When it comes to advocacy, you’re your own worst enemy

What do floods in South Carolina and a $300 drop-off fee have to do with destroying the consumer advocacy on this site?

Plenty, it turns out. I’m referring to Bob McIntyre’s Budget Rent a Car case a few months ago. Don’t bother looking for it on this site; during our 2015 server meltdown, the story was erased.

But McIntyre remembers the post and the comments. And when I spoke with him recently, he reminded me of what was said — and what it meant.

We are our own worst enemy.

Here’s what happened: McIntyre was caught in a historic flood in South Carolina, which forced him to return his rental car to another location. Per Budget’s policy, it charged him a $300 drop-off fee. He contacted me, asking for my help in getting it waived.

The flood was outside McIntyre’s control, yet Budget was holding him personally responsible, in accordance with its rental agreement.

McIntyre felt the company should set aside its policy, given that this was a natural disaster. He couldn’t have complied with its request to drop off the car at the original location even if he wanted to — not without putting the car at risk.

Should Budget refund the $300?

As you can probably guess, this case pitted the true-blue advocates against the rules-are-rules crowd, and the results were not pretty. After a while, the commenters weren’t just assailing McIntyre for making an outrageous request that would deprive Budget of $300; they were upset he had the audacity to ask us for help.

McIntyre is used to the hostility. He’s one of the original members of a popular forum for frequent fliers.

“You should see how they go after each other,” he told me. “They’re rude.”

But he never thought he’d find the same anger here, on a consumer advocacy site.

I explained that at the time his story was published, we were part of a blog network that specializes in gaming loyalty programs, including unethical hacks like credit card churning and knowingly booking fare errors. We were receiving about 1,000 visits a day as referrals.

We don’t anymore. In fact, we now block traffic from that network. Those readers are no longer welcome here. Their comments are not welcome, either.

But McIntyre pressed the point. Were they all from the site? No, almost certainly not. Some of the rules-are-rules people live right here in our own comments.

And then he said it: You are your own worst enemy.

I think he’s right. I don’t always have the time to read every comment, but his words encouraged me to start paying closer attention.

I started to see them, too. There were comments that excoriated posters for being “stupid” and, of course, plenty of travel agents hawking travel insurance as a cure-all remedy. There were people reminding us of the obvious fact that businesses aren’t charities, and there were commenters who thought we had “no credibility” because we were trying to help someone who didn’t deserve it.

Most of the recent comments, even the harshest ones, were framed politely. I credit our amazing moderation team for keeping the trolls out. But I wondered: Are we just left with the polite trolls now?

Are we are own worst enemy?

Let us pause for a musical interlude.

I think McIntyre’s case was one of the high-water marks for this site, a perfect flood of uninvited loyalty program shills, industry apologists and negative sentiment. We’ve come a long way since then, but I think we still have a long way to go. If you don’t believe me, read the comments on yesterday’s post about comments.

Many readers still think we should only help those who deserve our assistance, that offering a hand to someone who some say should have known better is foolish and hurts our reputation as advocates. I strongly disagree. I think it’s wise and it builds the reputation we want — we will help anyone without judging.

Budget refunded McIntyre’s $300 after a senior manager got involved and told him a credit was “the right thing to do.”

I’m happy for McIntyre. I think Budget did the right thing. And I think the day will come when we are all working toward the same goal.

I just hope it’s not the day I make the difficult decision to disable the comments on this site.

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