How to Complain

Don't let travel problems undo you. Here's how to voice your concerns and get results.

How to complain, photo illustration, image


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The flight was two hours late—again. You reserved a minivan but got a compact. The motel shower was ice-cold. Anyone can rage, but there's an art to crafting a complaint that gets results. Some tips:

MAKE YOUR CASE IN PERSON The heater in your room doesn't work? Go straight to the front desk. You are more apt to get a repair or a new room—or a reduced bill—if you speak with a manager face-to-face.

PROPOSE A WORKABLE SOLUTION Ron Rosenberg, founder of the consumer empowerment Web site, likes to ask, "What are we going to do to make this right?" Be friendly but firm. If you request compensation, be reasonable: Don't ask for a $200 refund if you paid only $100 for the room.

WRITE TO THE POINT Complaint letters should be sent by registered mail and run no longer than one typewritten page. Avoid email—it seems less serious than a letter—and skip multiple exclamation points or words like idiot and swindle.

LEAVE A PAPER TRAIL File copies of all letters and keep notes of each phone conversation, including dates. Always ask employees for their last names or company ID numbers; such details lend credibility.

CALL IN BACKUP Phone your local Better Business Bureau (listed in the telephone book) or get tips and the bureau's online complaint form at

Illustration by William Duke

This article was first published in November 2004. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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