How to Get Fair Compensation from an Airline or Hotel

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Exploring the beauty of a foreign country, flying to exotic locales in luxury, sampling outlandish foods and opening yourself up to new experiences. At least, that’s what we all hope rewards travel will be. The reality can sometimes fall spectacularly short of our expectations.

If you travel frequently, you're bound to run into situations where the quality of the product, or the service you receive, doesn’t meet your expectations. You pay top dollar (or lots of points) for a flight or hotel room, expecting the product, service, and experience to be of a high standard. But when a company fails to deliver on its promise, what is the most effective way of communicating your complaint, so you receive fair compensation for the inconvenience or missed service?

When travel goes wrong it can be a stressful experience. But asking for the issue to be rectified or for fair compensation shouldn’t be. Follow the tips below and make your flight or stay an enjoyable experience.
When travel goes wrong, it can be a stressful experience. But asking for the issue to be rectified or for fair compensation shouldn’t be.

The Best Way to Have Your Complaint Heard and Addressed by a Hotel or Airline

Before we touch on the specifics of chasing compensation, we just want to nail down one simple but overarching rule that should be in the forefront of your mind when having your complaints addressed.

Be nice.

You will get a better outcome if you are calm, polite, show patience, and treat staff with respect and courtesy. You don’t have to be cheerful or happy, and you can express your displeasure at whatever situation led to your complaints, but if you want the best result and you want staff to support you to a good outcome, manners and patience will get 50% of the job done.

Pinpoint the Issue

The first step is identifying the issue. Record all the details such as the time, location, anyone that was involved, and the precise nature of your complaint. If you’re complaining about a meal or service in a hotel restaurant, take down the name of the staff member involved, your table number, the time and date, and a brief description of events as they occurred. If you turn up to your hotel to find dirty sheets or the hotel has placed you in a smokey hotel room, record the details and take photos on your phone in the case of dirty unprepared rooms. This will help when you try to have the issues addressed.

If the complaint is about the service on a flight, a delay or cancellation, or even a rude gate agent, record the details as soon as the incident happens. It's a lot easier to recall the facts when you've noted down the details and adds credibility to your claim. It also gives the employee dealing with the problem something to copy if the issue cannot be addressed immediately.

Offer a Potential Solution

It’s also important to know how you want the problem rectified before you make your complaint. Focus on a realistic action or compensation from the provider that's in proportion to the issue you’re presenting. Does one cockroach warrant a free room? Probably not. If the hotel has mistakenly placed you in a stinky smoking room, are you within your rights to ask for another room? Absolutely. Add a free drink at the bar while you wait for a room to be prepared? Again, yes. But if you charge in commanding more than the issue warrants, it comes across as entitled and demanding, and destroys any goodwill or motivation the agent dealing with the problem may have towards you.

In the case of delayed or canceled flights in Europe or the US, chances are you'll be entitled to compensation and possibly food, transport, and a hotel. However, if your complaint is about in-flight service, you’ll want to record the flight details, time, names if you have them, and the events that took place so you can present them to the onboard supervisor when your flight reaches its destination. Even something as simple as a broken in-seat entertainment screen. Take a quick video that you can show a supervisor down the track or send via social media or attach to an email with your complaint.

Make Your Complaint Specific and Concise

Make your complaint specific and stick to the topic. If you copped a bad attitude from a reservation agent, don’t complain that you received “bad service from the reservation team.” Call out the specific staff member and what they said, “Janine from reservations was abrasive and complained that I sounded like another rude travel blogger when she thought I was on hold,” — be specific.

It also pays to stick to the point. If you have a whole raft of complaints, don’t let them all go in a single, long-winded breath. Shorten your complaints into bullets and include how you want each particular problem addressed, or provide one solution to all the issues presented.

Don't Immediately Ask for a Supervisor or Manager

Give the person in front of you the opportunity to fix the problem before asking to see a senior staff member. Experienced front desk agents are often empowered with a great deal of authority to rectify situations, without the need for a supervisor or manager getting involved. This can involve moving rooms or upgrades, free food and drink at an onsite restaurant.

By all means, ask to speak to a manager if you don’t think your concerns have been adequately addressed, but often you'll be pleasantly surprised at how a front desk employee can handle your complaints. Remember to document the conversations you have with each employee you talk to so there are no misunderstandings, and you have a clear trail to follow if you need to escalate your complaint. For instance, if you are promised a refund or partial credit, record the name and position of the person who makes the agreement with you alongside the date, time, location, and conversation particulars.

Call in Management or Push the Problem into Public View if Problems Aren’t Addressed

If you don’t feel the issue has been addressed to your satisfaction, you have a couple of options. You can call the General Manager of the hotel or the station manager for an airline, and ask for the solution to be revisited as you don’t feel the outcome was fair. This is where having neat and concise notes detailing the issue, who you’ve spoken to, and any agreements made can come in handy. Not just for you, but also providing the manager with a tidy overview of the issue that they may not receive from hotel or airline staff when multiple people are involved.

You can also air your concerns on the company’s social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook, detailing the specifics of your complaint. From experience, pushing issues out into the public arena can often give the service provider the added motivation to address the problem, particularly when you are specific in your requests and you have your notes to back you up.

You May Also Be Entitled to Additional Compensation from Your Credit Card Provider

It’s worth noting, particularly for airline issues relating to canceled or delayed flights and baggage, that you could already be covered to the tune of thousands of dollars by the travel insurance on your credit card.

For example, cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve® feature differing levels of Trip and Baggage Delay Insurance, which allow passengers to claim for expenses when their flights are delayed beyond a certain number of hours, or their bag never shows up at the flight's destination.

As long as you pay for the travel with your card, or pay the taxes and fees if you're using points/miles, you should be covered under the credit card benefits. For more details on these insurances and which cards provide them, check out our post listing the best credit cards for free travel insurance.

Final Thoughts

Having a realistic idea of how negative situations can be rectified, and proactively addressing issues when they arise can have a big impact on your overall travel experience. It's not uncommon for things to go wrong if you spend enough time on the road (or in the air), and learning how to ask for fair compensation is vital for when things don’t go your way.

Be sure to follow up with the company's corporate office and provide feedback on how well or how poorly the hotel or airline staff dealt with the situation, again making use of your notes full of names, dates, and details, allowing you to remember all the details well after the fact.

Have any tips or tricks to getting fair compensation from a hotel or airline? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!

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  • Social media can be very vocal in escalating your issue and also I believe you should have mentioned EU compensation regulations that in my view should become a template for other countries to implement.

  • If you have a legitimate issue, you should bring it up. Don’t complain just to get a few freebies. Usually, the hotel manager can help, but sometimes you get nowhere. Don’t sweat the small things!!

  • Bertrand Say says:

    What kind of a compensation can you get for a non smoking room that smells of cigarettes? The only thing they did when we complained was to open the windows to air out the room. There was still a smell to the room.

  • I am always on top of reporting bad service and usually do get made whole for bad service. Most recent issue, a charge dropping off a rental car not gven to me in my reservation confirmation. I was told it was a charge for declining a charge. (Really, with a straight face.) They said if you decline to be charged for insurance because your credit card already provides it, you are charged! I’m awaiting the reply now and expect they will make it right. If not, I have the address to every consumer agency in the country. 🙂

  • Good article, hits many important points when seeking compensation for incidents happened during travel.

  • These suggestions are especially valid if the other part is honest and wish to solve a problem.
    Sometimes, the counterpart simply refuse to give compensation and the only solution is to go to court.
    I think a good solution is to oblige the companies which act in bad faith to indemnify the double or more, otherwise it is cheaper to refuse the reimbursement, not everyone has the knowledge and the time to go to justice.

  • Great article. Useful information. Delayed flights in Europe can get good compensation. youAlways try to keep the level head even when displeased with service. Save the freak out for when it is really warranted.

  • Certain companies are much easier to deal with than others. For some companies Twitter is the best way to get through to someone.

  • jason picker says:

    This is true in all areas of life. When you are nice, people respond in kind, when you come out “guns blazing”, people also respond in kind.
    This isn’t to say that one should never use a “guns blazing” approach, but when trying to get compensation from a company, always try a kind approach 1st.

  • So many people complain today and are rude. I completely understand for legit reasons but I find that Americans do complain a lot. Have you seen posts on social media about road rage,calling 911 because a burger isn’t made fast enough?! That all makes me really think about what I complain about anything and how I treat people.

    I find that most people do not know how to complain properly or when, so this is awesome to kind of give a guidance on that! Thank you!

  • Try getting compensation from AA and United

  • SkinnyElvis says:

    If it is a problem with an airline, making a complaint to the dept of transportation can get a change in response in my experience.

  • It’s easier if it’s an American based company. I’ve had little luck with foreign companies. They seem to think Americans complain just to complain.

  • Sometimes phone calls work too (although they take longer and don’t provide the satisfaction of publicly shaming companies). Airports in particular have some miserable employees lately, but there are also some great ones who really try hard to accommodate passengers.

  • Good article… I can never get fair compensation this should help

  • I’ve found usually Twitter gets an extremely fast response time from larger companies if staff members aren’t cooperating

  • Very good advice, especially about patience and being polite. I have seen too many people who thought they were overly entitled treating employees as if they were slaves. Things happen and are usually resolved with a bit of patience.

  • I tried Twitter it worked for me.