“You have to talk with a manager,” says Holly Schroth, a negotiating expert and senior lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley. “The first person you’re likely to talk to is charged with making you go away. They want to brush you off.”
People who deal with dispute resolution say that the sooner you talk with someone in authority — and preferably in person — the greater your chances of skipping the automated systems that can generate lowball offers. But they’re quick to add that a manager should only be called when the situation warrants it.
“A customer shouldn’t demand to see the supervisor or general manager every time there is a problem,” says Gary Poon, author of “The Corporate Counsel’s Guide to Mediation.” “Customers should exercise their own discretion over whether or not to go up the corporate ladder.”
That’s true, too. While travel companies are concerned with their reputations, they are understandably reluctant to give away the store. Poon recommends asking a series of questions before launching an appeal, including: How bad is the problem? Can I live with the amount being offered or do I need to demand more? How much trouble am I willing to go through in order to get the amount I think I deserve?
“What’s the best outcome you can reasonably hope for?” he asks.
For Sabatini, the problem was worth an appeal in writing. But a careful review of American Airlines’ contract of carriage — the legal agreement between her and the airline — suggested that it owed her nothing for the lengthy delay. She has put her appeal in writing and is awaiting the outcome.
Plott and his family reluctantly accepted the shortened Carnival cruise, but instead of appealing to the cruise line for extra compensation, he decided to dispute the charges on his card. The reason? Carnival didn’t refund his port charges for the missed stops, as it had promised.
“I’ll let American Express decide how much to pay them,” he says. “I don’t anticipate a full refund. I’m sure they’ll get something, but I was fed up with the runaround from customer service.”
Elliott is National Geographic Traveler magazine’s reader advocate.