Travel Industry Customer Service – A Rant


By the time you encounter those two words, chances are your travel experience is already stinking pretty badly.

In the past few weeks I’ve had to interact with the customer service reps at two large travel companies, and I wanted to share them both with you as a cautionary tale. Some companies remedy their situations with goodwill and good judgment; some fleece their customers for a quick buck. You might be surprised who did well and who just dropped the ball.

The Good

Recently I flew from Lihue, Hawaii, to Casablanca, Morocco, on American Airlines, and decided it would be the perfect opportunity to buy a 24-hour pass to the Admirals Club Lounge. According to the representative at the Admirals Club in LAX, for just $50, I’d have access to lounges in LA, New York and Madrid, where I could nap, shower, use free WiFi, eat tasty snacks and recharge my electronics on my journey to the other side of the world.

After flying 5 hours across the Pacific, 5 hours across the USA, 8 hours over the Atlantic, and sitting around for endless layovers en route, I arrived in Madrid, ready to chill out in the cushy, quiet lounge.

To my shock & horror, I was turned away at the desk. Apparently, the pass is not valid in Madrid. Only Iberia Hope Diamond Rockstar Elite Status people are allowed – Admirals Club pass or not.

I was livid. I’d been misinformed. I’d paid for something that I didn’t receive. And I was so ever-loving TIRED. To make matters worse, the Iberia woman at the desk was incredibly rude & dismissive.

I knew what I had to do…

Once I had access to WiFi (thank goodness for Boingo!), I tweeted my distress to AA and received a response immediately with a promise to look into the situation. As it turns out, I was misinformed by the staff in LAX. Madrid is not one of the places you can use the Admirals Club one day pass.

Ultimately American didn’t refund my $50, and they didn’t need to as I did use the lounges at LAX & JFK, but as a gesture of goodwill, they credited my account with some extra frequent flier miles. I was satisfied. They apologized for the misinformation, assured me the staff at LAX had been educated about what lounges were available, and showed a genuine concern that I’d had a bad experience.

Good customer service really is that easy.

The Bad

I was in Kauai for 6 glorious weeks and during that time, I rented four different cars from three companies – Avis, National and Budget.* I returned each car on time, full of gas and empty of trash. Each time I was given the all clear that everything was in order and no additional charges would apply.

You can imagine my surprise when I returned home from my latest trip to Morocco to find a notice from Budget Rent a Car stating they were charging my credit card $75 for Excessive Sand / Dirt.

At the Budget terminal when I returned the car, I was told, “All clear. No charges.”

To me, and tell me if I’m off base, that means, “NO CHARGES.”

I tweeted my disappointment to @BudgetRAC and was directed to customer service, where I received this response:

Charges for cleaning vehicles that are returned in such poor condition that the vehicle must be sent out for detailing, will be charged in proportion to the level of cleaning that is needed. This includes, but is not limited to, vehicles returned with food stains on the seats, dog (or animal) hair that cannot be removed through normal vacuuming of the car, smoke odor, and cigarette burns.

Upon review we find that no adjustments are owed as the charges are valid. We regret that we are unable to offer a more favorable response at this time. 

Ok. Not sure what dog hair and food stains have to do with my EXCESSIVE SAND, so I responded with further questions. And then this:

We regret failing to meet your expectations however the vehicle is expected to be returned in the same condition as it is received.  The Budget rental location may bill customers for any additional cleaning beyond what they consider normal.  These fees range up to $250.  The location has billed you $75 for having to clean the vehicle of the sand. The location took a number of pictures some of which are attached.  

Here are the photos of the mountains of difficult to remove sand we left in the car and I’d love to get your opinion…

So there’s definitely some sand in the car… if, this is in fact, the same car I drove. But does it really look like enough to require Budget to send it off for $75 worth of detailing? Do rental car companies NOT vacuum cars before putting them back into rotation? If so… WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?

If there was an issue with the amount of sand, I should’ve been told about it at that moment so I could’ve remedied the situation by vacuuming it out myself for $1. Instead, I now have a $75 charge to eat right before Christmas. So that’s neat.

If anything is excessive here, I don’t think it’s the sand – I think it’s Budget’s fleecing of customers. Needless to say, American Airlines and I are still friends, and Budget Rent A Car won’t see another dime from this traveler. 

Interestingly enough – the cars I rented from Avis & National were new, clean & dent-free. The two clunkers I rented from Budget were in embarrassingly poor shape, riddled with big dents, scratches and stains on the inside. Never have I felt compelled to take photographs of a car before driving it off the lot, but I recommend you ALWAYS do that. Now I know you can be billed a month later for damage, so it’s better safe than sorry!


Do you have a good or bad travel customer service story? I bet you do! Share it with me… maybe it’ll help me to feel better about wasting $75 on sand.

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20 thoughts on “Travel Industry Customer Service – A Rant”

  1. I fly AA rarely nowadays but once upon a time I did. Every so often there were eff-ups and always without fail, they owned the mistake and tried to make it right. Better than United Airlines “Sucks to be you” approach to customer service.

  2. Good on AA for at least rectifying the mistake they made a little. Shame on Budget. If it was me, I would reject the credit card charges and let your credit card company handle this. You should not be on the hook for that. Pretty brutal, and I’ll make sure not to book with these clowns in the future.

    1. That’s the next step… chatting with my credit card company. Not sure they’ll do anything but it’s certainly worth a shot. Just poor effort all around on Budget’s part. What a stupid move.

  3. Sure doesn’t look like a mountain of sand to me… I feel like a good vacuum would take care of it in about 10 seconds!

    Isn’t it crazy how a little customer service can either make or break an entire experience? Sorry you had so much trouble with Budget!

  4. Their definition of excessive certainly is exaggerated, isn’t it?

    My worst customer service story is when a certain travel booking company, which will remain nameless, accidentally canceled the return portion of my flight in their system and stranded me in Phoenix for an additional 2 days. Not only did I not get an apology, I also didn’t get any assistance from them in rectifying the situation. I ended up spending a stressful 6 hours on the phone with the airline directly resolving it. Oh, and did I mention said booking company also did not offer a hotel or anything. And I didn’t live in Phoenix at the time. After it was all said and done and I finally got home to Europe, the booking company offered a paltry $500 credit to be used on their website for a future booking!

  5. American is my airline of choice, and while they have some problems, their customer service is rapidly improving and they have some of the best lounge agents in the industry (though apparently not yours, LOL).

    Having dealt with all of the major car-rental companies (save for National), I can say with total honesty that Budget is the worst of the worst, the lowest of low. We rented a supposedly “smoke-free” vehicle, but upon sitting in it, you could instantly smell the cigarettes that had previously burned. When confronted, the rep’s comment was a surly “That’s not my problem.” Sure, there is definitely some sand in your car, but I could get that out with a 15-minute vacuum job. Unacceptable.

    1. I’ve been hearing lots of chatter about Budget being subpar all around. Can’t believe the rep said it wasn’t his problem! Ahhhh, customer service =)

      Thank you for reading!

  6. Angie! I hope that wasn’t the one we rented, in which case I feel awful and email me… I’ll split it with you.

    Bad customer service, ugh. Did they know you were a blogger? Not saying anyone should be treated like this but especially embarrassing if they knew this would be splashed all over and proceeded anyway!

    1. No, it wasn’t the one we rented. It was the one after. Stupid Budget. I didn’t mention that I was a blogger… I figured I’d rather see what kind of business they really were without giving them any extra incentive to treat me better. Turns out, they just stink.

  7. Seriously, I’m so over customer service in the travel industry. It sucks EVERYWHERE. Especially airlines. 🙁 That sand would take me 2 minutes to clean up. Jerks!

  8. OMGsh wow we were just in Maui for a few weeks and came and went so switched companies (thrifty and dollar were great) we almost got a car at budget one time – the people were rude, went out the car and it was FILTHY!! plus completely dented up horrible old car (the other places gave us mazdas for compact) so we had this piece of paper 5 x 5 to write what was wrong with the car… we were so tired so I went to the desk and said i’d need 5 papers to write all the problems with the car… they basically told me to fuck off so i told them to cancel it and we left! glad we did because i bet we would have been charged for something

  9. Came on here looking for similar stories. My parents were just charged the same fee from budget at the Kona airport in Hawaii! Like, duh, it’s Hawaii! There’s going to be some sand!. And like you, was told all was good at drop off and a month later get the letter. Didn’t know they had such a bad reputation, now we know who we are never using again!

  10. I too rented a car from Budget last year. We went to Panama City Beach FL for a week. My sister took it to a car wash and vacuumed out as much sand as she could. We had about as much sand a source your pictures showed and I too was “fleeced” but it was more like $150, not $75. We were told the same thing, excessive amounts of dirt and sand. We’ll NEVER rent from them again!!!!

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