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Jeffrey"Jeff" W.

2 Level 2 Contributor
  • 5 Reviews
  • 15 Helpful Votes
  • 0 Thank Yous

Experience: Travel, Computers & Technology, Art & Design

Member since December 2014

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About Me

Have been traveling for business and leisure for over 40 years on five continents. Generally try to resolve travel issues with airlines, hotels, rental car co's, etc amicably - even though I pay for my travel and I'm the customer. Biggest heartburn issue for me is when airline, hotel, etc employees display a complete lack of service while working in a service industry.

5 Reviews by Jeffrey

The Casa Marina, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, located in Key West, Florida, is a superbly designed, constructed, and decorated place with much less than appropriately matching attention to the clientele. While the lobby and Flagler Bar, and the wading areas and full pools flanking the restaurant terrace, are all beautiful to behold, the staff in all these places are simply not up to the quality of service that their surroundings suggest they should be providing.

Background: We arrived a full three hours later than we planned, due to a car accident and multiple injuries and fatalities on one of the bridges leading to Key West. So, we reached the front area for luggage drop off and transport to our room just before 10 pm. I tipped the carhop/bellhop well to get the car parked and the bags up to our room pronto. The reason: I knew we had only 30 mins to check in, situate the luggage upon its arrival at our room, come back downstairs to park the car in the lot across the street, and get back to the dining terrace before dinner orders stopped being taken at 10:30 pm. To highlight my concern, at check-in I asked both the receptionist and the front office manager whether we would make the 10:30 pm cutoff. Not to worry, they said: The Casa Marina makes sure that Fine Hotels & Resorts Program members get a few minutes slack cut for them for such things

Cases in point: (1) The luggage simply did not get to the room in timely manner. At 10:15 pm, I called the Personal Assistant (so says the button on the phone) to ask what was happening. The operator called back a few minutes later to say, The bags are located and on their way right now. They arrived at 10:20 pm so, 25 mins after I got them out of the car and gave them to the carhop/bellhop. (2) Since we each had one large roller bag, I asked for a second folding luggage rack. This actually never arrived but, this is not the main issue. (3) I went out, moved the car, and came back in via the Flagler Bar a very well appointed place where I planned to have a nightcap after a swift meal. Sadly, there was no one working there but, this is also not the main issue. (4) I continued walking (swiftly) to the restaurant area, where I arrived at 10:30 pm sharp and was told that dinner is closed. This is only the next-to-the-main issue. (5) I then went back to reception, found the receptionist and the front office manager, and asked them if I misheard their statement about the whole we cut some slack for our members blah, blah, blah. Well, after all, they both said, it is 10:30 pm and dinner does close now. Even when I noted that we missed the dinner cut-off because our luggage took 25 mins to get approx 300 feet from the carport to our room, I was told this is not their fault (!) and theres nothing that can be done. Now, THIS IS the main issue. Not only did they lie about cutting some slack for premium members but, when they could have fixed this quite simply say, by offering a sandwich from Room Service they chose not to do this. So this is service? From A Waldorf Astoria Resort property?

Summary: Every very frequent traveler has multiple stories of mishaps en route. The issue is not whether they will happen thats guaranteed. The issue is how they are handled. Granted, I had expected from A Waldorf Astoria Resort property a generally higher standard than my having to chase down our luggage upon arrival or my being lied to about the cut-off time for dinner. But, the truly unfortunate issue is the lack of interest shown by management personnel in rectifying a problem. As I walked off, all I could think is that these people must get so much traffic that they consider a few disgruntled guests as no biggie. Fortunately, disgruntled guests now have social media to air their grievances.

Coda: To be fair, no one was injured and no property was damaged in the making of this mess. But, since there are many hotel-resorts in and around Key West, consider whether you want to spend this much coin to take your chances on a stay at The Casa Marina, A Waldorf Astoria Resort. You can count on a beautiful location just dont expect the service to match.
Long story, but short warning: Do not book a flight, hotel, etc on Vayama unless you are 100% sure you will NOT have to change the booking.

First, some background: Normally, when you want to make changes to the flights for an airline ticket you bought from a travel agent, before you fly the first segment(s), you must call the travel agent. After flying the first segment(s), you call the carrier that ticketed the ticket. (Example: If the ticket number starts with 016, this is a United ticket and - normally - United takes over the itinerary from the travel agent after you fly the first segment.) This is true even if all the subsequent flights are on a different carrier than the one that flew the first segment(s).

But, Vayama often buys airline tickets and hotel rooms in bulk. They buy these tickets on popular segments (think NYC-LAX, SFO-NRT, ATL-FRA, etc) at prices below what any individual traveler can get. Then, when those segments are added to an itinerary you want to buy (eg: NYC-LAX-SAN, SFO-NRT-OSA, ATL-FRA-MUC, etc), they upcharge them significantly - meaning: more than the 3% or 5% that travel agents usually get in commission.

The problem is that, if you need to make any change to such a ticket, you can never go to the airline. Even if you have flown all the segments except the very last one, even if you are a top-level platinum super-duper whatever flyer, your airline will send you back to Vayama. Thats Bad for you No 1.

Then, when you call either of the phone numbers on the Vayama website (meaning: the 877 toll-free number or the 650 San Jose area code), option 3 in the auto menu tells you that, to make changes to your ticket, go online. But, the online web service refuses to change your ticket, telling you that you have to call the 650 area code number. So, you get the run around - thats Bad for you No 2.

By the way, the 877 toll-free number has an interesting personality quirk - it drops calls that have gone on too long. Specifically: If your call exceeds approx 30 minutes (which, of course, Vayama is paying for - its a toll-free call to you, not to Vayama), the call is dropped - even if you are the next caller in line. Thats Bad for you No 3.

If you are clever, you realize that the best auto menu choice is DO NOT CHOOSE ANY OPTION. This brings you - eventually (the wait this evening was over 40 minutes - twice!) - to a live person. The live person will tell you a bunch of interesting things but, the bottom line is that you cannot cheaply make any changes to these tickets other than the date of travel. That is: If you want to change the route, or an airline, or even the time of day to travel, the fare difference can be staggering. This is primarily because you are exchanging a bulk ticket for an individual ticket, and you will get hammered. Thats Bad for you No 4.

If the above four items were not bad enough, heres the clincher. When you want to change your itinerary, most airlines charge a change fee of anywhere from $100 to $300 or more. Whats so ludicrous is that this fee is charged for the Customer Service person pressing a button on the flight sequence you have chosen. Of course, so they say, the airlines have to pay those Customer Service persons to provide that customer service. (Question: Then why is there a change fee still charged even when you make the changes online?) But, weve all gotten used to the brave new world where even using the bathroom on a flight can be chargeable offense. (Spirit Airlines, were looking at you!). However In the case of Vayama, they collect that change fee for the airlines and they also change their own change fee! That is, you get the thrill of paying two changes fees for one change! And, this is not the $39 change fee charged by American Express for a US-based AmEx representative - this is a full $100 for a person who is clearly not based in the USA! Thats Bad for you No 5.

So, Im done with Vayama. I have too much variability in my flights to want to endure the flight change process even one more time. Again: If you want to book international flights and you are 100% sure you will not change the itinerary (eg: for a family summer holiday), Vayama is among the best travel search engines providing the most offering airlines and route options. But, if you pay for flights and change fees yourself, and you even occasionally change your itinerary, DO NOT USE VAYAMA.
Part One: United has a new policy at its London Heathrow (LHR) and Paris (CDG) airports: charge Business First flyers DOUBLE the required passenger tax. That's right: pay WAY over the Economy price for a Business First seat, or upgrade using tens or thousands of miles or a Global Upgrade voucher (as I did), and you will be charged an additional $111.20 - what every passenger pays and what you and your family/chums in Business First will pay TWICE. When I called to request the upgrade, the United Premier 1-K Supervisor with whom I spoke ( a quite unpleasant woman named "Christy") said this is collected by United but paid to the airport - just another tax that's been in place for months, so she said. I've never heard of it, but that's OK. Apparently it's levied only on outbound Business Class passengers at LHR and CDG - that is, you will not pay this as an inbound passenger originating somewhere else. So, a(nother) word to the wise: as stated in a previous posting: DO EVERYTHING YOU CAN TO AVOID LONDON HEATHROW AIRPORT!

Part Two: If you have to travel via LHR, be aware that the minimum connection times used by airlines and travel agents are (as Mom would have said) BULLPUCKY! My transfer from Terminal 4 to Terminal 2 on Saturday, 22nd Aug took a full TWO HOURS! This happened because my arriving airline does not cooperate with my departing airline. So, I had to: (1) go through Immigration; (2) wait for my bag and go through Customs; (3) transfer from T4 to T2 on the Heathrow Express; (4) check in; (5) go through Security; and (6) go back through Immigration. If I had been able to interline the bag, I would have had only Step 5 and a much speedier transfer process for Step 3. Bottom line: Adding the minimum check-in time of 1 hour before the flight to the 2-hour "adventure" that I had makes the minimum connection time between terminals A FULL THREE HOURS!

Part Three: I had to do the abovementioned upgrade and pay the fee since being diagnosed with numerous blood clots in my lower right leg - no doubt due to too many long-haul flights in Economy (read: "Sardine Special") Class over the past six years. Despite paying the fee and traveling in Business First, and despite being a Premier 1-K flyer - the highest designation United has before Million Miler awards - UNITED LHR STILL MANAGED NOT TO LOAD MY ONE BAG ONTO THE PLANE! Then, despite the bag being delivered to Newark at 12:49 pm the next day, it was not given to the baggage delivery service until 10:15 pm - which guaranteed that I would not get the bag until sometime two days after I flew. So, have no starry-eyed ideas about how wonderfully you will be treated by United in Business First - no matter how much you pay, you're just another sardine in one of their cans... (Cue "Another Brick In the Wall")
Frequent travelers know there will always be problems traveling. What separates the great companies from poor ones is how they handle the problems. In that regard, Heathrow Airport Ltd is the bottom of the barrel.

Some problems are (usually) the fault of the airline. A few examples include flight delays due to late arrival of crew or technical malfunctions with the aircraft, delayed or lost baggage, and so forth. Airlines know that travelers see such problems as caused by the airlines, whether they were or not, so the airlines (usually) try to "make things right" for the traveler.

But, what happens when the airport operator is clearly at fault? If it's Heathrow Airport Ltd: nothing.

In my case, Heathrow Airport Ltd (operator of Heathrow - code LHR), supplied such a poor-quality jetway (the connector between the aircraft and the terminal gate) for my arriving flight on Austrian Airlines that the jetway door to the aircraft simply wouldn't open. After assessing this for at least 10 minutes, buses were called and the passengers in the very full plane slowly deplaned via the rear door, down stairs, into buses that came one by one, and were taken to someplace in Terminal 2. The result was that, although the flight arrived ontime at 6:40 pm, I did not get into Terminal 2 until 7:15 pm. I already knew I was in trouble for making my connection - a British Airways flight departing from Gate C57 in Terminal 5 at 8:05 pm.

If you know LHR, you know it's a behemoth of an airport. Even with running through the common areas and up/down the several escalators, I did not get to Gate C57 until 8:00 pm - just 10 minutes after the flight closed. The gate attendants then sent me all the way back to Flight Connections (a 15-minute journey when you're going "against traffic") to rebook.

What happened next is what surprised me. It's not that British Airways took no responsibility for getting me a hotel or providing a hotel voucher. Why should they? They didn't cause the problem. (Although, I did find it amusing that the BA Desk Agent tried to suggest the jetway failure was the fault of Austrian Airlines - not of a British company.) It's when I asked to speak with a manager from the airport operator - Heathrow Airport Ltd.

First, I was sent to Airport Security (!), where two very pleasant managers stated that Airport Security operates the airport other than 9 am to 5 pm Monday to Friday. Rubbish, of course. Then, upon hearing my full story, they backed away from that line of reasoning and said they would call their supervisor. This person first said an operations manager would be sent to speak with me. But, within 5 minutes, the same person called back to say no one will come, no one is responsible for this problem, and no one will provide any voucher or any other assistance.

In their favour, the two kindly managers were embarrassed - they could see this reply was simply awful - and so they found some phone numbers for passenger assistance and provided the name of the Director of Terminals, a Mr Tom Willis. Alas, Mr Willis does not take phone calls - he can be reached only by eMail. I was also given the name of Mr John Holland-Kaye, who I was told is the Managing Director of Heathrow Airport Ltd, as another person to whom I should send a written complaint. I was also told that "complaint management" has taken great strides for the better since the last time I was in Terminal 5 - the day it opened, when my bags were not loaded, I was forced to stay overnight, I was interviewed by Richard Quest live in CNN about my impressions of it all (to say the least: not favourable)… and British Airports Authority (the name at that time) similarly did nothing to help.

From all the above, please allow me to summarize five bottom lines for you:
1. If you can possibly avoid London Heathrow Airport (LHR), do so. It's quite a lot to say that, by comparison, it makes JFK Airport in New York seem quite user-friendly.
2. If you cannot avoid LHR, at least avoid British Airways. The issue is that all BA flights arrive at and depart from Terminal 5 - which means you will likely have problems.
3. If you must travel on British Airways, do not do so on any itinerary with less than two full hours between flights. My problem was partly because I had "only" 1 hour and 25 minutes between flights. This was a perfectly "legal" connection that I would have made had the jet way been working properly - although I would still have had to walk quickly for the entire transfer.
4. Keep in mind that, if you travel in Economy, you have almost no rights. When I reached Gate C57, and the flight had clearly departed, I asked if I could be transferred to another flight that had just started boarding. The reply? "Are you traveling in Business Class? Oh, I see you're booked in Economy. Well, you can't make it then."
5. Keep in mind that, if you are not a citizen of the EU, you have no rights. The British, German, and other country laws regarding air travel and how airlines must treat passengers are all written with EU citizens in mind - each major clause generally starts with, "Citizens of the EU…"

I hope that helps. "Happy Travels…"
Before buying a new Galaxy S4 cellphone and batteries from B&H, I called Customer Service to verify that the batteries I was considering to buy (spare batteries - B&H #SAEBB600BUBE) would be authentic Samsung OEM product: made in Korea, assembled in Korea. The reason is that product made or assembled in China has a reputation for not holding a charge, "bloating" soon after first use, and/or burning up. "Joel" stated in our telecom at 2:15 pm on 12/16/2014 that the products were authentic Samsung OEM product: made in Korea, assembled in Korea. He even directed me to the B&H website to see the statement on the picture of the battery shown as proof that the batteries are authentic Samsung OEM product. So, what did I actually get? Two batteries that state "made in Korea, assembled in China". See the digipics of these two unopened batteries. If I wanted knockoff batteries from China, I could have paid less than $5.00 each on Amazon. Instead, I believed B&H would not be so dishonest as to pull a "bait & switch." So, it's clear their company should actually be called "B&S". Please be aware that B&H is a dishonest company and will cheat buyers if at all possible.

Tip for consumers: 1. Be sure to check that you can return something if you buy it and it does NOT match what is advertised (and you do not open the item).
2. Consider that, whenever the price for something from a retailer (ie: profit-oriented seller) seems too good (low) to be true, it probably is!

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