Consumer Frustration

You Can Either Win or Give-in: Choosing Win

Always remember that your present situation is not your final destination. The best is yet to come.

Anonymous

At first I thought: are you really going to start pissing and moaning about anything other than our collective health and well-being? The answer is: yes I am. Keep reading if you are a frustrated consumer:

I consider myself a demanding consumer. I worked hard for what I was able to put away and when I’m spending money, I deserve nothing less than what I am paying for — whatever that may be. I’m going to address the way companies are handling customer service during the COVID-19 crisis. What was it like pre-virus and what is it like now? How are small businesses handling customer service? What has changed for consumers? What will this lead to? Who will be the winners and who will be the losers? How you can come out on top.

I write this piece as an older (not old), middle income consumer. I do not have the luxury of spending without giving thought to value and price. I’m not sure all that really matters; when you’re purchasing, you deserve a fair and reasonable response from the merchant or business you are dealing with, when something goes wrong.

Corporate Customer Service

Corporate culture in the U.S. centers around entitlement and political favoritism. If you follow the money, you’ll easily determine why they’ve been getting a pass and who gave it to them. Tax breaks, deregulation, Super Pac money, and corporate donations, all point to greed and screwing the consumer. How do you fight the big guys (yes, they’re mostly men)? All we have today is social media. Mainstream media is in the pockets of big business, making it difficult to rely on calling them or holding them accountable in the news. In truth, big business knows that they can lose millions in a 24 hour period if an embarrassing misstep were to occur. Consider posted videos in Walmart, Target or KFC, for example. Use social media to your advantage. I’ve gone so far as to send corporations a draft of what I might post or blog. It doesn’t always work, but it can be very effective.

Two short stories:

  • First: EasyJet cancels my flight and offers either a refund that you have to formally request or you can take a full credit voucher and an in-flight Bistro voucher (value $5) as a “thank you” for choosing the voucher. You get the credit voucher and you cannot book on-line, you must speak to a representative. You get the in-flight voucher; however, in order to redeem it for actually in-flight Bistro credit, you have to print out a form, complete it and then wait 30 days for the in-flight Bistro credit. I’m sorry but this is bullshit. When the airline cancels a flight, you should get an automatic refund and . . . if you get a thank you for taking a credit voucher, you shouldn’t have to fill out a form. Taking a voucher keeps the cash in the companies coffers. You should get the bleepin’ in-flight Bistro credit as soon as you use your credit voucher. I assume EasyJet expects most people to look at the form and delete it. Why would anyone want to fly with EasyJet again. After all this ranting, I have to say they’re still better than RyanAir. I may or may not complete the form for the inflight credit, I go back and forth; after all, it is my money.
  • Second: I contact Hotels.com because an IBIS Hotel in France cancels my reservation due to COVID and then IBIS informs me that I can only get a credit for future nights or wait for a refund (see below). Hotels.com tells me they cannot help me. I try to re-book my nights through IBIS and they are now up 40%. I don’t know why, but I thought they’d honor the original price I’d paid. They refuse to do just that, so I tell them I want a refund. They send me a regulation from the French government which dictates that they can refund me my money within 18 months of the booking; yes you read it correctly 18 months. Who the #@&*%! cares what the French government dictates, I want my money now. Companies demand to be paid at the booking to hold a reservation, however, you’ll take 18 months to return my money to me? I guess they’re hoping I die before the 18 months are up and the credit card I used to book is no longer valid. Why would I ever book IBIS again? As a side note: Hotels.com chat line is a quick and easy way to resolve issues and their reps are very understanding . . . for the most part.
From IBIS:

With reference to the French government order 2020-315, known as the “heritage order”. We must offer a voucher for all reservations canceled between March 1 and September 15, 2020. This voucher can be used for 18 months. At the end of these 18 months, we will refund you if it has not been used. We cannot refund you now.

I have many, many examples of ridiculous corporate shenanigans; I’m certain you do as well.

Small Business Customer Service

There is a special place in my heart for small businesses. Many are struggling these days and most have struggled in the past. Getting a business going is a huge risk and the hours one must put in are anywhere from 60 to 100 hours per week (firsthand information). I do whatever I can to support small businesses if and when I can. There are small businesses working hard to cash out and sell to large businesses; these businesses are less appealing to me. It’s usually the founders hoping to get rich and leave their employees fending for themselves.

Pricing is currently out of control in the States due to less competition in the marketplace. Consumers have fewer choices and they are forced to either pay more for less or get less for more.

I find customer service friendly and more accomodating with small business. There is more at stake and you’re usually not too many degrees away from the owner of the company. Often, if you can get to the owner, you’re more likely to resolve your issue. I don’t want more than I paid for, I want exactly what I paid for.

The risk of the company going out of business, is greater for small companies. Before you make a purchase, review their track record and read what other buyers have to say. The same is true for the hiring of small business professionals (e.g., accountants, lawyers, doctors). The more you take control and the more research you do, the more likely you are to come out a winner. I hired an attorney here in Portugal a few years ago who charged me five times the going rate for his services. It’s my fault because I paid it, but I will never refer him to anyone.

Frustration and Reaction

As you know I travel quite a bit. Years ago when I was in my twenties traveling to Europe (pre-Hotels.com) I noticed that a majority of the hotels I stayed in had twin beds. Sometimes they’d push them together for you and sometimes they would tell you they could not; sometimes they’d even make them up as a king (here they call this a double bed, in the U.S. a double bed is smaller than a queen, 54×75 to be exact). The truth is I hate twin beds. I’m 6′ tall and I weigh 200 lbs., a twin bed is much too small. When I sleep in one I feel like I’m 10 years old again. The first thing I do when I book is look to see if they have queen beds; fortunately more and more hotels are offering a queen. When I book a double bed, I often write the hotel to confirm. The following are the replies I usually receive:

  1. We cannot guarantee that we will be able to honor your request. When you check-in we will check availability.
  2. All special requests are subject to availability.
  3. You are confirmed for a double bed.

#1 & #2 are ridiculous. How do you put a man my size in a twin bed, especially when I am paying the same price for the room that a couple is paying. I noticed that boutique hotels are much better about either offering a queen bed or confirming a double. The point I’m making is that in 2020 with Airbnbs and other types of accomodations doing so well, hotels need to be stepping it up and offering excellent mattresses in the right size. And what’s with the crappy pillows?

I was with friends at a hotel is Vila Viçosa last week. They upgraded to a suite and their bed was so squeaky they had to move it onto the floor the second night — that’s just not right.

Choosing Win

It’s not rocket science; we all want to come out on top. In today’s world, if you do not speak up for yourself and demand excellence, you will be forced to settle for less. You have to go into every consumer situation with the knowledge that you may have to fight for what you’re paying for. This seems counterintuitive doesn’t it? We should always assume that will be be getting a quality product, excellent service, and the desire to keep a customer (loyalty). I’m afraid, for the most part, those days are over. There is so much competition for your dollar, you have to be at the top of your game. I always find it empowering to take on the big guns and win. Good luck and stay strong.

The Pros & Cons of COVID-19 Travel

Photo by Soumya Ranjan on Pexels.com

I’m feeling a bit anxious about writing this piece. Whether or not to travel at this time is a highly subjective decision. Most governments are imposing COVID-19 travel restrictions that are somewhat ambiguous and I believe that is intentional. Human lives versus economic collapse: this is an impossible conundrum. Add to that the “Unknown” factor around COVID-19 and you’re left with a whole lot of speculation.

Personal Choices

When Portugal eased lockdown restrictions, I decided to take a train trip north to Cascais. I felt train travel would be safer for a number of reasons. I knew the Portuguese government was requiring masks be worn throughout the trip and I also knew that few people would venture out. I have mixed feelings about having taken the trip. Not seeing other tourists in an otherwise tourism driven town, was somewhat depressing. Strangely, I came home wanting more.

I’m not going to site articles about the safety of travel because there are as many telling you it’s safe as there are advising you to stay home. This is a very personal decision, however, there are many people out there who believe that when you travel you are endangering lives. Yes, they believe you are risking catching the virus outside of your community and taking it back to where you live. It would be wrong and dishonest to say that there isn’t some truth to those sentiments.

My argument is that life is full of risk at every turn. You get behind the wheel and there is a risk you could accidently kill someone else on the road; do you stop driving? You light up a cigarette outdoors knowing you are exposing people to carcinogens, do you only smoke in your own home? You consider sending your children to school knowing that there is a possibility that another student might open fire on school grounds, do you keep your kids home where it’s safer? You know where I’m going with these questions. One can rarely be 100% safe.

As you sit in judgment against others who exercise their personal freedoms, it doesn’t hurt to consider your own decisions and personal habits. Does anything you do endanger the lives of others in any way? Do you take every precaution to keep others safe? Doesn’t just being alive carry risk and uncertainty?

I realize that many will argue that travel is putting others at risk — if you were to contract the virus, you could potentially be exposing others. This argument also has validity; however, it takes us back to risk. If you are a responsible person who takes every precaution, are you not minimizing the risk for everyone else? I would use the analogy of driving: cautious drivers are doing everything possible to minimize the risk of an accident that might harm or even kill someone else on the road. Do not forget, driving is a choice.

Why You Might Want to Stay Home

  • There are few places safer than your own immediate environment. There you have almost complete control.
  • If you are in a high risk group (underlying medical conditions, age)
  • If you will have anxiety while you’re traveling, you have to ask yourself if it’s worth it.
  • You can wait it out
  • When flight circumstances change, you may not get a refund from your airline. Some are only offering future travel vouchers.
  • The numbers of confirmed cases and deaths around the world is staggering. This might be your barometer.
  • Your value system does not allow you to put others at risk.

The Upside of Travel

  • Some people are in serious danger of losing control of their lives and possibly losing their lives. The psychological and emotional impact of this virus is difficult to measure. Travel to be with a loved one or being outside of their isolated environment, could be a life saver.
  • If you can be disciplined and super careful, it could be fun.
  • This virus could be with us for a long time. Some of us feel that we need to adapt and adjust our lifestyles to cope with this new normal.
  • My flight was only 5% full going to England and 30% on the return. It was easy enough to social distance — something to consider.
  • You could also consider going to a place where they have controlled the virus.
  • For some people, it is important to exercise their personal freedoms.
  • There are lots of deals out there right now.
  • If you feel less safe or exposed on an airplane, you might consider staying local. I recently took the train to a resort town and truly enjoyed the quick and easy getaway.

There are more reasons to stay home and many more reasons to travel. Feel free to share them in the comments section.

From the UK since I was in Manchester (from the NHS) when writing this piece:

The main symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) are a high temperature, a new, continuous cough and a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste.


The main symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) are:a high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste – this means you’ve noticed you cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normalTo protect others, do not go to places like a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital if you have any of these symptoms. Stay at home (self-isolate) and get a test.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com
Photo by Yamil Duba on Pexels.com

Cascais, Portugal and BelPonto Sushi

It’s been so long since I last traveled, I completely forgot that if you want an easier experience, you must pay attention to details before you leave. I’m not sure I was psychologically ready for this trip. I knew that I had to be careful because there were a lot more COVID-19 cases in the north of Portugal than there were in the Algarve where I live. After being confined to a square mile radius for three months, I thought a trip would do me good.

Fortunately, traveling is a lot like riding a bike: once you get going, your muscle memory takes over. In my case, my brain needed a bit of a kick start. I got on the train from Faro okay, but did not realize there was more than one first class car. A little bit of shuffling and I found my seat. I was on the right train and that’s all I cared about. Thinking that all trains to other places left from Oriente in Lisbon, I overshot my stop and lost about an hour. I found my way to the station where I needed to be to get to Cascais and ended up having a delightful lunch on the waterfront while I waited for my train. I had good grilled pork ribs, but not good enough for a mention.

That’s a statue of Jesus with his arms spread out in the distance (off-center left).

The train to Cascais runs every 20 minutes and my timing was fortuitous, so I only had to wait on the platform for a minute. I remembered to validate my ticket on the platform; something you do not have to do in the Algarve. Oddly, I did not have to wear a mask on the Faro to Lisbon train, but I did have to wear one on the train to Cascais; some authorities seem more relaxed than others. I immediately noticed that people in Lisbon and Cascais were taking the virus more seriously and that’s a good thing.

I stayed in a beautiful apartment with a view of the sea and an outdoor swimming pool. It was very windy and that made it a bit chilly when you were not in the sun; I swam anyway. I was told that one of the reasons the wealthy built holiday homes in Cascais after WWII, was the magnificent weather and beautiful sandy beaches. The breeze provides a respite from the brutal heat present in other parts of Portugal in the summer.

One of the reasons I traveled to Cascais was to visit a restaurant I had heard about in Faro. The owner, Mr. Thomas Schurig, owns Shiraz in the Old Town (marina) and I was anxious to try his restaurant in Cascais (see blog table of contents for more about Shiraz). I needed an excuse to see Cascais and to travel. I had very few options outside of Portugal, so why not. I’ve been trying to be more spontaneous anyway.

Spending time with Mr. Thomas was quite special for me. He was born in Iran and left for Germany when he was 14 years old. With $500 in his pocket, he set out to begin a new life. Mr. Thomas studied and practiced law in Germany. He met his wife there and then moved to Portugal in 2008. I didn’t want to pry, however, he shared that he had several careers before he opened his first restaurant; he has three restaurants, one in Cascais, one in Lisbon (Shiraz), and another Shiraz in Faro; I love this restaurant. Anyone who knows the restaurant business can attest to the challenges, financial and personnel, that keep one up at night. I listen to people in this business talk about feeding people and hospitality and get a glimpse into what drives their passion.

Mr. Thomas knows almost everyone who walks into Belponto. He thanks his staff often and smiles no matter what issue he might be dealing with. His menu at Belponto is mainly sushi and Persian cuisine. He told me that sometimes he does special German dishes for his regulars. He has a relaxed easy way about him, but getting him to stay with one topic is nearly impossible. It’s obvious that he has many things going on at the same time; he manages them all with charm and a cool demeanor. I was also taken by how sweet and reverential he was whenever his wife entered the room.

The food at Belponto is beautiful, fresh and delicious. Prepared by Mr. Thomas, Helena, Mr. Prem (sushi master) and Arjun (sushi chef) with love and expertise. The sushi was creative and melt in your mouth good. They also do several special curry dishes and a homemade Naan bread that blew me away. It is baked in an authentic tandoori clay oven. Paired with good Portuguese wine and excellent service, I was bowled over. The restaurant is also stunning; minimal in decor and tastefully done.

Mr. Thomas lit-up when talking about a fish tank that was to be built for the center of the restaurant before COVID-19 struck — COVID-19 has spoiled so many things. It is obvious that the virus has, like so many others around the world, taken its toll on Mr. Thomas. However, he remains optimistic and positive.

If you are a sushi lover, and who isn’t these days, Belponto’s is the place to eat in Cascais.

I had a delightful lunch on the ocean at Restaurante Mar do Inferno. It’s a family run business that has been successful for many years. The place was full to capacity (50% permitted); apparently always the case. It’s located in the Boca do Inferno part of Cascais — a must see if you’re visiting. The waves are usually big and spectacular; not so much for my visit.

Boca do Inferno without the big waves crashing on the rocks. Apparently, after they crash water flows out of the holes in the rocks making it look like a waterfall. Next time.
The fish is fresh and prepared to perfection

I don’t think it would be fair to comment on the quality of a Cascais visit during this time of COVID-19. It’s a beautiful part of Portugal. A walkable town with beautiful homes and a magnificent coastline. I felt badly for restaurant and shop owners. They have worked hard to create a gorgeous tourist destination and people are staying home. It’s understandable; however, I hope this changes soon or so many will completely lose their livelihood. My recommendation is to go and take precautions.

A Night in Lisbon

I left Cascais for a night in Lisbon before heading back to Faro. There was a lot more activity in Lisbon, but many hotels were still not open. I stayed on a beautiful two bedroom houseboat on the Tagus River. I booked it through hotels.com for 75 euros (breakfast delivered to your door for an additional 8.50 euros). Book directly using http://www.tagusmarina.com. You can book a one or two bedroom houseboat. It was a fantastic experience. The houseboats are only a 12 minute walk to Oriente train station. I highly recommend this accomodation. The Tivoli in Lisbon cancelled the reservation I had made the day before. I’ll make a point not to stay there in the future. I’ve had other bad experiences with this chain.

A room with a view