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How to put together an effective travel complaint

You may often feel helpless when your flight gets canceled, you get a barely habitable hotel room, or a rental car agency leases you a lemon. Fear not, however! Writing an effective complaint letter may actually get you some recompense for your trouble.

When writing a complaint letter:

  • Be specific: Address exactly what happened, with times, dates, and the actual grievance noted in detail. Identify the travel supplier you’re seeking damages from (if you used a third-party booking agent), and request a concrete total amount in damages you’d like as a refund or credit. If you’re willing to accept vouchers or gift certificates in lieu of cash, state that as well. Be polite but firm; use calm, authoritative language—but don’t make threats.
  • Be persistent: Oftentimes your first letter may go unanswered. Send another if the first generates no response. A one-month wait for a response is a good benchmark.
  • Be savvy: If you still get no response and a large amount of money is at stake, get a lawyer. Alternatively, if a lawyer’s expense may cancel out your hoped-for compensation, seek out the services of an ombudsman at a major travel magazine: You can find effective ombudsman columns at both Condé Nast Traveler and National Geographic Traveler (read its ombudsman online at Nothing makes a travel provider more willing to negotiate than the threat of bad press.

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