, I do know that some of these companies offer some hybrids, but if it were a standard option, it would be on their fleet lists. If Vroom3 really wants to *do* something instead of *pay* for something, it should be pushing for more hybrid rentals.
            When I asked one of the PR folks who wrote the release about all this, she said, ” People still need to get around and are facing a number of limitations, including budgetary constraints, that preclude them from buying or renting hybrids/alt-fuel vehicles (the good news is, if they are renting a car, it’s likely they’re not driving every day!). With the carbon offsetting program, Vroom Vroom Vroom can contribute to minimizing the damage, without putting the burden on the consumer.”
            OK, first of all, most people who rent cars have actually flown somewhere, which is a heck of a lot worse that driving. And to say Americans can’t afford alt-fuel vehicles when many cars on the road cost the same or more than a Prius is just ridiculous.
             Now, back to carbon offsets. They are NOT the answer. They help somewhat, just like it’s helpful to give money to a “Stop Littering” campaign. But if you are littering at the same time, that’s just counterproductive.  OK, not a perfect analogy, because we live in a car culture and not, thankfully, a littering one. But there are more and less “green” ways to drive. 
             As Washington Post writer David Fahrenthold said in his wonderful article this week titled “There’s a Gold Mine In Environmental Guilt,”  watchdog groups say offset vendors sometimes do not deliver what they promise. Some offset projects, such as mass tree plantings aimed at absorbing carbon dioxide, deliver climate benefits that are difficult to measure. In other cases, it is unclear whether offsets funnel money to existing projects or to projects that might have been done anyway.” David, of course, isn’t the first to say these things. I’ve read about problems with carbon offsets in many, many reliable publications.
             So, as I wrote to said PR person, while I think it’s laudable that the company is providing offsets, I don’t see it as a “green company” but one that mitigates some of its contribution to carbon emissions. But then, that doesn’t sound so exciting in a headline, does it?
   
 
 
 
 
 

 

A most-unpatriotic travel campaign

August 25, 2008

For better or worse, I read most travel-related press releases sent to me. This one was for worse. Straight from a PR firm in Williamsburg, Va., where you’d think people might be a little patriotic, the ad campaign is called “Escape the Election” and encourages Americans to leave the United States during the presidential election period to stay at a West Indies beach resort. 

It reads:  “As the conventions begin and the campaigns heat up, many may want to get away from it all.” Said resort, it continues, “provides a true escape from the election with no TV or Internet access in the rooms, allowing guests to completely unplug.” Why not just go stick your head in the sand?

Now, if these masters of marketing had simply said, “cast your absentee ballot and go,” I would have been fine. But instead, the campaign promotes ignoring one of the most important presidential races our country has ever seen by offering special rates at a beach resort.

And it gets better. Or worse. During elections involving our first-ever black presidential candidate, Madigan Pratt & Associates is urging us to stay with its client Nisbet Plantation Beach Club on Nevis in the West Indies. A plantation, you say? Yes, a former sugar plantation.

That word has such a bad connotation I cannot believe how many developments and resorts still use it — as a draw! Historically, plantations have been farmed by resident laborers, i.e. slaves.

So here’s my advice. If you feel the urge to travel during the election, don’t forget to vote first. And please skip any place that calls itself a plantation, unless you visit one that focuses on history, like our own Stagville Plantation in Durham, NC, to learn how life really was for Americans with dark skin during slavery. (And, yes, we still have a long way to go.)

Delta does it again, but why?

July 31, 2008

I wish someone could explain this to me. Delta Air Lines again has upped its fee for checking a second bag on domestic flights, from $25 to $50 each way. Of course, they’re blaming the cost of jet fuel. (Second bags on international flights remain free. For now.) Delta’s luggage fee is now the highest among the six biggest US carriers. (My darling Southwest Airlines doesn’t charge a thing for the second bag.)

This collection would now qualify for fees (from 2001 archive)

This suitcase collection would now qualify for fees (from 2001 archive)

So here’s what I don’t get. According to a Bloomberg News story, Delta reported that fewer than 20 percent of all passengers check a second bag and “declined to say” how much additional revenue the new fee will generate. But it can’t be all that much, right? Could it even come close to CEO Richard Anderson‘s current compensation package of $11.3 million, as reported in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution? Yes, that’s more than Eleven Million Dollars, or roughly 2.3 million second pieces of luggage. I know, small potatoes in the corporate world, right?

So why bother, what with all the bad press Delta has gotten from this announcement? Is it 1) We’ll take what we can get? 2) There’s no such thing as bad press? 3) We’re laying the groundwork for something? Now what would that something be?

Wessel's MBA (Master of Bicycling Activities)

Wessel's MBA (Master of Bicycling Activities) (Click to ENLARGE)

I don’t have an MBA, though Wessel does, and he doesn’t get it either. (Granted, his MBA is a Master of Bicycling Activities from the University of Okoboji in Milford, Iowa, so that doesn’t really reflect on his business acumen. But you should see his leg muscles!)

One of my favorite consumer books from last year was “Gotcha Capitalism: How Hidden Fees Rip You Off Every Day — And What you Can Do About it,” by Bob Sullivan. Well, I think Bob needs to write the sequel, “How ‘Fuel Fees’ Rip You Off Every Day,” and what they’re hiding.

Happy travels.

Delta is ready — with more fees

July 17, 2008

It seems superfluous and redundant to rail against escalating add-on fees imposed by airlines, but how can I not?

Another additional fee?

And they're charging for baggage too.

For those of you in the dark (including Delta customer service reps, you’ll later see), Delta, US Airways and American Airlines are going to charge their “valued” award-miles customers money for using their “free” tickets. Delta’s fees start Aug. 15. I’m not sure about the others. For Delta, it’s $25 domestic and $50 other. The stated reason? Fuel surcharges, of course. They’re not charging *all* customers extra, mind you, only the valued ones.

Remember, all you dividend-miles holders, these miles are not “free.” They are what you earned and are part of a huge marketing scheme that has pulled in much revenue for the airlines and its legions of partners.

Something that really put me into a tailspin was some customers’ reactions to the surcharge in this article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Delta is based in Atlanta). One called it “a little unfair” and another said, “I don’t like the thought of having to pay it, but it’s part of what’s going on.”

Whatever happened to: We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore!”?

An interesting thing happened today when I was researching this. To back up, yesterday I sent an email to Delta customer service using their cumbersome process to complain about the new fees.

I got a form email back addressing not the upcoming fees I’d complained about but others I didn’t even know existed. Like, if you reserve less than three weeks out, you pay $100. Nice way to take advantage of valued customers in need of a flight.

Delta plane gets supplies in Salt Lake City

Delta plane during layover in Salt Lake City

Initially, when reading Delta’s email, I thought the new fee structure had changed. When I called customer service to check on it, the rep didn’t know about the Aug. 15 fee at all! She put me on hold twice and finally declared there was no surcharge. She was in Jamaica, so I thought maybe the news hadn’t traveled south. She transferred me to a supervisor, upon my request, who happened to be in Salt Lake City and totally on the ball, but even she didn’t know about the fees starting Aug. 15 — until I told her, that is. So I guess Delta values its poor employees about as much as it does its customers.

Luckily, my favorite consumer travel journalist and blogger Chris Elliott jumped right on Delta and other airlines about new fees, as I expected he would.

So did the always topical Michelle Higgins in this Practical Traveler column in the New York Times. What Michelle presented was particularly illuminating. For people who rack up miles mostly through their credit cards (like I do) she broke down the card fees and how long it takes to amass miles. For folks using their awards for domestic flights, they could potentially lose money. I use miles only for international flights. Deducting the card fees and new airlines surcharges, I’ll likely pay about $200 a ticket. But because I use the miles for flights that cost more than $500, and usually closer to $800-plus (like from North Carolina to Norway this summer), it’s still worth it financially if not spiritually for me to stick with what I have.

You should do your own calculations. As Michelle mentioned, it might save you money to switch to a no-fee card that gives you cash back.

Meanwhile, I’m sticking with my favorite airline — Southwest — whenever possible.