“This ruined what was to be a joyous day”

Gerald Zekas’ youngest daughter, Caryn, wanted a destination wedding in Las Vegas, but right about now, he probably wishes she’d stayed home. Their special vacation was riddled with bad customer service experiences from start to finish — and worse, no one has bothered to acknowledge a single one of them.

But his vacation horror story is more than a case study in hospitality gone awry. It’s a valuable lesson in how to complain effectively.

Here’s what happened to Zekas, in his own words:

Extra fees. “We were victims of a la carte fees when we booked a package through Southwest that included airfare, a four-night stay at the Mirage and a rental car from Alamo. The airfare was without additional fees, but we incurred ‘resort fees’ at the Mirage and exorbitant extra fees at Alamo. Based on the gruff treatment by the Alamo counter agent I do not plan to ever again use Alamo. When the agent asked me whether I would be paying for their insurance, and I informed him that I felt my USAA car insurance was adequate, he aggressively pursued the sale by saying that Nevada state law would hold me personally liable for a list of items spelled out on a sheet he handed me. It was definitely a hard-sell tactic, which I did not experience in my previous vacation in Las Vegas a couple of years ago. When I mentioned that this was not explained to me during my last visit, he ignored my comment and continued with his hard sell until I finally gave in.

Bad food. “Another example of poor customer service is our dining experience at the Bellagio Buffet. We were quite impressed with the ambiance at the Bellagio and decided to treat ourselves to dinner there at the end of our stay. On our way in, we met a couple exiting and spoke briefly to them about whether they enjoyed their meal. They were very displeased, but explained that it was the end of the lunch serving and that dinner was just starting and we would most likely have a different experience. We debated for a few minutes whether to dine there based on their experience but decided to go ahead. What a mistake that was! McDonald’s would have been a far better option. The food was terrible and the service just as bad. Just goes to show you that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover. Needless to say I won’t be recommending the Bellagio to anyone.”

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No photos for you! “Arrangements were previously made with [a] photographer to have pictures taken after the wedding at Valley of the Fire Nevada State Park, located an hour north of Las Vegas for which we hired two rental cars. We followed the photographer in our two rental cars with four members of the wedding party in each car. When we arrived at the park each of the three drivers paid the $6 admission fee and we proceeded to the first of several planned photo shoots in the park. When we arrived and walked to the photo shoot, we were promptly approached by a female park ranger, who informed us that we had to leave the park immediately. When we asked why she said that since the commercial photographer did not have a permit to take photos, we were in violation of state and national park regulations. We were not allowed to stay and take our own family photos with our personal cameras but were forced to leave. Needless to say, this ruined what was to be a joyous day.”

Rude airport employees. “The final poor customer service experience happened at the airport as we were getting ready to check in. As we approached the curbside check in the employee asked whether we would be checking our bags with him. When we indicated we would go inside, he made a snide remark and thus concluded our trip much the same as it had begun.”

Gerald, I think it’s safe to say Elvis is spinning in his grave.

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Zekas sent an email to the Nevada Tourism Web site, complaining about the park ranger. It was ignored. He sent the other grievances directly to me.

Just one problem: Even though the Nevada Tourism site claims to be official, it isn’t. The real Nevada site is here. I’m not convinced anyone would have answered him, anyway.

The photography complaint should have been directed to Nevada State Parks. Likewise, he should have contacted Alamo, Bellagio and Mirage directly with his other grievances.

Even if there were a clearinghouse for Nevada tourism complaints, it’s unlikely anyone would have responded to Zekas in a meaningful way. Why? Because laundry lists are among the least effective kind of grievances. I see a lot of them for cruises (“I didn’t get the dinner seating I wanted, the cabin steward was rude, the midnight buffet ended at 11:45”) and travel companies typically throw those into the circular file.

Bottom line, though, is that Zekas’ complaints are legit and someone should have taken them seriously. Finding that someone — that’s the trick.

(Photo: Roadsidepictures/Flickr Creative Commons)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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