Beware of travel industry doublespeak

It’s for your own good.

Travelers are hearing these words more often than ever, and they are being applied to increasingly unwelcome scenarios. The latest example: being unable to access WiFi in your hotel without incurring an added charge. In August, the American Hotel & Lodging Association and Marriott filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission asking the government for permission to block wireless devices in hotels.

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.

Marriott, you might recall, last year paid a $600,000 fine for allegedly interfering with its guests’ personal wireless hotspots at one of its large convention properties. The hotel chain argued that its having the authority to disrupt these connections would make customers less vulnerable to hackers and “unauthorized network access.”

In other words, the chain wants to jam your cellular hotspot for your own good.

The hotels fail to mention, of course, that they’d also earn a bundle by charging guests for access when they can’t use their own wireless devices to connect to the Internet.

Airlines, car rental companies and cruise lines are using similar rhetoric to push their own agendas. Customers have come to expect such obfuscation that some travel companies have built their business on opting for straight talk. But with a little digging, you can always unearth the truth and maybe keep your vacation budget in check.

Airlines are masters of misleading rhetoric. In 2009, when most domestic airlines introduced a fee for the first checked bag, they spun it as a terrific new “option” for passengers, one that would allow them to save money if they wanted to travel without baggage. Perhaps that was true for a few customers. But the carriers also neglected to mention the billions in baggage fees they were about to collect from passengers.

A few years later, American Airlines touted the consumer benefits of its recent merger with US Airways but pooh-poohed any talk of resulting higher fares. And there was hardly a whisper about the windfall profits it stood to make, and has made, since then.

Last year, the airline industry’s powerful lobbyists pushed the Transparent Airfares Act through Congress, arguing that it would help fliers by allowing them to see the taxes — ticket taxes, departure taxes, fuel taxes — on their plane tickets. That’s something passengers weren’t exactly clamoring for. True, the bill would let travelers see taxes. But airlines played down a key detail of the act: that it could also allow them to quote a deceptively low initial airfare, stripped of taxes and mandatory fees that would come later. The law passed in the House and is awaiting a companion bill in the Senate.

More recently, Delta Air Lines introduced a troubling fifth class of service with completely nonrefundable seats because, it argued, customers wanted that option. There was no mention of all the money it stood to pocket from those nonrefundable seats when passengers had to change their travel plans.

Do customers believe any of it? Not really.

“We are constantly told by corporations that policies that are contrary to our best interests exist for our own good,” says Jim Jacobs, who works for an educational testing company in Tampa. “These claims are sometimes so ridiculous that only the most gullible among us actually believe them. George Orwell would be proud to know that the doublespeak that he predicted is alive and well in 2015.”

Take mandatory resort fees, which are framed as a benefit to hotel guests, because they don’t have to worry about paying anything extra during their stay. These fees, which resorts charge on top of room rates, cover the cost of WiFi, a hotel gym and pool towels, guests are told — whether they use them or not. What hotels don’t mention is that resort fees are immensely profitable and more than cover the cost of these amenities. These fees are there primarily for a hotel’s benefit.

“It’s for the companies’ good,” says Carol Baker, a retired school administrator who lives in El Paso. “Not ours.”

Like most hotel guests, Baker just wants a quality product at a fair price — she says that would be in her best interest. If a hotel wants to impose extra fees, it should do so upfront, at the time a rate is first quoted. Many resort fees are disclosed only after you begin booking the hotel online and have made a decision to buy. Sometimes they are not revealed until you’re finished making a nonrefundable reservation.

So why bother with the doublespeak? Undoubtedly, some customers fall for it, believing that the resort fee, blocked wireless signal or airline merger will, indeed, benefit them. Part of the reason is also that the companies and their employees feel a little better about doing something that will further their own interest if they can come up with a customer benefit, even if it’s a dubious one.

Companies can stand out by using straight talk. For example, Silvercar, the rental company known for its silver Audi A4s, advertises its no-fee pricing. It doesn’t charge many of the obscure fees offered allegedly for a customer’s own good, such as roadside assistance or an additional driver, says spokeswoman Amber Soletti. “The majority of travel companies are adding fees, and in many cases positioning them as something good,” she adds. “Not us.”

Determining whether something is — or isn’t — being done in your interests is usually not difficult. Just ask yourself: Is having a fully nonrefundable ticket better than having a refundable one at the same price? Is having fewer airlines better than having more? Is paying a fee for my checked luggage or seat assignment really a benefit — and if so, who is benefiting?

And how about those blocked wireless devices? To answer that question, look no further than the response by the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, a trade group, to Marriott’s petition. Calling Marriott’s claims “contorted,” it noted that the hotel company appeared to be “motivated by the potential for revenues when users are kicked off their WiFi network and forced to pay hotels for WiFi access.” It said the existing laws were clear and in the public interest, and that the FCC should deny Marriott’s petition.

In the end, the hotels withdrew their petition under intense pressure from customers. But you don’t have to wait to make up your mind about the travel industry’s other claims. When you hear “for your own good,” it’s time to start asking questions.

Do you believe a company when it says something is being done "for your own good"?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

15 thoughts on “Beware of travel industry doublespeak

  1. I saw a great example in my town recently. A business had a sign out front that read, “for your convenience,we have closed this site. Please visit us at such-and-such address”. How could closing a site POSSIBLY be more convenient for a customer? I understand the need to close a site, but don’t make it sound like they are doing me favor!

    1. In a similar vein, a store at closing time announcing that it is, say, “closing in 10 minutes at 9pm”, and then adding “for your shopping convenience, we open tomorrow at 10am”. No, I am already here *now*, leaving and coming back in the morning isn’t convenient at all.

      (This is not at all to be unreasonable and say that stores shouldn’t have a closing time; just don’t tell the people who still there near that closing time that coming back tomorrow is for their convenience.)

  2. We have increased the number of home exchanges we engage in, cutting out the hotel industry. Since moving to Europe our US driver’s licenses expired, so car rentals are out. Now if we could just conquer our need for airlines when we cannot take a train, we would be set.

  3. Airlines in particular like to invoke the magic word, “safety”. No one likes to think of an “unsafe” plane falling from the sky, so they tend to let a great deal slide if it’s for “safety” (for example the whole enhanced security screening business). This is just a specialized form of “it’s for your own good”.

  4. “in order to serve you better …” I cringe every time I read that in a letter from any company I do business with because whatever they are informing me about is never better for me.

    Companies never do anything or change policies anymore except when they believe it will benefit them financially.

  5. I think don’t the traveling public, especially the seasoned business traveler, is gullible when it comes to ancillary fees. I think we are just so accustomed to them that we’re not surprised by them anymore. When I book a hotel room, I thoroughly expect that the actual cost will be anywhere from $20-$30 more. When I book a car rental I thoroughly expect to pay $20-$30 more just because of all the additional fees. Doesn’t make it right but the travel industry has won because it has trained us to expect it.

  6. “For your own good” sounds like something my parents said when they made me do something I didn’t want to do. So now we are being treated like children by the travel industry.

  7. I agree that blocking our own wifi hot spots is bad. I haven’t seen evidence of fares going up as a result of the AA/US merger, nor has Delta created a fifth class – they have instead changed the rules of their lowest (E class) tickets to prevent you from upgrading.

  8. My favorite psychobabel is when airlines throw out statements like “we’re listening to our customers and giving you what YOU want”…….when we all know that they have never asked any customers what they prefer. They know darn well if a survey was given asking if people were willing to pay for a bag or food or any amenity on a flight they would get a big, fat NO.

  9. If all these companies did this, Chris would be out of a job. I have having to dig into Terms and Conditions to find out that there may be hidden fees or terms that aren’t disclosed. When they aren’t disclosed, they are never for the travelers good, they are for the companies good.

  10. We haven’t traveled that much by air in the last few years, so I was shocked when I went looking for airfares last night and discovered that everybody but Southwest now charges $25 for the 1st checked bag & $35 for the 2nd! Do they really want everyone to try and get a week’s worth of clothing & toiletries in a carry-on and cram it in those already-stuffed-to-the-gills overhead bins?! Sorry … try as I might, I cannot do it. And this is for my own good? Bullfeathers.

    We were offered a last-minute opportunity to use a friend’s vacation home in FL for the next 2 wks.; that’s why I was looking up airfares. All the cheap ‘Wanna Get Away’ fares departing STL for anywhere in FL were gone, & I don’t have a lot of Rapid Rewards points (a little over 54,000) so I looked at other airlines. Wow. The baggage thing took me by surprise, I guess, because the last couple of times we’ve flown it’s been on Southwest.

    Apparently, Cardinal Nation decided en masse last night to decamp to FL to watch spring training, probably after the weather gurus predicted 6″ of snow! So, we’re renting a car in STL & driving to FL. Oh well, we’re retired and not on a strict timetable …

  11. “We are constantly told by corporations that policies that are contrary to our best interests exist for our own good,” says Jim Jacobs, who works for an educational testing company in Tampa. “These claims are sometimes so ridiculous that only the most gullible among us actually believe them. George Orwell would be proud to know that the doublespeak that he predicted is alive and well in 2015.”

    George Orwell didn’t really predict anything, he simply observed how the cattle fell for two great contemporaries of his : Goebels and Stalin. And you guys thought that all that hard work done by our archetypal psychopaths like the two mentioned above is going to get lost in meanders of history? Think again. MBA is all about efficiency, nothing gets thrown out – especially if it can turn the profit, like history lessons taught by Goebels and Stalin 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: