Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Getting your just rewards. Being taken for a ride by airlines and hotels?

I've written a lot about fraud in recent times and have what I would call a healthy skepticism of a lot of "corporate" practices. There are many stories that one reads or hears of about how airlines and hotels try to filch frequent fliers/visitors so that the points they accumulate are null and void. I have just had one of those experiences.

I was checking my balance for a major hotel chain, whom I have honoured with my money and nights, and where I have stayed several times in the past 24 months. First, I found that my account details were not recognized online, and on checking found that my card had expired at end-April 2008. So I called and was told that a new card would be on its way in the mail. No problem. So, I asked about my points balance, recalling that there was enough for a night stay (30,000 points). Yes, the balance had been over 40,000 points, but they expired in June 2007 due to a lack of activity over the preceding 12 months; that expiration would have been pre-notified. Alarm bells started ringing. I said that I knew that the airlines and hotels liked it when these points expired, but it was frustrating to not have been forwarned. I took a deep, sigh-laden breath.

I first asked if a copy of the notification could be re-sent to me. A pause; a consultation; a supervisor came on the line. No, the company could not re-send the notification. Shame, I responded, but I really would like proof that it was sent. Was that not possible? Another pause. No. I took a deeper, more sigh-laden breath.

I was then asked what did I want done. I have heard this question before and recognized it as a ploy to see where the customer was prepared to go. We were in a negotiation!

I said, give me the proof on pre-notification or reinstate the points. Another pause. I was then asked when I had last stayed with the chain. I knew that I had been on a week-long visit to Washington DC in late 2006, and was checking my records I said; so was the supervisor he said. He confirmed that I had had a stay in October 2006. So, I said, the points were annulled prematurely. Another long pause. He repeated the principle for annulation. I repeated that I understood and that there had been an error. Another long pause. Yes, sir, you are correct. The points had been annulled prematurely and would be reinstated to my account in a couple of days. How nice, I thought. "Thank you" I said.

I said that I would check again in a few days and if I did not see what had been promised, I would be calling back.

Was I being subjected to a standard business practice, which means that people fall to the line of least resistance, do not ask questions and lose their just rewards?

For frequent travellers some of this is not new. Accumulating the miles and points is very easy, but using them is hard and losing them can be easy. The airlines have recently become more aggressive in cutting the values of the miles and points (see an example).

The true cynic in me asks questions such as "If the customers' miles and points are annulled, where do they go?" It does not take much imagination to see that if the miles have been accumulated then annuling them for a customer does not remove them from "the system". Could it be that these annulations then get transferred into a pool of usable miles that can be exploited by company employees for themselves, friends and families? Who would imagine such a fiendish scheme? We already know that many companies do not let employees keep miles and points they accumulate on business travel and then pool those for the benefit of travel by other administators. And like the cashier who keeps a few pennies from the change that should go to a customer, they all add up.

It's Sunday, so if what I suspect is the case is in fact true, I will pray for the forgiveness of all the souls who are part of this sort of scheme.

Travel is normally put in the category of leisure activity. Those who travel a lot know that there is often not much leisure, and nowadays much less pleasure--ask my wife who wasted Thursday at the airport in Trinidad trying to get back from a day/night visit to Guyana, then could not connect for her three day weekend business trip to St. Kitts. Well, she did then get the leisure of a weekend in Bim and the pleasure of the company of her family and friends over the weekend.

Life ain't easy.

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