Lost Luggage? 4 Common Travel Problems and How to Fix Them.

Lost Luggage? 4 Common Travel Problems and How to Fix Them.
Image credit: illustration © Marco Goran Romano
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The travel part of business travel should be, at best, uneventful. But hit the road often enough, and odds are there will be times when things go awry. What then? 

Plight: You’ve booked an airline ticket, but arrive at the gate to find there’s no seat for you.

Airlines typically estimate how many no-shows there will be per flight and oversell by that number. If everyone shows up, the overbooked carrier will tempt volunteers with the promise of a travel voucher. But when they can’t get willing detainees, some will be involuntarily bumped.

The practice is legal, but the U.S. Department of Transportation mandates compensation after an hour’s delay. If tardy one to two hours (or one to four on international flights), the airline will aim to get you a seat on the next available flight and cough up twice your one-way fare, up to $650. Beyond two hours (four internationally), those penalties double to a maximum of $1,300.

“The key here is that airlines often try to foist vouchers on you, and they may be good only for a year,” says George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog. “You are entitled to cash compensation. Never accept a voucher. You should get a check.”

To avoid this peril altogether, make sure you have a seat assignment when booking. A lack of seats is your first clue that the flight may be oversold.

Plight: Your cab got caught in a traffic jam, and you missed your flight.

Industry experts say airlines informally have what’s known as a “flat-tire rule,” allowing passengers who miss their flights by up to two hours the leeway to fly standby without a penalty. However, the practice is discretionary. 

“It depends on the airline,” says Hobica. “Some might charge you for a confirmed same-day change. Some airlines require that if you are canceling, you have to cancel by phone, and others that you can’t be a no-show, or you will lose the value of the ticket.”

Bottom line: Get to the airport, and meanwhile, alert the airline by phone of your lateness. Upon arrival, do what you can to catch the next flight standby, though you may have to pay a change fee of about $75—or more if the airline enforces a fare difference. 

Plight: You arrive at your destination, but your luggage doesn’t.

If a bag is lost domestically, airlines are liable up to $3,400 per customer as mandated by the DOT. But the settlement factors in depreciation, and fliers are often asked to show receipts for the lost items. (Airlines don’t assume liability for checked iPads or other valuables.)

What the airline won’t do for you, a credit card often can. If you bought your ticket using a card with lost-baggage protection, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred, it will offer reimbursement on all items (including valuables) up to $3,000 per passenger. 

Most bags, however, are not truly lost, but delayed. Here again, a credit card can help. Discover offers delayed-bag insurance of up to $500 for any personal items replaced after just three hours.

Some cards have annual fees, “but they pay for themselves with benefits,” says Brian Kelly, founder of The Points Guy, which helps travelers get the most out of travel loyalty programs.

Plight: You made a reservation, but the hotel doesn’t have the room you booked.

Hotels rarely admit to overbooking, but they will say they are “under-departed,” meaning that people who were expected to check out didn’t. 

“Legally, if people are able to pay for their room, you cannot kick them out,” says Kim Corrigan, general manager of the Renaissance Blackstone Chicago Hotel. 

Standard operating procedure is to offer a free upgrade to a larger room. But in cases where the hotel is sold out, management will often “walk” a guest (find alternate accommodations in a similarly priced hotel). Generally, that next hotel will be nearby, but when the city is jammed with a convention, it can mean returning to one at the airport.

In addition to covering the cost of your night’s stay at a comparably priced hotel, your original hotel should pay for your transportation to and from the new accommodations. Usually by the second night, Corrigan says, the original hotel will honor the reservation and send a welcome gift. Alternatively, faced with being walked, travelers can try to negotiate a cash payout as compensation and find their own room elsewhere.


Sweets for your tweets

In sticky situations, some travelers take to Twitter to have their voices heard. Seattle-based financial planner Mindy Crary agreed to split the cost of a hotel room with a colleague at a conference, only to learn at check-in that the additional bed she’d ordered was a fire-code violation. She tweeted: “Only wish I could have gotten the rollaway bed we were promised when made the res :),” prompting a quick Twitter apology from the New Orleans Marriott, as well as champagne and chocolate-dipped strawberries in the room.

Austin-based insurance agency owner Ashley Hunter was upgraded to first class on Delta Airlines twice in the past year, happy results that she credits to tweeting the airline—once when her seat was taken by another flier and a second time for praising service at the gate.

A direct tweet to a hotel or an airline can be effective if real and reasoned. “It’s a 24/7 help desk,” says Ben Hordell, partner at Edgewater, N.J.-based DXagency, which develops digital marketing and social media strategies for major companies. “Right now it’s being used more for crisis management than rewarding positive feedback, but that can create a deeper relationship with the most loyal customer.”