Advice: Check emails confirming travel plans for possible errors

Last August, Sandy Callahan booked a package tour with G Adventures. It started in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Oct. 29 and ended in Bangkok, Thailand, on Nov. 14.

The same day, she went to online travel agency Expedia to book a flight from Toronto to Hanoi and a return flight from Bangkok to Toronto.

Expedia suggested she find a hotel, so she reserved a room at the O’Gallery Premier Hotel & Spa in Hanoi in advance of the tour.

“I booked what I thought was a one-night stay,” she said. “I briefly noticed that the total was over $1,000, but I thought that my flight and hotel were combined. I normally book a flight and hotel with Expedia, but this was not a simple return flight.”

Six hours later, the hotel in Hanoi sent an email, confirming that she had a reservation for 17 days in total.

“I was shocked to discover the length of stay was not what I had input,” she said. “Expedia’s customer service rep tried to contact the hotel, but couldn’t reach anyone with the authority to change the reservation.”

A day later, Expedia sent her an email, blaming the hotel for making a non-refundable booking.

“We have advocated your case with O’Gallery Premier Hotel & Spa,” the online travel agency said. “Due to their policy, they have unfortunately denied your request of cancelling your reservation.

“We apologize for the inconvenience this may have caused. We hope you will give us an opportunity to assist you with your travel plans again soon.”

Callahan waited six weeks. Expedia told her it would plead with the hotel to change the refund policy in her case or find other travellers to take over her reservation. No luck.

She got a refund of about $1,300 a few days after I contacted Expedia’s Canadian office in late September. I’ve had excellent results dealing with this company on behalf of Toronto Star readers in 2019 and again in 2017.

“We connected with the hotel, advocated on the traveller’s behalf and have gone ahead and processed a refund for 16 of the 17 nights,” Expedia spokesperson Mary Zajac said.

Expedia’s advice for travellers is (1) Double check confirmation emails at the time of booking; and (2) Make sure everything you expected is reflected correctly when you check out or when the email is sent to you.

I agree. Reviewing confirmation emails ASAP lets you correct errors without incurring a penalty. But in this case, there was a gap of only six hours.

“This should have been a small enough lapse to grant me a change in what was obviously an error originating with Expedia,” Callahan said.

“I feel they should have been more persuasive in getting the hotel to change the reservation, since they have the full clout of Expedia.com, Hotels.com and more.

“I am an Expedia Gold customer and I expected more from them.”

Note to blog readers: You can now get my updates through Mail Chimp. Sign up at the right side of the home page on your computer.

I plan to continue my consumer advocacy here, though you may have wondered about it when I disappeared for the last month.

Blame it on a tendency to overbook myself with speaking engagements, teaching continuing education courses, volunteer work and some travel. Now I’m ready to start blogging again and getting your comments.

Expensive Whirlpool fridge never worked properly

Mindy Pollishuke paid $2,700 for a KitchenAid refrigerator in 2013. It was a KFIS29PBMS French door model with 28.6 cubic feet of space.

Alas, her fancy fridge needed repairs twice a year. The ice buildup was so extensive that it would overheat and stop working.

“We had to empty the whole fridge out multiple times and find neighbours to store our food temporarily,” she said. “The extra bar fridge and small freezer we bought a few years ago were not big enough to hold it.”

In January 2019, after the fridge died three times in one week, she wrote to me in despair. I contacted Whirlpool (the manufacturer), which offered a cash settlement to let her buy a new model.

While happy to get rid of her lemon, Pollishuke didn’t like the buyback offer of only $1,362.78. It didn’t reflect the cost of repairs and the replacement cost of a new fridge.

Last month, I went back to Whirlpool to plead for a bigger buyback. I couldn’t imagine living with the disruption of emptying my fridge every six months and finding shelter for its contents elsewhere.

Whirlpool’s customer service department had a warm heart after all. It offered a full refund of $3,049.87 (including tax) for her six-year-old refrigerator that didn’t cool properly.

“I can’t thank you enough for all your assistance through this very frustrating ordeal,” Pollishuke said.

She’s not alone. If you check reviews for this model at Amazon.com, you find that 91 per cent of purchasers give it a rating of one star out of five.

Here are some of the headlines:

“Horrible. Do not buy this product.”
“Manufacturer knows there is a problem and will not replace, even if field warranty service cannot fix it.”
“LEMON — Beautiful design, terrible company warranty policy.”

My advice: Don’t buy an appliance unless you check reviews online and at Consumer Reports. Don’t buy a new model with no track record.

Finally, do buy from a retailer that will help you fight for a settlement on a defective product. Life is too short to wait for a manufacturer to fix the unfixable.

Update on Apple Watch case

Matt Caron found a crack in his Apple Watch’s glass face just three days after his one-year warranty expired. Both Apple and the store (Best Buy) said he didn’t qualify for extended warranty repairs.

“Good news and bad news,” Caron said on Sept. 20. “I’ve been advised that the hardware engineering team agreed with the technician that my watch doesn’t qualify for this support program.”

Apple Canada suggested he go back to Best Buy to ask for free repairs. But since Best Buy denied his claim before, he didn’t have the energy to reach out again.

“Apple then said it would make an exception and fix my screen at no cost to me (normally $300),” Caron continued.

“I was disappointed with the decision. Not that I didn’t want my watch fixed, but I felt Apple didn’t believe my story and failed to address my concerns. Why did this happen and what prevents it from happening again?

“I know I should be happy that the screen will be repaired at no cost, but that is almost secondary to how I was treated and how others are treated with the same watch problem.”

It’s a familiar story. Product makers find a problem with a product, but don’t make it public. They wait for a class action to be filed or a flood of complaints to hit the media.

If the defect is safety-related, companies may issue a recall. But if there’s no immediate danger, they may try to make secret deals with complainants in hopes of avoiding publicity.

So, in the interests of transparency, I’m publicizing this case and asking readers to share it.

Remember the iPhone 6 battery replacement program in 2017? Apple was embarrassed by media reports that it was slowing down the phones to make them last longer and offered a low-cost replacement program as a result of public pressure.

That’s what can happen when frustrated buyers learn about a widespread problem with a product and push for reform.

I’m back!

I haven’t written anything here for a couple of years. I thought my blogging days were behind me.

But now that I’m no longer writing for the Toronto Star, I want to continue trying to resolve your consumer disputes and addressing your questions and concerns.

Here are complaints I like to handle:

  • Problems with large well-known Canadian companies.

These include telecom and technology providers, financial institutions, airlines, travel agencies, appliance manufacturers and retail chains.

  • Problems that affect a large group of people, not one person.

I’m looking for systemic issues with large companies. That’s where a consumer advocacy journalist can get traction.

Here are complaints I don’t like to handle:

  • Landlord-tenant issues.
  • Workplace issues.
  • Health care issues.
  • Complaints about the Canada Revenue Agency.
  • Home builder and home renovation problems.
  • Car dealer sales and car repairs.

You can write to me through my website and I’ll do my best to write back, even if I can’t help you.

I plan to update this blog at least once a week and share the posts on my social media channels.

So, let’s get started!