Yunnie Son’s mother sends $1,450 via Chase QuickPay to what she thought was her daughter’s account. It wasn’t. “My mom used Chase QuickPay and accidentally sent $1,450 to a stranger”
In early June, room rates at the five-star Plaza Hotel start at about $725 a night. So when Mania Baghdadi found a $119 rate through Booking.com, she pounced on it.
And who wouldn’t? The Plaza, which is managed by Fairmont, is one of Manhattan’s top hotels. A $119 rate is a steal.
And you can probably guess what’s coming next, right?
“A room at the Plaza Hotel for $119 a night? Where do I book?”
I’ve kept a polite distance from the latest fare-error scandal, even though readers were asking me to get involved. Something smelled wrong about those $50 first-class transatlantic tickets on United Airlines that were briefly available earlier this month.
Then again, maybe it was the character — or should I say the lack of character — of the bloggers who were urging their followers to snatch up the fares, that made me hesitate. Hackers are criminals and the people who help them are their accomplices.
“Government calls out cheaters who booked United mistake fares”
I don’t want to write about Annette Bricca for a long list of reasons.
“Should I be writing about the Lush customer who fell off the IT wagon?”
A booking error by a United Airlines agent forces Evelyn Jaffe to pay for a new flight to Hawaii. Is she entitled to a refund?
“Should United Airlines pay for its mistake – or should I?”
Dolores Gillespie thinks she’s going to pay $12 for a handbag. But Kohl’s has other plans for her purchase. Who is right?
Question: I recently tried to purchase four Croft & Barrow Multicompartment Cross-Body Bags that were on sale at Kohls.com for $12 each. However, when I put the items into my shopping cart they reverted to the regular price of $40.
I called Kohl’s and was told by a customer service representative that when I was finished shopping, I should call back and they would adjust the price. When I did that, I was refused the $12 price and offered a $20 price.
That is called bait and switch. The purses had been at the $12 sale price for two days, so if there was a pricing error they had more than enough time to correct it. I feel that Kohl’s has an obligation to sell the merchandise at the advertised price and to stand behind their company’s good reputation.
Do I have a leg to stand on or am I just being an annoying customer? The web price still shows at $12 five days after I first saw them and tried to purchase them at that price.
— Dolores Gillespie, Bel Air, MD
Answer: Here we go again. We’ve had this discussion with airfares, so why not with a pocketbook?
Why not with four pocketbooks?
Ah, that’s the thing that tripped me up with your case. Why would anyone buy four of these bags? Isn’t that like booking a dozen airline tickets when the fare is obviously an erroneous one-cent price?
Perhaps, perhaps not. I could find no evidence that the body bag had been promoted on one of those “too-good-to-be-true” bargain websites (sorry, I won’t link to any of them). Also, you waited a while to give Kohl’s time to correct the mistake and you asked about the price before you made your purchase.
I think you had every reason to believe you were dealing with a legitimate offer. Why not buy four of them and give them to friends and family as gifts? If you’d bought 40, I might be a little more suspicious.
When you’ve done your due diligence on an offer like this, then Kohl’s has an obligation to sell you the items at the price it promised. Every case is different, of course, but I think you did the best you could with this one. Simply cutting the price to $20 wasn’t enough.
Kohl’s excuse was unacceptable. In an email, it said it couldn’t find the $12 sale price. That’s probably because the error had been fixed by then. Either way, a representative noted,
While Kohl’s strives to provide accurate product and pricing information, unintentional pricing or typographical errors may occur.
Kohl’s reserves the right to correct any errors, inaccuracies or omissions and to change or update information (including, without limitation, information related to text, pricing, availability and product descriptions) at any time without notice (including after you submitted your order and confirmation was received).
In the event that an item is listed at an incorrect price, with incorrect information, or discounted in error, Kohl’s shall have the right, in its sole discretion, to refuse or cancel any purchased orders placed for that item. If your credit card has been charged for any order subsequently cancelled, Kohl’s will issue a credit to your credit card.
A brief, polite email to Kohl’s by email would have been the next step, followed by an appeal to one of its executives. The email convention at Kohl’s is [email protected], so it’s not too hard to guess the right email address. You can also try its “escalated” email address: [email protected]
You sent Kohl’s a cordial email with screen shots of the offer to help jog their memory, but it didn’t work. So I decided to get involved. After I contacted Kohl’s, it agreed to honor the $12 price.
Alan Grinnell is having phone trouble with Verizon. Why can’t he get the credit he deserves?
“Verizon won’t correct a billing error – now what?”
Oh no, not again.
“Should Costa reverse course on this fare error?”
The secrets to a hassle-free summer vacation seem simple enough: Keep a checklist. Read the rules, especially if you’re flying. Take photos of your rental car. Don’t make assumptions about your hotel. And remember your paperwork when you’re traveling overseas.
But simple as that sounds, in practice it’s not always that easy.
Let me say right from the outset that I hardly started out as the world’s smartest traveler. But over the past decade and more, I’ve learned, from my own wide-ranging travels and from the many problems I’ve helped resolve for readers, what not to do when you’re on the road.
So what are the most common mistakes that travelers make? And, more important, how do you avoid them? How, in other words, can you vacation like the world’s smartest traveler?
1. Be prepared
Bob McCullough, a sales representative for a cheese company in Hainesport, N.J., admits that he’s a serial procrastinator, so he decided to start packing for a recent trip a full week in advance. He even booked a flight leaving Philadelphia on a Sunday to avoid the Monday crush of business travelers.
“I got to the airport two hours before my flight, found the parking garage pleasantly unpacked, and parked in a spot I had never dreamed of finding on a weekday,” he says. “I opened the trunk and reached in to grab my suitcase — which wasn’t there. I realized then, in shock with a cold sweat building, that I had left my suitcase in its normal pre-staging area of my laundry room.”
The smartest travelers plan ahead, like McCullough, but they also have a fondness for checklists. Did you pack the right clothes? Remember all the power cords? Is your luggage in the trunk of your car? Lists are your friends. Smart travelers know when to wing it and when not to. Sure, your friends and family might poke fun at you for keeping a list for everything, but they’ll thank you when you’re the only one with a power adapter in France. Travelers who keep lists are far less likely to get into trouble on the road.
2. Read those airline rules
Airline policies can be counterintuitive, even bizarre. For example, a one-way ticket can sometimes cost more than a round-trip ticket on the same plane. A change fee can exceed the actual value of a ticket. Also, “non-refundable” means non-refundable, except when it doesn’t.
Confused yet? If it’s any consolation, even airline employees sometimes get mixed up about their own rules. Don’t laugh, I’ve seen it.
Kelly Hayes-Raitt remembers seeing an unbeatable deal for a flight from Los Angeles to Tampa, Fla. But when she arrived at the airport, she noticed her itinerary. “The plane landed in Phoenix, Dallas, Houston and New Orleans before finally arriving in Tampa,” remembers the writer from Santa Monica, Calif. “I still groan when I think of how stupid I was.”
Based on the cases I’ve mediated, my best advice is to familiarize yourself with the always-changing, often Byzantine rules developed by the airline industry — rules that are often created for the sole purpose of “protecting” an airline’s revenue or, to put it in terms that everyone else can understand, to separate you from your money.
They may make about as much sense as a coast-to-coast flight with four stops, but you — and you alone — are responsible for knowing the rules.
3. Take photos of your rental car
Anna Arreglado didn’t do that when she recently rented a car in Bardonia, N.Y. “My mistake,” says Arreglado, who works for a pharmaceutical company in Ridgefield, Conn. Sure enough, the car rental company came after her, insisting that she’d damaged the vehicle. She couldn’t prove that she’d returned the car unharmed. It was her word against the company’s.
Fortunately, Arreglado reads this column and knew how to fight back. She disputed the claim in writing and copied her state attorney general on the correspondence. “Within an hour of sending my e-mail, I got the case dropped,” she says.
Listen up, campers: Take pictures of your cars before and after your rental. Some customers allege that car rental companies have built a profitable business around charging you big bucks for small damage, and the only way to avoid a repair bill is to show an “after” image of your undented car. That, and maybe having the e-mail address of your attorney general.
Actually, the takeaway from Arreglado’s story applies to more than rental cars. Sometimes, a brief, polite e-mail to any travel company will get the resolution you want — if you copy the right people.
4. Assume nothing about your hotel
No segment of the travel industry — except perhaps the airlines — profits more from our collective ignorance than hotels. They would like you to think that they’re the only lodging option in town, but they’re not. Today’s accommodations cover the spectrum, from glamping to vacation rentals. Don’t lock yourself into a traditional hotel or resort, at least not without first shopping around. You might be able to find a bargain on Airbnb.com with a better location and fewer hassles.
Travelers make other assumptions about their accommodations that aren’t necessarily true, too. For example, you’d imagine that the room rate you’re quoted is the room rate you’ll actually pay, maybe not including sales taxes.
But when Tom Alderman recently tried to book a room at his favorite casino hotel in Las Vegas, he was broadsided by a mandatory $14-per-night “resort” fee, which supposedly covered in-room wireless Internet access, use of the fitness center and “printing of boarding passes.” He was particularly outraged because the resort had repeatedly promised on its Web site to “never” charge a resort fee, like other Vegas resorts. “I’ll never stay there again,” says Alderman, a retired documentary filmmaker.
Resort fees are normally disclosed just before you push the “book” button, so don’t thoughtlessly click through. If you see a fee you don’t like, stop what you’re doing and look elsewhere for a room.
5. Don’t forget the paperwork
Having the right visas and permits and an updated passport is your responsibility, no two ways about it. That’s a difficult message for many travelers to hear. They rely on the advice of a travel agent or what’s posted on a Web site and believe (incorrectly) that those third parties should reimburse them when something goes wrong. This is especially common in the case of cruises, where a birth certificate, instead of a passport, is often enough to board a ship.
The consequences can be heartbreaking. A worried mom from Sacramento recently contacted me because her daughter and son-in-law, en route to their honeymoon in St. Lucia, had been stopped at the airport and denied boarding. The reason? The bride’s passport was due to expire soon — too soon for her to be allowed into the country. Some countries require your passport to be valid for six months from the date of your entry. An alert travel agent might have caught the problem, but now it was too late. And without travel insurance, the entire trip would be lost. “Can this trip be salvaged?” the mom wrote to me, with only hours before the vacation was to have begun. Sadly, it couldn’t be.
Point is, the most common travel mistakes are easily avoided with a little planning and by taking common-sense precautions. It looks easy, and sometimes it is easy. But the truth is, in many cases, there’s often a lot more to it, and questions arise.
And that’s what this column and I are here for.