Airline or hotel owe you money? Use these tips to get your refund

Biking the North Idaho Centennial Wilderness Trail
Slide 1 of 40: How to write an airline consumer complaint: 1. Be precise. Include details such as your confirmation code, flight number and travel date. 2. Cut the drama. When you claim that your entire 10-day trip to Barcelona was "ruined" because the flight attendant spilled orange juice on your leather jacket, you trigger eye-rolls at the airline. 3. Explain what you want. Don’t leave the airline guessing. Are you asking them to refund your checked bag fee? To add miles to your frequent-flier account? To simply apologize?
Slide 2 of 40: How to find the best road stops: 1. Identify the official rest areas before you leave. Most states list their welcome centers and rest areas online. 2. Do your research on roadside businesses. If you have a smartphone, doing a quick search on Yelp or TripAdvisor before your stop will help you choose between several gas stations. 3. Time your stops if you can. Planning your road trip stops can help you avoid the worst road stops.
Slide 3 of 40: Three things airlines won't tell you about vouchers: 1. We're legally required to offer you cash. In some cases, such as a canceled flight, an airline is required to offer you a refund. Instead, it will try to offer to rebook the flight or give you a voucher. 2. The blackout dates make it impossible to redeem the voucher. Make sure you read the fine print on the voucher before you agree to it. If you don't like the terms, ask for a better deal, or a refund. 3. The credits will expire sooner than you think. Airline representatives are particularly vague about the terms. In reality, most airline credits last far less than a year from the date of your aborted trip.
Slide 4 of 40: How to get around the new carry-on rules: 1. Fit it all into your "personal" item. That's defined as a shoulder bag, purse, laptop bag or other small item that is 9 inches x 10 inches x 17 inches or less. 2. Use a luggage shipping service. Companies such as Luggage Forward and many other similar services will send your bags ahead of you for a price. 3. Be the first to board and have the right ticket. Avoid "basic" economy-class fares and discount airlines such as Allegiant, Frontier and Spirit, which charge extra for carry-on items.
Slide 5 of 40: Tips for avoiding a missing hotel reservation: 1. Call to confirm before your visit. Yes, even if you booked directly with the hotel. 2. Double check your dates. Even veteran travelers get hotel dates wrong. 3. Make a printout of your reservation. A hard copy printout remains the most reliable evidence of your reservation.
Slide 6 of 40: How to switch seats with another airplane passenger: 1. Be polite: Sometimes, you won't have any leverage, like a better seat or a set of extenuating circumstances. A "please" and "thank you" can overcome all of that. 2. Sweeten the deal: Offer to buy the passenger a drink or slip them a few $20 bills. 3. Wait, then ask your flight attendant: After your flight reaches cruising altitude, try asking the flight attendant for help. You may also want to ask for the purser, or chief flight attendant, if your requests to be reseated are rebuffed.
Slide 7 of 40: Tips for getting a vehicle when they run out of rental cars: 1. Confirm your reservation: Contact your car rental agency a day before you arrive. Always bring your reservation confirmation to show the rate you paid. Make a printout, just in case the battery on your phone dies. 2. Arrive on time: Check in as close as possible to the time indicated on your reservation. 3: Have a Plan B: That could mean renting from a competitor, taking a bus or using a cab or a popular ride-sharing service.
Slide 8 of 40: How to get more comfortable airline seats: 1. Avoid "low cost" carriers. Airlines like Allegiant, Frontier, and Spirit have a well-deserved reputation for small seats and a scarcity of personal space. 2. Look for the good seats in economy. The exit row and bulkhead seats typically have more room than a standard seat, if you can afford them. The worst seats are the ones in the rear of the aircraft, which don't recline. 3. Travel with pillows and blankets. Even if you're in a "premium" seat, it's also true that the cushions aren't what they used to be.
Slide 9 of 40: How to find the best – and avoid the worst – hotel room: 1. Note the age of the hotel: The older the hotel, the less comfortable and older the beds will be. 2. Don't forget about safety. The safest rooms are located on the side of the hotel farthest from the front entrance, located above ground level but not on the top floor (nothing higher than the sixth floor), without a balcony and not overlooked by another room. 3. Use a rebooking site. Sites such as or can help you score an upgrade. They look at the reservations you’ve already made. If a nicer room opens up at that price, you automatically get switched over.
Slide 10 of 40: How to find quiet when you travel: 1. Book where there's less noise. The front of the aircraft is less noisy and tends to have a quieter kind of passenger (read: business travelers). On a train, look for the quiet cars. 2. Block it. Noise canceling headsets can filter out unwanted noise. But if you're serious about avoiding noise pollution, always travel with a pair of earplugs. 3. Timing is everything. Don't expect to get much quiet if you're in New Orleans around Mardi Gras or in one of the popular spring break destinations in March.
Slide 11 of 40: What to do at the airport for free while you wait: 1. See the art. Phoenix Sky Harbor, for example, has an impressive collection of art. 2. Watch the planes. One of the best places to plane-spot is Honolulu International Airport. Terminals there are connected by long, open-air walkways, where you can see the aircraft up close, smell the aircraft fuel and hear the deafening roar of aircraft engines revving up. 3. Take a hike. Stretch your legs before you take off by walking through the airport terminal.
Slide 12 of 40: How to get an aisle seat: 1. Ask for it. Airlines will assign a desirable aisle seat to passengers who need the extra room or access to the lavatory. You can also ask a fellow passenger to switch with you after boarding. 2. Pull the card. If you have a loyalty card, you may be entitled to a better seat, even if you're sitting in economy class. 3. Pay for one. Airlines will love this suggestion because they'll make more money from you. But if avoiding a window or aisle is important, you may want to spend a few extra dollars.
Slide 13 of 40: How to avoid a flight from hell: 1. Avoid connecting and late flights. Generally, the more connections you make, and the later in the day your flight leaves, the greater the chances something will go wrong. 2. Know your rights. By far the best resource for airline consumer rights, at least when it comes to federal regulations, is the DOT's Fly Rights brochure, which is available online. Also, check your airline's contract of carriage. 3. Be grateful. Take a deep breath and appreciate the big picture. If your flight lands safely, that's the most important thing.
Slide 14 of 40: How to keep your personal information private while traveling: 1. Use a virtual private network. A VPN creates a secure encrypted tunnel between your device and a server somewhere on the Internet. That makes it nearly impossible for someone on the same network to eavesdrop on your network traffic. 2. Tell your phone to say "no." Disable location services, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi when possible. 3. Use caution in rental cars. Either manually enter the address into the car’s navigation system or use your own device, but don't connect to the infotainment system.
Slide 15 of 40: How to avoid air rage: 1. Fly early. Experts say alcohol and drugs are a major factor of in-flight incidents. So book an early morning flight to avoid heavily intoxicated passengers. 2. Avoid tight quarters. Use a site such as Routehappy that finds flights based on amenities and comfort. 3. And choose the right seat. A bulkhead row, exit row or seat near the galley might be less likely to be the scene of a midair disturbance.
Slide 16 of 40: How to fight questionable car rental tactics: 1. Sign up for a company's frequent-renter program, which allows you to state your preferences before you arrive. That could make you less vulnerable to upgrade, downgrade and option games. 2. Automated check-in kiosks limit the amount of interaction with a salesperson. But pay close attention to what you're agreeing to on the screen. 3. Carry a copy of your car insurance or evidence of insurance through your travel insurance policy or credit card. If you don't, a representative could pressure you — or even deny you the keys to a car.
Slide 17 of 40: How to avoid fees on your rental car:  1. Tolls: Car rental companies add extra fees for using their transponders, sometimes charging by the day. Either bring your own toll transponder or avoid tolls with a reliable mapping app. 2. High insurance rates: Car rental insurance can be found in unexpected places, including your own credit card, travel insurance policy or as a standalone product from your online travel agency. 3. Tickets: Download an app like Speed Cameras & Traffic by Sygic, which lets you see the speed limit for the road you are traveling on, or CamSam Plus, which alerts you to speed cameras. Many GPS navigation systems also come equipped with traffic enforcement warnings.
Slide 18 of 40: How to spot hidden fees: 1. Don't get cute. If you're booking online, avoid pop-up blockers, unconventional browsers or anything that might interfere with the normal display process. Why? Clever operatives can hide their disclosures in places that can't be seen if you're browsing in an unconventional way. 2. Use a big screen. Making reservations on a tiny phone screen is just asking for trouble. 3. Review the grand total. Almost always, you'll find every required extra, including taxes and fees, as part of the "final" charge.
Slide 19 of 40: How to prevent your identity from being stolen: 1. Don't play fast and loose with your ID. Your passport and ID are some of the most important travel documents. Don't leave them in your hotel room. And when you carry them on your person, keep them close to you, preferably in a money belt or travel wallet. 2. Keep 'em separated. Don't store critical documents in the same place. You may need one in order to replace the other. 3. Upload copies of critical documents online. A copy of a document by itself will not allow you to travel, but it can make the process to replace a passport a whole lot easier.
Slide 20 of 40: How to avoid smells at hotels: 1. Go hypoallergenic. Stay with a hotel that offers hypoallergenic rooms, which are not scented. Most of the major chains now offer no-smell quarters. 2. If you smell something, say something. Some hotels pump smells into every part of the property. If you're sensitive to scents, don't wait until you're halfway through your visit to complain. 3. Fumigate your own room. If all else fails, open a window, or find the source of the smell and stop it.
Slide 21 of 40: How to say no to a tip request: 1. Be polite and firm, but don't over explain. 2. Avoid a confrontation. Restaurants and other establishments generally push you to offer a tip privately. Just leave the tip field on your credit card slip blank or decline to leave extra cash. 3. Use the system to your advantage. For example, can the employee see the tip amount you're authorizing on Square? Not always. If you don't believe you should be tipping, just click the "no tip" field and sign the screen.
Slide 22 of 40: How to avoid a dirty hotel: 1. Set high standards. Stay at a hotel with top-notch reviews or customer service scores. 2. Check in and check out. If a hotel doesn't meet your standards, don't let an employee talk you into staying, even if you've prepaid for your stay. Leave and ask for a refund. If you don't get it, dispute the charges on your credit card. 3. Report the hotel. If you check into a property that's unlivable, your next call needs to be to the health department to report the condition of the hotel.
Slide 23 of 40: How to avoid a vacation rental surprise: 1. Rent with names you trust. Airbnb, VRBO and FlipKey have legitimate rentals and higher standards. 2. Assume nothing. Every vacation rental comes with linens, right? Wrong. 3. Never wire money. Wiring money can lead to the most unpleasant surprise of all: a rental that doesn't even exist.
Slide 24 of 40: How to spot a fake review: 1. Check the reviewer's record. Fake reviews are often posted by accounts with little or no additional review history. 2. Show and tell. Talk is cheap, but photos of a resort or restaurant are harder to fake. You might think twice before trusting a detailed review without photos. 3. Look for extremes. If you see a one-star or a five-star rating or a lot of superlatives in the description, chances are you're looking at a fake.
Slide 25 of 40: How to avoid a traffic ticket overseas: 1. Stay out of downtown areas. Restricted zones are largely confined to heavily congested city centers. 2. Do the math. Pay particular attention to the difference between kilometers and miles, and slow down unless you want a speeding ticket! 3. Read the signs. Look for red circles with the words "Zona Traffico Limitato" in them when you're in Italy. In Germany, it's called an "Umweltzone." In Britain, the signs read, "Congestion Charging" and "Central Zone."
Slide 26 of 40: How to fit more in your suitcase: 1. Cube it. Luggage cubes allow you to compress lots of clothes into a compact space. 2. Vacuum pack it. You'd be surprised how much air is between the clothes in your carry-on. A vacuum packing technology can create even more space, although your clothes may be a little wrinkly. 3. Roll it. Instead of folding your clothes and pushing them into the bag, fold and then roll. Even without a cube or vacuum pack, you'll fit more in your luggage.
Slide 27 of 40: How to avoid unfair fees: 1. Single supplement: Some cruise lines offer single cabins. And some tour operators charge modest single supplements. 2. Non-refundable tickets: Southwest Airlines has some of the most passenger-friendly fares and fees, when it comes to changes. 3. Fuel surcharges: Fortunately, these fees must be included in the price of your ticket. But if you see an airline with high fuel surcharges in time of lower oil prices, you may want to seek one that doesn't. 4. Resort fees: Don't stay at a hotel with resort fees. It's the only way to send a message that you don't tolerate these misrepresentations.
Slide 28 of 40: How to avoid a car rental surprise: 1. Read the fine print. Many surprises aren't surprises at all — they're just "gotchas" concealed in the fine print. Look for the "terms and conditions" in small type. Don't ignore them. 2. Ask before you rent. Does your car insurance cover the vehicle? How about your credit card? The only way to know for certain is to ask. If you assume, you may be stuck with an unnecessary bill. 3. Resolve in real time. Don't wait until you get home to fix a bad surprise. Most problems can be resolved at the counter.
Slide 29 of 40: How to find the best agent: 1. Ask a friend. A personal recommendation remains the best way to find a competent travel professional. 2. Use an agent finder. The American Society of Travel Agents publishes a directory of its agents at Also, check a consortium such as Virtuoso or Travel Leaders. 3. Look for the title. The Certified Travel Associate (CTA) and Certified Travel Counselor (CTC) designations issued by The Travel Institute are signs that your agent has taken the time to study up on the industry.
Slide 30 of 40: How to avoid visa problems: 1. Mind your expiration dates. Both visas and passports have an expiration date. Be aware of them, and make sure you don't overstay. 2. Take the right photo. Countries are specific about their requirements (no sunglasses, no hats, specific formatting). 3. Remember, a visa isn't a guarantee of admission.
Slide 31 of 40: How to avoid wrinkled clothes: 1. Roll, don't fold. It doesn't just save space, it can prevent wrinkles. 2. Spray 'em out. Wrinkle-release sprays can fix travel-related wrinkles in a pinch. 3. Don't overpack — or underpack. “Wrinkling is caused when the bag is underpacked or overstuffed, so add or remove items until you have the perfect amount of items to keep the items in place while traveling," advises author Tori Toth.
Slide 32 of 40: What standard travel insurance doesn't cover: 1. Pre-existing medical conditions. Though some policies offer a waiver for medical conditions, you have to make sure you meet all of its conditions. 2. Changing your mind. Don't want to take the vacation? Most insurance won't cover you, but you can always go for a more expensive "cancel for any reason" policy, which would. 3. Psychological or nervous disorders. If you can't board a flight because you're afraid of flying, you generally can't file a successful claim. 4. Partying too hard. If you had a little too much to drink the night before your return flight and missed it, don't bother filing a claim.
Slide 33 of 40: How to keep your travel complaint from being ignored: 1. Cite the rules, chapter and verse. If you have a strong case for compensation or a refund, it'll be in the contract. 2. Lawyer up — without lawyering up. Without threatening to go to court, let the company know that it may be violating the law (if, indeed, it is). 3. Appeal to a company's customer service culture. Travel companies frequently promote warranties, customer promises or mission statements that claim to put you first. A quick reference to these documents can be enough to persuade an airline, car rental company, hotel or cruise line to do the right thing.
Slide 34 of 40: How to avoid an in-flight emergency: 1. Know when you shouldn't go. Generally, you should avoid flying if you're sick, recovering from a serious illness or have a condition that is easily exacerbated by the stress of flying. 2. Don't fly if you're contagious.Airlines will issue a credit and may waive the change fee if you can prove you were sick at the time you were supposed to fly. 3. Avoid flights that could divert. Some flights are likelier to experience a medical emergency than others, particularly those to destinations that tend to attract retirees or passengers in poor health. Flights to Las Vegas, Miami and Fort Lauderdale may fall into that category.
Slide 35 of 40: Who to call if your travel insurance claim has been denied: 1. Your state insurance commissioner. To find your insurance commissioner, visit the National Association of Insurance Commissioners site: Some travelers have reported that their claims were honored after copying their state insurance commissioner on their appeal. 2. The Better Business Bureau (BBB). The BBB investigates claims of this nature, but it has little sway over the final outcome of your appeal. 3. A consumer advocate. Even though travel insurance companies operate "by the book," they can be prodded into changing their minds by an outside party. Check out the National Association of Consumer Advocates site for a referral:
Slide 36 of 40: How to handle a rude TSA agent: 1. Report the agent to a supervisor. Ask for a Supervisory Transportation Security Officer (STSO) immediately. 2. Complain in writing. You can send an email directly to the TSA ( 3. Contact your elected representative. You can contact your representative online at Congress has tried to hold the agency accountable for its actions in the past, and its vigilance is bipartisan.
Slide 37 of 40: How to avoid missing amenities in your vacation rental: 1. Carry a vacation rental emergency kit. If you're staying at a rental, be prepared. Consider an emergency kit with towels, toilet paper, soap and detergent. 2. Consider renting through a service. Companies such as Vacasa, Wyndham Vacation Rentals and TurnKey Vacation Rentals go beyond bare-bones listings. 3. Just ask. Vacation rental owners can be very accommodating.
Slide 38 of 40: How to opt out of aggressive email campaigns: 1. Click the unsubscribe button. Every legitimate email campaign must have one. The sooner you click it, the louder your message to the hotel, tour operator or cruise line that these high-pressure tactics won't be tolerated. 2. Say "no" — and say why. Most travel companies will offer a "feedback" option when you opt out of an email campaign. Tell them why you're unsubscribing, especially if the annoyance affects whether you'd do business with them again. 3. Tell the feds. Complain to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) if a business is emailing you without consent. Under the CAN-SPAM Act, you have the right to end the seemingly relentless emails.
Slide 39 of 40: Tips on avoiding tips: 1. Take out instead of eating out. If you order takeout, no tip is expected because no table service is provided. 2. Visit a business with a no-tipping policy. But beware: Instead, some "no tipping" restaurants add a mandatory "service charge" of 18% to 20%. 3. Avoid the outstretched hands. (You can.) You can stay in vacation rentals, rent a car or use mass transit, buy your food in a grocery store and take the self-guided tour and avoid having to leave a tip.
Slide 40 of 40: How to book a hotel the smart way:   1. Start with a thorough search. Check an online travel agency like Expedia or or call your travel agent. Check the rate against the price your preferred hotel would charge if you book direct. 2.   Review the restrictions. Hotels can impose restrictions for booking through their site, like making their rooms non-refundable, so read the conditions closely before deciding where to go. You might be better off working with a big agency that has negotiated better terms. 3.   Check the incentives. Ask yourself if you really need the points or the upgrade.
































Travel insurance safe background.









Travel companies love to keep your money, even when they’re not supposed to. If you don’t believe me, ask Melina Jose, who was supposed to fly from Paris to Orlando, Florida, recently.

Her itinerary, booked through Expedia, included several airlines. But on her return flight, one of the legs, on Flybe from Paris to Manchester, England, mysteriously vanished. She and her husband, Jerard, had to pay $437 for new tickets.

Although she sent Expedia all of her receipts, the online travel agency refused to refund the unused leg or the new ticket she had to buy. And the airlines deferred to Expedia.  

“They were giving us the runaround,” says Jose, a medical technologist from DeLand, Florida.

Stories like hers repeat themselves every hour of every day. Airlines and other travel companies make it so easy for money to flow their way. But when it comes to refunds, they quote rules and policies designed to make it difficult, if not impossible, to get a refund. Experts say you can overcome those hurdles by using the right payment method, creating a paper trail, and knowing how to appeal your case.

Jose waited three months before contacting me. I got in touch with Expedia, and it finally refunded her $437.

That’s one way to do it.

How you pay matters

If you think you might want a refund on a travel product at some point – and let’s face it, who doesn’t? – then how you pay matters. Settling with a debit card, a check or even a wire transfer means the money is gone. But use a credit card, and you have the full force of federal law (the Fair Credit Billing Act) and your credit card’s resolution department in your corner. That way, when a company drags its feet on a refund, you can file a chargeback.

“It’s always best to book any tour, hotel or activity for your trip with a major credit card,” explains Claire Soares, founder of the travel company Up in the Air Life. “Your card has consumer protection programs built in so you can challenge a charge if the vendor does not fulfill what was promised. With the backing of a major credit card you can even dispute part or a percentage of the services provided.”

Experts say you shouldn’t use a credit card dispute unless you have no other choice, which is to say the travel company won’t refund your purchase even though it’s agreed to do so. Give the system a chance to work before filing a chargeback.

Be informed and blaze a paper trail

“Be informed,” says Michael Foguth, founder of Foguth Financial Group in Brighton, Michigan. Foguth says details matter. “And pay attention.”

Attention to what, though? What kind of “money” the travel company wants to send you, for starters. For example, airlines love to send you vouchers, but that funny money expires after a year. If you pay by credit card, you should receive a refund to that credit card. Don’t accept vouchers or points.

Also, keep every email and receipt. Experts say the “paper trail” will get you a refund faster. I can’t guarantee this – I’ve advocated many cases where a company promised a refund in writing – but it can help.

Finally, make sure you’re dealing with the right company. Jose had approached her online agency and every airline in her itinerary. But in the end, Expedia was responsible for her refund; as her travel agent, it needed to work with those airlines to determine the right refund.

Appeal your case

Miguel Suro, a Florida attorney who writes a personal finance blog called Rich Miser, says if “no” is the answer, you need to appeal to someone who can turn it into a “yes.”

“For airlines, if you get nowhere with the airline itself and have a valid claim, file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation,” he says. “Airlines hate it when you get a third party involved, and may respond favorably. I had to do this for a foreign airline that owed me a partial refund for a flight originating in the U.S., and they wound up giving me a full refund, voluntarily.”

You don’t always have to appeal to the government. For example, you can shoot an email to an executive of a hotel chain when one of the properties refuses to offer a refund you deserve. (I publish a full list of customer service executive contacts on my nonprofit consumer advocacy site, Often, a brief, polite written appeal to someone higher up can do wonders.

If you want to make sure you get your travel refund every time, remember to use a credit card, keep every email and be ready to appeal your case. And if that doesn’t work – well, you can always contact me.

Using the three ‘P’s’ for a refund

One of the techniques I’ve developed as a consumer advocate is called the three “P’s.” It works great on refunds.

• Patience. Give the company at least a week to respond to your refund request and two credit card billing cycles to pay you.

• Persistence. Don’t let months pass by without letting the company know that your money is still missing. If necessary, set a calendar reminder so that you don’t forget.

• Politeness. Angry demands for a refund and threats to take a company to court almost always backfire. The company may refer your case to its legal department, where it could linger for weeks or months. Be nice!

Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate. Contact him at [email protected] or visit

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Airline or hotel owe you money? Use these tips to get your refund

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