These travel double standards have gotta go!


You break it, you pay for it. Unless you’re traveling. If they break it, you pay for it, too.

No one knows that better than Vicki Kahl, a homemaker from Johnson City, Tenn., whose checked luggage sustained damage on a recent US Airways flight from Raleigh, N.C., to Phoenix.

“Clothing was hanging out of a large gash on the side,” she remembers. She stood in a long line to file a luggage claim, but eventually had to leave so she wouldn’t miss the last shuttle of the day to Tucson. The airline denied her claim on a technicality; it said she didn’t file within four hours of her arrival, as its policy requires.

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“I am frankly surprised by the undisguised impatience and lack of professionalism that I’ve encountered,” she told me.

That would be one way of seeing it. Here’s another: Travel companies are quick to point the finger at their customers and collect any damages to which they feel entitled, real or perceived. But when the tables are turned, and they’ve damaged something that belongs to you? Not so much.

The travel industry doesn’t just collect actual damages, such as a dented rental car or a cracked hotel room TV. It’s one of the few industries — perhaps the only one — that charges its customers for hypothetical damages. Some of the better-known fictitious damages include an airline seat it could have sold for more (if you don’t believe me, ask your friendly travel agent about debit memos); and a car rental company billing you for “loss of use” (what it could have earned if it didn’t have to repair the car you dented).

Whenever they want to earn a little extra money, it seems they turn the screws a little tighter on customers. What better way of extracting an additional $250 from a guest than accusing them of damaging a room by smoking in it, long after they’ve checked out? Better yet, why not just help yourself to the money in their bank account? That’s what Bea Cooper says happened to her when she checked out of the Holiday Inn Express and Suites Orlando South-Davenport recently.

Cooper, a business development director from Avon Park, Fla., was staying in the room with her two-year-old granddaughter, Ethel, and insists she didn’t smoke. She says she was “never informed” about the cleaning fee that mysteriously appeared on her credit card. No one e-mailed or called her to say, “We’re adding $250 to your bill, and here’s why.” Cooper had to phone the hotel to find out about the charge.

Holiday Inn insists it notified Cooper about its “100% smoke-free” policy, which says smoking is not permitted anywhere inside the hotel, authorizing it to charge her if she did. Cooper agreed to the policy when she checked in.

“The hotel confirmed that the guest signed a registration card,” says Lindsay Cameron, a spokeswoman for the hotel chain.

What if the roles are reversed, and something happens to you or your property? It’s either red tape, like Kahl experienced, or nothing at all. Consider what happened to Alisa Richter, who works for public relations agency in New York, when she visited an upscale hotel in San Francisco this summer for a wedding.

“I was using an adjustable set of hand weights, and one of the disks slid out and landed on my foot,” she says. “They didn’t have a medic on staff, but called over a personal trainer who asked me a few generic-sounding questions, then said very authoritatively that it was probably just a bad bruise. I got the sense he wanted to placate me quickly and move on.”

Actually, her toe was broken. The hotel offered her nothing, no apology, no adjustment of her room rate, and it didn’t even remove the hazardous weights from the gym.

So, to recap: You damage something during your travels — or you leave a travel company with the impression you might have damaged something — and they’ll bill you automatically, and sometimes without telling you. They damage something of yours, and you get red tape, rejections, or nothing at all.

Can you say “double standard”?

If you think something’s wrong with this picture, that makes two of us. But we don’t have to accept these travel industry practices. Kahl’s appeals went unanswered until I contacted US Airways on her behalf. A representative contacted her quickly and processed a claim for a replacement bag.

Too bad they don’t all end like that.

Does the travel industry have too many double standards?

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How to fix a broken trip

Travel companies will fix what’s broken if you know what to do:

Act now. If you see damages to your personal property, the clock is ticking. The sooner you say something, the better the chances a travel company will take responsibility for it.

Get it in writing. Don’t take an employee’s word for it when something is broken. “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of it” isn’t the same thing as a written damage report. Talk is cheap.

Be patient. While some companies will bill you immediately for damage, even if they don’t have a repair invoice to back up the charge, it can take six to eight weeks for them to cut you a check when they’ve hurt something that’s yours. Like I said, double standard.

36 thoughts on “These travel double standards have gotta go!

  1. Here is the simple answer, no one trusts anyone any more. Hotels cheat in charging you a cleaning fee for smoking, but travelers cheat too by smoking in rooms they aren’t supposed to and they agreed not too. Everyone is about me, me, me, I don’t care about the next person, I want what i want. The hotel can’t police every room, and if your a smoker you cant walk into a hotel room and discover if someone was smoking or not. You have to wait until a non smoker who is sensitive to the smell complains. Hotels are no innocent player either. They want you to choose their hotel and they know people make reservations on price. The Holiday is $2 cheaper than the Hilton, they are booking the cheaper, and when they don’t (or who am I kidding even when they do) they expect to be treated like celebrities. Who’s to blame for that disconnect its the media, and the advertising, they make every cruise, or resort experience look like your going to be pampered by a dozen staff catering to your every whim, when the reality is your just another one of the masses going through a slightly less grind then you were at home, albeit in new surroundings. So yeah they got to make that revenue up for that online special rate you got, because everyone on staff wants a raise or “livable wage” and there just isn’t the money to give everyone everything, you can have it goo, fast or cheap, but not all three, and when we don’t get all three we start demanding compensation, and someones got to pay that too. It used to be you felt cheated for paying a stadium tax when staying in a hotel or renting a car, now hotels are charging you separately for the electricity, and hot water, because they really can’t sell you a room at whatever you booked it for online.

    What it really comes down too is a divide between the 1% and the other 99%, the 99% think hotel owners and conglomerates liek the hiltons don’t deserve to make the money they do, to afford Paris all her tiny little dogs, but those 1% aren’t going to spend the money to build these properties to make a modest living. The wealth do things that keeps them wealthy, and without that incentive they are just going to sit on their money.

    1. Personally, I think most people want to treated kindly and fairly. Never see too many that want to be treated like a “celebrity”, though I’m sure there are a few. I just want to have a decent stay at the price that was quoted me when I made the reservation. If they can’t make a profit and a pay their employees at the quoted price, they need to raise the price. Not try to sneak in more after the fact.

    1. I don’t think it’s a question of klutziness. It’s a question of knowing how to secure a weight onto a bar. Which she apparently did not know how to do.

  2. The double standards exist among companies that know that when you’re away from home and out of your familiar social support system, they have you over a barrel. Extra points if you’re in a place where the language is unfamiliar. Who knew that if you have to file a police report in Venice, as I once did, you have to go to a tobacco shop?

  3. It is getting to the point that I almost feel like I have to take pictures of my hotel room when I check out to prove condition of the room. I already do this when picking up and dropping off a car.

      1. The next time I check out of a hotel, I might just demand the manager come up to the room and inspect it for a damage-free, and smoke-free condition and then sign a statement to that effect.

  4. You know why there are these double standards; mean, jaded and uncompassionate travel vendors? Because the industry has to protect itself from [email protected] consumers who cheat, steal, lie, and destroy stuff. There’s just too many sick folks wandering around with the nice folks and guess who gets shafted?
    If you want to clean up this industry you need to eliminate the bad apples on both sides of the equation.

      1. Yup unless you are in some high class joint that keeps the riff raff away, that’s pretty much how it goes. We’re down to the gas pump and fast food pay first mode. There’s just too much trash around. It’s hard for vendors to tell the difference. 🙂

        1. “Trash”, “riff raff”. And some wonder why people don’t hold the travel industry in high regard since we are all assumed to be this.

          Fortunately, in my experience, this has not been the case.

          1. You might be a nice guy. But it only takes on idiot to destroy the whole thing for us. Even travel hackers have this saying – pigs get fed, hogs get slaughtered 🙂 There’s just too many selfish travelers nowadays.

          2. Unfortunately, TonyA is right, based on my (way too) long experience. People did the worst things imaginable, then were incensed when caught and asked to pay. So now, the vendors see you as guilty first. Sad, but true. And NOT just the 99% – have seen some of my 1% treated with suspicion where I knew there never should have been. You can only keep advocating for the ones who keep their cool, are not rude or beligerent, and hope for the best. 🙂

      2. So true, Jeff. 90% of us pay the price to cover the shenanigans of the 10% who are dishonest. America is a capitalist country.

    1. I wish you were wrong, but I think you’re not.

      But I will add this as well. Similar thoughts exist in some businesses, where the relationship between the revenue generated and the services provided has been severed. The investors behind a business are focused on maximization of ROI, and willing to sacrifice the business reputation to squeeze out as much revenue as possible from customers. The very term “price point” to mean connotes the idea that the price of something is almost completely independent of the cost of production, and is something to be varied so as to maximize revenue. The squeezing-in of as many seats as possible in a given space, without regard to potential altercations created, also illustrates this commercial indifference. It is no longer a matter of being fair in dealing with customers as much as it is maximizing yield. So while there are consumers looking to get “free stuff,” there are businesses as well that are doing their part.

      1. You are right. When people are put in battery cages like hens laying eggs, you’ll get ‘cannibalism’. Birds can be de-beaked. How about humans?

  5. The first two concerns are genuine enough, but also seem easy enough to fix: 1. Don’t check luggage. The airline cannot damage what it doesn’t control. 2. Contest the credit card charge with the credit card company and don’t ever use a debit card at a hotel. That way they don’t take cash directly out of your account.

    However, I’m having trouble seeing what the hotel did wrong with the woman using the free weights? Sounds like it was her own negligence that caused the injury. The “adjustable set of hand weights” have clips that fit over the bar to keep the disks from sliding off. If those were missing, then the hotel should replace them and not allow people to use the equipment without them. But the woman bears responsibility in that case as well – she made the conscious decision to use the weights even suspecting that the weights may be “hazardous.” Maybe they’re guilty of not being sympathetic enough to her pain, but I would be hesitant to apologize and do anything that might demonstrate accepting liability, especially when the person who committed the negligence is obviously seeking to place blame and liability on anyone but themselves…

  6. About a month ago, I was a passenger on a ferry to a popular tourist town. I checked my bag. When I retrieved it after exiting the ferry, the handle only retracted about one-third of the way. I went up to the desk to ask if I could file a claim. The immediate response, without even looking at the suitcase, was “We don’t pay for broken handles” and showed me where it was in the contract. I said I would like to file a claim anyway. Serious stinkface from the desk clerk. I bought the suitcase in January, and it had been used only twice before. It was a good sturdy brand (Samsonite). It was working when I entrusted it to them, and not working when I got it back from them. There’s no way they didn’t break it. My hotel was within walking distance of the ferry, and it didn’t make sense to call a taxi to take me three blocks, but believe me it was not fun the rest of the trip having to lean sideways & back while pulling my suitcase along city streets and in the airport. As of Friday I had not received a response from them. I will wait another couple of days, then start the CE recommended emails thru the chain of command.

        1. Worth checking. My VISA card replaced my son’s sweatshirt that was lost at school, so good to check the warranty section of your terms and conditions paperwork that you get with your credit card.

    1. just an FYI that no travel provider will cover handles, regardless of fault. doesn’t Samsonite provide a guarantee or warranty? you might be better off there.

      1. Also good point, flutiefan. I guess I’m one of those “entitled whiners” that think I should get my stuff back in the condition it was in when I entrusted it to a carrier. It’s not like it was a rough trip – just a pleasant three-hour ferry ride on calm waters. I bought my ticket through Viator Tours, so I may see if they can help me.

        1. i fail to see where i called you (or even implied that you were) an entitled whiner?? i just gave you information…
          my apologies if that’s how it sounded.

          1. You absolutely did not, and my apologies if it sounded that way. Hug? 🙂 The comments on this blog can be very harsh if the person is considered to be entitled. No one person, just in general.

  7. This has nothing to do with the issue in this article, but I really think the woman in the hotel weight room was wrong. In a gym, where there are adjustable weights, you are responsible for securing the weights on the bar. Otherwise, how would it work? A staff member would have to come and check the weight every time somebody wanted to adjust it? That makes no sense at all. It was still rude of the hotel not to give a very general “I’m sorry you were hurt” response, but they owe her nothing.

  8. be VERY careful what you wish for.
    If you want more compensation, then airfares will have to rise to cover that.

  9. I’ve said it a hundred times …. when you have a problem with a hotel, YOU have to tell the hotel what you want as compensation for your broken toe or your cold shower. Hotel people are not capable of offering you anything, you must tell them what you think is proper … cut the room rate in half, complimentary breakfast, whatever. This applies only to regular hotels, not the luxe type which I know nothing about.

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