This morning at 6 am I touched down in the lovely city of Sydney after a fourteen and a half hour flight from Los Angeles. It was a long day. I'd just said goodbye to friends and family in Canada that I likely won't see again in a long time, a dog I loved who belonged to a dear friend had passed away suddenly the day before, and I was looking forward to an endless day of travel - a flight from Vancouver to LA where I had a six hour layover followed by a very long flight. Although I've been looking forward to spending time in Australia, I had a case of the mean reds and was barely holding myself together.
Kudos to Qantas Airlines
Although I was obviously prepared to board my flight and suck it up, I was not looking forward to the experience. Previously, my long haul flights have been with British Airways, Air Canada or United and based on my experience with them, I've learned not to expect too much. BA and Air Canada provide okay, lukewarm service that has always gotten me from A to B without too much discomfort; United was a nightmare and after a flight last fall from San Francisco to London I vowed never to use them again, and I've stuck to that.
Yesterday I flew with Qantas Airlines and despite my bad attitude, they impressed the heck out of me. It isn't that they offered a lot of expensive extras, but they got the details right, which matters more than anything when you're cooped up in an airplane for 14 hours.
- They handed out a small travel pack with a few extras to make our time there more comfortable including a sleeping mask, a toothbrush, toothpaste and mints.
- They gave us a schedule so that from take-off through the rest of the 14.5 hours we knew when to expect dinner, breakfast and snacks. There was never a time when I felt that I didn't know what was going on.
- The entertainment units worked without glitch, they had a lot of options and we were allowed to use them during take off and landing.
- They didn't nickle and dime their customers and charge for little extras.
- The flight attendants were friendly and efficient but generally left us alone to relax - a perfect balance.
Not only did the 14.5 hours go by quickly, but we slept for about five hours on-board, which is something I've never been able to do on flights. The seat wasn't any bigger than what I'm used to but the experience was generally relaxing and stress free so I slept and that has saved me today while wandering around Sydney for six hours waiting to check into my hotel. Gold star to Qantas!
Why I Will Never Stay in a Travelodge Hotel Again
In North America, Travelodge is a relatively big brand in the discount hotel sphere. It's got a reputation as an old faithful option; there aren't any sparkles on the cupcakes but they'll fill you up and generally leave you satisfied. Over the past week we've stayed at three different Travelodge hotels in different locations and two out of three of those experiences haven't been great.
Bad experience number one was in Salmon Arm, British Columbia. I'd pre-booked the room mainly on the basis of its location, which, according to Google Maps, was central, close to town amenities and off the loud highway. Armed with my Google map and my hotel booking, we drove around in circles in Salmon Arm (a small place) looking for our hotel. Eventually we asked a police officer who didn't know where it was before finally pulling into a prefabbed home showroom where the woman directed us to a place way out on the far edge of the town right smack on the Trans Canada highway. When I went to check in I told the woman at the front desk that they aren't anywhere near where Google maps says they are located and her reply was, "Oh yeah I know! I think it's so funny. I get so many people in here who have just been driving around in circles trying to find us."
People working in any kind of customer service related field, take note: this is not an acceptable response.
Yes, this mix up was Google's fault to a certain point but the hotel had clearly done nothing to inform them of the problem; even more importantly, they acted like it was a joke. It was their response much more than the inconvenience that made the experience a sour one for me.
Bad experience number two was with the Travelodge in Sydney. When we booked our room on Expedia, we selected a room with a queen size bed, our payment was processed and we received a confirmation from Expedia about the room and the room type. When we checked in today we were told that there were no queens available and that we would be put in a twin. We were also told that unless you book directly with the Travelodge, they basically guarantee nothing about the booking. So my Expedia confirmation meant very little in terms of what I would get; it only ensured I would get something.
The hotel staff were very non-chalant about the whole thing, offered no apologies or explanations except to say that Expedia doesn't dictate to their policies and that "they run out of queen beds all the time." A twin room is not the end of the world but it is not what we booked and payed for and for the sake of ten or twenty dollars, had we known the situation here we would have booked a room somewhere else. But the worst thing about it was that I didn't get any sense that the hotel cared about me or my patronage. It just didn't matter to them and even the manager just kind of shrugged. Mistakes happen and sometimes adjustments need to be made, but a brand is never doing itself a favor by making customers feel like they don't matter and for the second time in a matter of days, this is exactly how the Travelodge made me feel. An apology and the sense that they recognize there is a problem would go a long way.
When we checked into our room, I looked at the Travelodge Australia Twitter feed and was not surprised to see that they use it as a one-way PR channel, not as a way to engage their customers or deal with service issues. Boring, completely inappropriate and a total red flag for me when I'm deciding whether or not to use the services of a new brand.
Expedia Customer Service Failure
After the Travelodge basically told us that our booking was meaningless, I called Expedia. At first the customer service representative was sympathetic and he even offered to call the hotel to straighten it out because in his words, "The room type was guaranteed at the time of booking." We also had our confirmation email that clearly states 'Queen Bed' under the room type.
He put me on hold and spoke to the hotel and when he came back he had suddenly changed his mind about the situation. He told me that the room type was never confirmed and that Expedia only acts as an intermediary and cannot guarantee what the hotel will do. I'm someone who has about eight months left in an around the world trip and Expedia makes a commission off of my purchases all the time because I have used them a lot. But in a short conversation the customer service representative destroyed my confidence in their brand. What I heard was:
- Expedia won't stand up to service providers who don't stand behind the booking made on Expedia. The hotels, airlines and car rental places come before their commitment to their customers.
- Expedia customer service representatives can't really help me if there's a problem with my booking.
- Expedia bookings aren't reliable. If I book something on their site, there's a chance that the service provider can renege on their part of the contract and Expedia can't or won't do anything about it. Why would I continue to book through a website I can't rely on?
After a precursory check about the reputation of other similar sites like Priceline, it seems like this kind of thing is a common occurrence. Online travel booking sites are all buyer beware; happy to take a commission off of our purchases but unwilling to back it up with any meaningful guarantee that we will receive what we've paid for. Someone should open up a competitor website and your only unique selling position should be that you stand behind your customers and offer good customer service; I'll be the first to sign up.
What Does It All Mean?
Through the haze of jet lag, I think there's something to be learned from this grocery list of recent travel experiences:
- Good customer service does not have to be expensive; most of us just really want to know that our travel service providers care about how we feel and are going to try to make things right, or at least as right as possible.
- If you offer a service, follow through on it. I don't like paying for something only to receive something completely different. I've held up my end of the bargain by paying for a service and it's your job to deliver on what you've promised. I'd rather know about a flaw up front then find you've completely misrepresented your offering. Fine print is not a good excuse for anything.
- If you've made a mistake, apologize for it. Shit happens but if you're the one who made it, fess up.
- Stand behind your customers.
There, that's not so difficult, is it?
What travel brands have you dealt with recently that have either exceeded your expectations or fallen short? Do you give second chances?
Image: We Heart It