Got a travel problem? Ask and you shall receive

After Linda Grimes accidentally cracked the windshield on her uninsured Enterprise rental car, she imagined a worst-case scenario unfolding, including months of back-and-forth between her and the company’s legendary claims department.

She says that the car was damaged under innocent circumstances. As she tried to adjust the seat and the rear view mirror, “I heard a crack,” recalls Grimes, an Air Force retiree who lives in Little Elm, Tex. “There was an arch-shaped crack around the rear-view mirror. I was stunned.”

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Sure enough, even after a representative assured her that the damage was “no problem,” she received a repair bill from the car rental company that covered damage and then some, including $311 for a new windshield and a $50 administrative fee.

Like many travelers who think that they’re out of options, Grimes turned to me for help. My first question to her was obvious: Have you asked Enterprise to review your bill? She hadn’t.

In the heat of a customer-service dispute, it’s easy to forget the first rule of a resolution, which is simply to ask the company for help. Whether you’re complaining about a noisy hotel room or a slow refund, it’s human nature to either complain to someone who can’t fix the problem or to keep quiet and hope that the trouble resolves itself.

Grimes contacted the car rental company and reached a representative of its damage recovery unit. “To my surprise, they listened and determined that I was not at fault and are closing the case out,” she says. “They were very polite and said I might receive another letter asking for payment for damages, but to ignore it. I just had to get the right person to listen to my experience with the car.”

An Enterprise representative said drivers should contact the company immediately when they have any concerns about their bill. “Our objective is to do everything we can to quickly investigate and resolve claims,” spokeswoman Laura Bryant said. “The process obviously is not perfect, but it is very detailed and comprehensive, and we thoroughly review all documentation provided by customers. Every precaution is taken to ensure that customers are not inadvertently charged for damage that did not occur during their specific rental period.”

Reliable statistics on the number of travelers who fail to request a resolution are difficult to come by, but a recent Aberdeen Group survey found that on average, companies resolved a customer problem on the first call 65 percent of the time. This suggests that asking for help — as opposed to just venting — is the most effective first step toward a resolution.

It’s often easier said than done, though. Whom to ask? That’s the question Elaine Evosevic-Lozada had when she landed in Orlando recently with her family. Her brother-in-law had reserved a minivan through Hertz.

“When we went to pick it up, they didn’t have any more minivans,” she remembers. That resulted in something of a standoff, with an agent quizzing the family about how many passengers they needed to accommodate, and the family repeating its request for the minivan they’d ordered.

The solution? The Hertz agent pulled a few strings and upgraded the family to a luxury car that could accommodate eight passengers. “They gave it to us for the same price as the minivan,” says Evosevic-Lozada, who works for a nonprofit organization in Pittsburgh.

One thing is certain: Walking away disappointed wouldn’t have helped.

Just asking isn’t always enough. It’s how you make your request, as Teresa Wallis, who also recently vacationed in Orlando, recently discovered.

Her family’s flight from Branson, Mo., to Orlando was canceled, and her family had to wait a day and pay for new airline tickets to get to Disney World. She asked Disney whether she could start her vacation a day later. “They were super accommodating and updated the reservation and sent me a new confirmation e-mail,” she says of Disney.

But when she arrived at the Pop Century resort and tried to check in, a Disney cast member delivered some bad news: They had no reservation.

Worse, the resort was sold out. Wallis asked whether there was a room available at a different hotel.

“At this point, I was almost crying after the stress from the day before and having to go back home with our bags packed, going back to the airport the next day, paying a much higher price for the flight, and then getting there to have no room,” Wallis says.

Disney granted her second wish, too. After about 20 minutes of deliberation, it offered the family accommodations at the Grand Floridian, the resort’s upscale property.

Remembering to say something, but also framing your request in a polite way and being persistent, can dramatically reduce the number of mishaps on your next trip. And that applies to more than a rental car or a hotel problem. Airlines, cruise lines and vacation rental managers also usually respond favorably when a customer comes calling. Just don’t forget to ask.

Do travelers give companies enough of an opportunity to address their problems?

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34 thoughts on “Got a travel problem? Ask and you shall receive

  1. In the last story, why did they need to buy new tickets if the flight was cancelled?
    Something’s not adding up there.

    1. The Branson Airport is small with only two or three airlines that service the various destinations only a couple of times each week. My guess is the OP had to choose between waiting days for the next flight or a refund.

  2. It’s a give and take. Some companies WILL NOT listen and WILL make excuses until blue in the face.

    Other companies run to fix problems and come out wearing a shiny gold star.

    Two tech companies that hit the mark:

    APC Backup Batteries


    Choice hotels has stood by, with some back and forth, to rectify issues.

    Long story short, resolution breaks down to getting someone willing to listen and a company willing to admit blame when bad events happen.

    Sometimes you luck out, and we all know from my story, sometimes you don’t.

  3. Enterprise’s track record with me is a mixed bag. My mother had the misfortune of renting a car with a blown transmission. A short journey home to park the car in the driveway, and starting the car up the next day, left her holding the bag.

    Enterprise had given her a lemon, and tried to make lemonade. It took contacting the CEO to wipe away a 2000 dollar bill sent to my mother. Rhyme and reason dictates a senior citizen isn’t drag racing a car. So a blown transmission is more the work of shotty maintenance or wear and tear.

    So one has to remember, blame is easy to assign. Did you really cause the damage or is the damage just a normal occurrence that isn’t your fault?

    The above story, it’s hard to say really. She drove the car and a rock hit the windshield. Normal road hazard, but she was indeed driving when it happened.

    1. The above story was caused by stress from adjusting the mirror. Not uncommon for mirrors that are attached to the windshield.

      1. Hello Dane,

        Mr. Elliot’s coverage leaves a little to be desired. The story starts out by describing the windshield, only to transition to the rearview mirror.

        Am I correct in saying the main windshield cracked after adjusting the rearview mirror or did the rearview mirror crack upon adjusting?

        In light of the new information, I would guess your case falls under normal wear and tear. You just happened to be the “unlucky” recipient of an item ready to fail on the rental.

          1. I’m reading that as a minor typo/splitting of hairs on the term: 7 pax + 1 driver = 8 people, therefore the vehicle holds 8 “passengers”. My Odyssey with a middle seat will hold 8 people (Driver, front pax, three middle row pax, 3 back bench pax). I don’t know what Hertz offers for large vehicles, but it is perfectly conceivable that there is something in their inventory that would transport 8 total people in the car. And while we’re on semantics, sure an SUV isn’t classed as a “car”, it is still by its very nature a car-like vehicle. I also own a Jeep Grand Cherokee (an SUV), but don’t tell the kids to get in the SUV, I tell them to get in the car.

          2. I tell my kids to get into the van when I want them in the van. If I wanted them in the van, and told them to get into the car, they’d be in a different vehicle.

            Take a look at the Hertz website’s vehicle guide. If you wanted a vehicle for 8, would you reserve a minivan? It also states the driver is considered one of the passengers.

            When I read that someone showed up with 8 people, and wanted a minivan that has room for 7, I saw that as an issue…not splitting hairs. The reason they were “quizzed” is probably so the Hertz agent could get them a vehicle that met their needs.

          3. Yes, they are SUVs. I usually rent that class of vehicle. I’ve been renting from Hertz and I don’t know of any car that holds 8 people.

          4. I agree. Suv’s don’t seat 8 people. I’m guessing an E350 passenger van? That’s meant to seat 8 people comfortably.

    1. Well, if the poll doesn’t need to match the question do the comments? Of course it’s best to try and solve a problem yourself before enlisting help.

      I’m inviting debate. I read something that sets off a red flag (8 passenger luxury car), so I commented on it. It then made me think about it even more.

      In the Hertz example, why did the person reserve a car rated for 7 passengers when there were 8 of them? (I’d post the link to Hertz’ website, but then it would get lost in moderation limbo, anyone can easily find their vehicle guide.)

      We know there are multiple sides to every story. Is it possible an agent at Hertz counted 8 people, and chose to substitute a vehicle rated for more passengers by simply saying they were out of minivans? (Hence the “quiz”.)

      1. I would doubt it. The agent gave the upgrade away for free. As such, he or she has no reason to fudge the truth. Now, when an agent charges for an upgrade anything is possible.

        I also thought that the “rating” were comfort guidelines, not maximum occupancy like hotels do. But that’s just an assumption on my part without any supporting data

          1. Me too. In my country, transporting more passengers than the allowed in the permit may lead to disembark the extra(s) passenger(s) in order to continue the trip. Oh, and a fine too.

          2. I”m confused. We’re talking non-commercial driving. If I’m driving a rental car, who is going to force the extra passenger out of the car?

          3. In this case, the police officers. The reason are safety. It is more enforced at roads than city streets, but you can be caught at cities depending of their mood. And if you are transporting people at the cargo bay or trunk, they can confiscate the car.
            (Carver, please note I’m talking about Brazilian law)

          4. A client of mine was pulled over by police in another county where they had rented a car, for having too many people in the vehicle.

    2. I agree.

      Polite persistence is the key. I once stayed at an Embassy Suites in Southern California. I had a five day stay. One the second day, I noticed that the couch seemed really low, sagging in fact. Turns out that several of the metal pieces were broken. I called maintenance. The very lazy head of maintenance clearly did not want to fix it or replace the sofa. He wanted to know how long was I staying and if I wanted it fixed. He was hinted that I should just accept it. Needless to say, I reiterated that I wanted it fixed or replaced and he grudging obliged.

    3. I just pointed out the fallacy that if a flight is canceled, why would someone buy new tickets? I’m not sure if we were going for the full-on-heartstrings ripping where the OP there had bad travel karma and trumped it up for even more pity.

      (Seriously? An upgrade from a Value to Deluxe Di$ney resort? That’s very generous…)

      1. If the flight was canceled, then they were probably rebooked as standby passengers, meaning their spots on the next flight were not guaranteed. I’m guessing they bought tickets on another carrier to salvage their vacation.

  4. I think you’re getting at one of my general guides. All companies, both the best and the worst, will, at times, mess up. But the difference is that the good companies will fix things properly and right away, while the bad companies won’t. For that reason, in virtually all circumstances, companies should be given a reasonable opportunity to make things right before the consumer escalates the issue or seeks advocacy on his or her behalf.

    The exceptions to that response include (1) substantial evidence exists that the company purposefully (i.e., not negligently) messed up, and (2) legal rights that might depend on taking certain specific action within a specific timeframe. But I think these exceptions rarely apply. Companies are run by people, people make mistakes, and an opportunity ought to be given for the correction of those mistakes.

  5. Thank you for this post. It seems that, all too often, consumers who feel wronged rush to escalate the issue externally before utilizing the appropriate internal methods.

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