Don’t take “no” for an answer until you read this story

If you’re thinking of taking “no” for an answer from a travel company, let Alan Schroeder talk you out of it.

When a late spring storm forced the cancellation of his return flight from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to New York on Spirit Airlines, he asked an agent to refund half the $1,455 he’d paid for his ticket — a seemingly reasonable request. Instead, Spirit credited him just $459.

He asked for the rest. Spirit said “no.”

Every day, customers ask travel companies for everything from discounts to refunds. And every day, travel companies turn their customers down. In the past, most travelers quietly accepted these rejections, believing they had little recourse.

But that’s changing. As travel companies tighten their rules, the “no”s are becoming more common. So, too, are customers such as Schroeder, who don’t accept them as a final answer. With a few insider strategies and the right company contacts, you can increase your chances of a successful request this summer.

Schroeder turned to me for help. I reviewed his case and Spirit’s explanation — that the refund was based on the fare he’d paid for his return flight — and didn’t think I could change Spirit’s answer. Schroeder, a heavy-equipment operator from Davie, Fla., persisted.

He contacted the Transportation Department’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division, which prompted a rare personal follow-up from a Spirit manager.

“I’m really sorry that we disappointed you by canceling your flight,” the supervisor wrote in an e-mail. “Despite your experience I hope you’ll consider traveling with us again. We’d love to provide a positive experience in the future.”

His case is still pending, but even if Schroeder is unsuccessful in securing a bigger refund, he could still enjoy a small victory when his complaint is added to Spirit’s record, where it will be tallied in a government database and reported to the public. Over time, that may affect other passengers’ willingness to fly with the airline.

You have to admire Schroeder’s tenacity. Not so long ago, in an era of “the customer is always right,” you didn’t need to ask more than once. Companies refunded tickets and offered favors because it was the right thing to do. Today, they might consider it if you play the loyalty-program card. Otherwise, no way.

There are ways around it, though. One of them is to know more than the person behind the desk. Darren Delaney, who runs a seminar for frequent travelers, says he encountered an intransigent front-desk employee when he asked about the availability of a larger room when he checked into a Starwood property in Seattle recently.

“Sorry,” the employee said. “There are no suites available.”

But Delaney didn’t accept the “no.” Instead, he checked Starwood’s smartphone app, which has access to the hotel chain’s live inventory. And the app said there were plenty of suites. He mentioned that to the employee.

“She then replied she would have to speak to the manager,” he said.

The manager handed him the key to a suite. Mission accomplished.

Information can empower customers in other ways. For John Favretto, an American Airlines passenger with “lifetime” platinum status, the series of “no”s he received in response to a minor request were frustrating. “Sometimes,” he confided, “I’m not sure how much my status is worth.”

American sent him a boilerplate response after he complained about a flight that didn’t have meal service.

“There was no indication whatsoever in the reply message that the lady who signed it had even read my e-mail,” he said.

So he found the name and e-mail address of American’s vice president of customer service, Sean Bentel. (I’ll save you the trouble. It’s sean.bentel@aa.com.)

“I re-sent my original e-mail to him,” he said, “and within 24 hours — problem solved!”

It may be helpful to know what all this looks like from the other side. On flights, space is limited and money must be made. Ditto for hotels and rental cars. Front-line employees feel conflicted. They know they’re in the customer service business and have been trained to make you happy, but they also have to answer to a supervisor who often sees only the numbers. It’s not an easy position to be in.

So how does a reputable business handle requests for bigger rooms or upgrades? Actually, it doesn’t, said Leo Locke, president of Donna Franca Tours, a Boston-based tour operator.

“We generally offer customers automatic upgrades before they ask for them,” he said. “We go the extra mile with personalization and suggestions.”

Still, customers ask for more. And when they do, Locke said, employees are trained to look for a reason to say “yes.”

“We do our best to oblige,” he said.

Sometimes, he has to turn them down, but when he does, he always gives a reason.

“For example, when customers ask us to give them a discount because of the stronger euro-dollar exchange rate, I advise them that we purchase futures the moment they make a deposit on their vacation to lock in their rate and not risk currency fluctuation issues if the opposite would occur,” he said. “That protects them. Our customers understand and appreciate the response.”

When you’re on the road this summer, you’ll know you’re dealing with a reputable company when it offers you something before you can ask for it. Reliable information and a few good contacts can help when a company isn’t in a generous mood.

And remember: It never hurts to ask again.

This story was first published on May 28, 2015.

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Cavalry Travel Insurance

Cavalry takes the worry of out travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at Cavalrytravelinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Send this to a friend