But failures don't always rise to the level of measurable financial loss, and instead just result in annoyance, inconvenience, and disappointment. After a final brush-off, many travelers' final response is something like, "I'll never fly your airline" or "I'll never stay at your hotel" again, and maybe "I'll make sure none of my friends will, either." But telling your friends may influence, at best, a few dozen people. If you want to have more of an impact, tell the world. These days, the Internet allows you several ways to do just that:
-- Post to the social media. In 2009, songwriter-performer Dave Carroll wrote and uploaded a song about uncompensated damage to his instrument, "United Breaks Guitars," to YouTube, and so far, it's recorded almost 13 million viewings. Unless you're extremely clever, you can't expect that much impact, but there's always a chance. A really clever tweet can also go a long way.
-- Post to a travel gripe site. Several online gripe sites specialize in posting travel complaints. Among them are airlikes.com (new since my previous gripe site review), airlinecomplaints.com, holidaytruths.co.uk (mainly hotels and tour operators) and travelsucks.com. These sites are all active and current. But focused gripe sites come and go: Missing from my last report are, among others, mytravelrights and tickedofftraveler.
-- Travel complaints are also a big part of the overall gripe sites such as complaintsboard.com, complaints.com (not many travel entries), consumeraffairs.com, consumerist.com, epinions.com, gripevine.com (co-founded by Dave Carroll, who built a career on his broken guitar), my3cents.com, p--sedconsumer.com, planetfeedback.com, ripoffreport.com and thesqueakywheel.com (very difficult to search). Several include composite ratings based on complaint history. Some also claim to help with getting a better resolution, but I don't know of any actual cases.
-- Post to a popular review site. Skytrax (http://www.airlinequality.com/) posts reviews submitted by travelers and incorporates them in its widely recognized star ratings. TripAdvisor, "the world's largest travel site," accepts and scores hotel airline reviews; affiliated site seatguru.com posts and scores complaints about airline seating. Also, major guidebook and magazine sites provide for traveler reviews and complaints. Post hotel and cruise reviews to a big online travel agency (OTA). Outfits such as Expedia and cruisecritic.com post ratings based in part on consumer reviews, but they don't score airlines.
-- Post to the Better Business Bureau. Check bbb.org for a link to the office nearest the supplier's headquarters. Although BBB takes action, it generally doesn't pursue a complaint that doesn't involve financial loss, contract default, or law violation.
-- Send an airline complaint to the Department of Transportation, by letter or online to http://www.dot.gov/airconsumer. DOT seldom takes up individual cases that don't involve a violation of law, but any complaint you send will count against the airline in composite scores that get a lot of nationwide attention.
The advantage of posting to a big site is that Skytrax ratings, TripAdvisor scores, OTA hotel ratings, and DOT reports gain a lot of traction and do influence other consumers. But keep in mind that a high percentage of posted complaints are fairly trivial -- and often very poorly written.
You can submit complaints to as many places as you want; at least you can give the supplier a black mark. But except in rare cases, you can't expect a supplier airline to react to a posting by offering anything of value or even an apology. Posting a complaint may make you feel better, but don't think anyone will lose their job over your plight.
(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins(at)mind.net. Perkins' new book for small business and independent professionals, "Business Travel When It's Your Money," is now available through http://www.mybusinesstravel.com or http://www.amazon.com)