5 Tips for Writing a Complaint Letter

It’s not surprising that the more you travel, the more likely you are to encounter problems. I sure have had my share of issues after more than a quarter century of business travel, including one trip from hell that began with this 39-hour nightmare heading to a BoardingArea conference no less, and ended with a return that was hardly any better. Joe Sharkey of the New York Times even turned this disaster into a column. Here is where I summarized this Travelanche experience. And before you start thinking I am old, I began traveling for work when I was only 3 years old. J

Writing a Letter

Not surprising, airlines generate the majority of complaints because, well, more things can go wrong. If you are flying, there may be issues with things like delayed flights, canceled flights, missed connections, and lost baggage. Others complain about the in-flight entertainment, passengers in front of you reclining their seats, wrestling for the armrest, and of course, the food. The loudest complaints relate to screaming children and sitting between two oversized individuals. Further down on the list but quite prominent nevertheless are passengers of odor.

For hotels, it may be an uncomfortable bed, all kinds of noise outside the room, dripping faucet, runny toilet, or draperies that refuse to close all that way. And that’s if you didn’t already complain about dragging all your luggage up three flights of stairs and walking down a long dark hallway to find your room, only to discover that the room key card didn’t work.

Rental car companies are not immune either. Sometimes you get a clunker, sometimes they stink inside, and worst of all, you get a notice for an outrageous repair bill when you know you returned the car in the same condition you received it. Heck, I once got a flat tire that would take so long for the rental company to respond, I had to call my own AAA service to rescue me on the side of a highway.

Despite my personal travel setbacks, I rarely write complaint letters. In fact, the only time I do is when addressing a concern that will help with either something systemic with the provider or if it’s a safety issue. I am no longer surprised by delayed or canceled flights, I expect the food to taste like airplane food, baggage does get delayed or lost – or even stolen – and I rarely get lucky and rent a new car. And yes, I have been in hotel rooms where the people next door engaged in marathon attempted baby making, apparently believing that their success was tied to their endurance for how long and how loud they can be. My travel expectations are very realistic so I am rarely upset.

But others feel the need to express their disappointment or anger. This article highlights some of the most publicized complaints floating around the web but humor aside, they all have one thing in common – they are too long.

If you feel the need to vent to a travel provider, your best chance for a successful response is to do the following:

  1. Keep it short and to the point. Provide your frequent flier number and include specifics like dates, flight number, seat number, and names of people if appropriate. No need to add comments about your loyalty or elite status because they already know that information.
  2. Don’t bother threatening them with moving to a competitor. They already know that some will, others only say an empty threat. And think about it, why would they want to help you if you are leaving them anyway?
  3. Address specific and succinct issues that caused the problem. Some examples are above. Keep the comments to a few paragraphs or less. The more wordy you are, the less they are actually read.
  4. Offer a solution. Be specific about what you want them to do. It helps to be realistic but if you want miles or points, tell them how many. If you want a refund, tell them how much. You may want to include a sentence supporting why you believe your request is reasonable.
  5. Avoid phone contact unless it is an emergency. Phone calls do not leave a paper trail if you need to follow up. Instead, use their online complaint form or use snail mail if you need to send documents like papers, photos, etc.

You still may not get the response you would like, but hopefully you will feel better after letting them know how you feel. And who knows? Your words may be heard and future travel experiences may be better for it — for you and for us!

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  1. If someone tried to help but was unsuccessful, let them know that as well. I once had a lost luggage issue on an international flight on the way to China, and one of FAs helped by getting me local contact information and wrote down the proper Chinese phrases to help resolve the issue for once we landed. She was quite helpful, and I mentioned this to management – it never hurts the helper to let the bosses know that someone tried to help and was not successful.

  2. Also, always be courteous. A mean, screaming letter full of expletives will get you no where. be polite, but also stand your ground and request what you believe to be fair compensation.

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