What to Do When Bad Things Happen (How to Complain & Get What You Want)

Just in case you have the unfortunate experience of a vacation disaster, we've put together some road-tested methods to making a complaint work.
The travel supplier will often volunteer to resolve a problem. The consumer-relations (also know as customer-complaint) offices deal with after-the-fact problems. You can reach them by snail mail or E-mail. (Most web sites have a comment option.) It is a good idea to follow up your letter with a fax, then they know that you mean business.

*Tally your losses. Estimate the dollar amount of the damage you suffered-including what you paid for and didn't get, the value you place on lost time or serious inconvenience.

*Read the fine print. Know exactly what the supplier promised. You'll make a lot of progress when you can show that a contract was breached.

*Write a letter. State your case to the supplier's consumer-relations office. Make sure to mention the circumstances, dates, times, flight numbers, room numbers, tour guides and personnel that you dealt with. For extra backup, send copies of receipts and photos. The letter should be typed and kept to one page.

*Ask for a specific remedy. The biggest mistake that you can make is not asking for a specific remedy. Don't rely on the supplier to volunteer an offer. Your request should be practical, like a refund or a credit. This is easier to get than cash. It isn't realistic to think that the offensive employee will be fired.

*Try twice. Your first letter will often generate a brush-off form letter. Send a second letter, summarizing your original complaint and showing how the supplier failed to address it the first time.

*Give the supplier a chance. The supplier is dealing with many people. Let a reasonable time elapse before seeking outside help. (Better Business Bureaus, consumer-help programs, organizations or law enforcement agencies)

*Negotiate. If the supplier's response has any offers of compensation, they are admitting that your case has merit. If they make a fair offer, take it. Otherwise, feel free to counteroffer.

*Get help. If the supplier doesn't respond to your second letter, it is time to find a consumer-help program that will take up your cause. Another course of action is to try legal action with an attorney or in small-claims court.

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