You may have seen the ITV Tonight programme on 2 December 2021 about complaining. Part of the programme was a story about how I helped Olivia and Bella get their money back from Booking.com.
Given the time allowed for the segment, we could not cover the whole saga! Here, in all its glory, is what happened. It was one of the most frustrating cases with which I have ever been involved. It is certainly up there with Virgin Media for being one of the poorest companies at communication.
I do believe, being the cynical cow that I am, that some businesses think that providing such appalling service will just put people off. Because, in reality, it does. However, it just makes me more determined.
I then got involved.
Olivia and her friend Bella booked a property in Albufeira for two nights. They paid for this in full on Booking.com and received confirmation that same day. They also had a reminder email about the upcoming trip on Sunday 15th August. On Thursday 17th August they flew to Portugal as planned, leaving East Midlands Airport at 7:00am.
They arrived in Portugal on time, went through all the necessary checks and then got a taxi to the hotel arriving around 12:10. When trying to check in they were advised that it was too early and they could leave their cases behind reception and make use of the hotel facilities.
Booking.com problems started
At 13:50 (ten minutes before check-in) they received an email from Booking.com to inform them that the hotel reservation had been cancelled. This email came with no explanation nor an apology. Bella and Olivia sat by the pool frightened, as they were now alone in a foreign country with no accommodation, not knowing what to do as Booking.com had offered no assistance.
At reception they were told that the hotel had informed Booking.com at the time of booking and that the reservation should have been cancelled immediately at that point.
After finally getting through to Booking.com customer service, they explained their situation and were immediately cut off. Frustrated and scared, they contacted Booking.com a second time, and spoke with a woman who said, “I am in Japan and it is midnight, I don’t know what you want me to do.”
Alternative hotels were out of their budget so they decided to find a flight home.
Return home due to Booking.com failure
Due to the COVID regulations for entering England, they had to have a negative test taken within 72 hours of departure. The test that they did before leaving was quickly running out of time to ensure they were eligible for entry into the UK.
Bella and Olivia recall:
“There was only one remaining flight back to the UK which took off at around 7:00pm, if we couldn’t book and make it on that flight, they would have been on the streets in Portugal!”
Left with no choice, the flight was booked at 16.00 and they had to quickly get changed and get a taxi to the airport to ensure they made the flight.
They got the flight home and calculated their financial losses, made up of the loss of their hotel and all consequential losses which are the result of the failure by Booking.com.
Total costs incurred
- Hotel Cost £189.44 on 07/08/2021
- Antigen tests to travel out (Covid-19) – £58
- Day 2 PCR tests (medicines online) – £98
- Pre booked test for out in Portugal to be able to return home – £36.16
- Breakfast at the airport – £19.87
- Taxi to the hotel – €42 / £36
- Taxi back to the airport – €42 / £36
- Food at the airport – €15/12.87
- Flights out (Ryanair) – £43.33
- Original flights back (Jet2) – £65
- Early flights back (Ryanair) – £280.58
- Total = £ 875.25
Refund from Booking.com provided
The pair received just £187.75 from Booking.com on 18/08/2021.
All requests for anything else had been ignored, which is where I came in.
The Complaining Cow brings plan of action against Booking.com
It is slightly more complicated complaining to a company outside of the EU since the UK left the EU due to different cross border laws. However, we still had a number of options available. The first step was to escalate the issue by writing to the CEO, finding his details on CEOemail.com
I helped Olivia write to the CEO stating that Booking.com were in breach of The Consumer Rights Directive 2011/83/EU (CRD) and the EU Directive 2005/29/EC by providing services with defects. They had incurred costs as a direct result of Booking.com’s failures, in addition to disappointment, stress, anxiety and worry.
Expectations of Booking.com
We expected to receive the total of £685.81 which was incurred as a direct result of Booking.com’s failures.. I also advised requesting redress for their stress, anxiety, and inconvenience caused, plus a full explanation and an apology for everything that happened.
I advised threatening legal action. (This can be complicated cross border, although help is available. See Taking legal action cross border below).
Oliva sent the email with all the attachments to the CEO on 23/09/21.
The sorry saga of communication with Booking.com began…
On the 27 September 2021 someone from the customer service team replied asking for more information, most of which was already in the email to which they were replying. Olivia clicked “reply”, providing the information already provided and the email she got in response was bizarre. Really bizarre. It said that the email address to which she had written (she had clicked “reply” remember) was no longer in use!
So, Olivia forwarded everything again to the CEO. She did not get an immediate reply.
Threatening legal action against Booking.com
We decided it was time to play hard ball. On 6 October 2021 Olivia sent a further email with “Email before action” in the subject line.
Unsurprisingly, that got their attention. But the situation remained bizarre. The “CS Senior Guest Specialist” replied saying that they would refund the accommodation costs. It is hard to understand what part of the email she read and what she didn’t, seeing as the email said that the accommodation had been refunded and it was everything else that was being requested.
So, later that day Olivia replied again with all the correspondence. Yet again. (We are on the fifth email at this point). Was there another bizarre response? Yup. This time the reply said that they didn’t have access to the original complaint. Remember, everything has been attached to every single email, so it is not possible that they didn’t have access because they replied to the email with it!
To say that this was frustrating would be an understatement. The sixth email went off informing the “specialist” that further action would be taken should a satisfactory response not be received.
Bizarre response number 4? Yup. This one was from someone who apologized and provided a link to the legal team. This was a clear attempt to fob off the complaint to another department.
We decided to ignore that one. So Olivia asked the “specialist” how she could respond to the complaint without having all the relevant information that was attached! Unsurprisingly the “specialist” couldn’t answer this question but asked for receipts. 🙄
Sigh. So Olivia sent the evidence of expenditure. Again. In case you are losing count that’s our eighth email.
Something got through! Hurrah! Nope, not really. We are now onto another respondent who told Olivia she had received the refund for the accommodation. Sigh, we had told them that already, more than once. She asked what Olivia wanted. So Olivia responded with another email, the ninth, explaining exactly what was expected, plus a reasonable amount for the appalling service received. Again.
I had told Olivia to ignore all calls for the reasons shown in this article Why you should write not ‘phone to complain effectively
An email outlining that £500 compensation from Booking.com to Olivia then followed.
So, eventually a good result, I always get there in the end but usually it’s one or two emails. Not NINE!
Booking.com response to the programme
A spokesperson for Booking.com said
“At Booking.com our primary aim is to enable smooth and enjoyable travel experiences for all of our customers, which has unfortunately not happened on this occasion. In the majority of cases where an accommodation partner is unable to accommodate a guest due to overbooking, we are able to rectify that immediately, including offering full support with relocation and will be investigating why that did not happen on this occasion.”
Thoughts on Booking.com
How many people would have just given up after the initial refund?
How many of those who continued would have given up after the first and second emails, all the way through to the final one?!
Some companies rely on consumers not knowing their consumer rights and/or just giving up.
You will almost always get results if you persevere, even in cases where you shouldn’t have to do so!
How best to book and complain about holidays/flights/travel various posts to help you with travel related problems.
Help with complaining effectively
How to escalate a complaint when customer service fails my article for The Metro.
If you need help with complaining effectively and making sure you are never fobbed off. GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!
101 Habits of an Effective Complainer to help you become more skilled and assertive when making complaints
The Complaining Cow – free support for businesses
If you are a business wanting to provide better service than Booking.com take a look at the information below!
It takes 5 times as much to gain a new customer to retain one. So work on turning your customers into superfans who do much of the heavy lifting for you!
Join the Facebook Group Increase Sales through Customer Service: Compassion, Care and Integrity A private group where you can give and get support, advice and share good practice on how to improve customer service.
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Taking legal action cross border
In reality if you wanted to go through the legal route cross border you would need to take advice from the UK European Consumer Centre who would help you with your case. A spokesperson for the ECC said:
“The EU Small Claim Procedure is no longer available due to Brexit, so generally speaking consumers have to issue a claim through the UK normal civil court if they wish to take traders to court in either the UK or abroad (as per the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 amendments).
Under these Regulations, amendments have been made to the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Act 1982 where section 15B states that where there is a consumer dispute the consumer can bring proceedings in the part of the UK where the other party is domiciled or in the place where the consumer is domiciled regardless of the domicile of the other party.
The business can only bring proceedings against the consumer in a court of the UK if the consumer is domiciled in the UK (subject to any agreement the consumer may have made to the contrary).
As regards the jurisdiction, the Trader could accept or deny the consumer’s jurisdiction or elect their competent court (as expressed by their Ts & Cs), but this will be a matter of their litigation strategy.
To make things similar to the pre-Brexit situation, the UK have applied to re-join the Lugano Convention. Until the application has been accepted, the enforcement of judgments will be determined by the domestic rules of the country concerned. More information on those can be found by clicking on the flag of the relevant country at: https://e-justice.europa.eu/content_procedures_for_enforcing_a_judgment-52-en.do?clang=en ”