Are Airline Complaints Worth Escalating To The Better Business Bureau?

The answer to this post’s title is, surprisingly, the same as the answer to the question, “What is America’s best-selling brand of adult diapers?” (Depends.)

If you’re dissatisfied with a travel experience, naturally your first line of defense is complaining to the company responsible for the issue. But if their response is unsatisfactory, or if they don’t respond at all, you have some options.

Depending on the circumstances, you could dispute the charge with your credit card company, file a complaint with a government agency (like a state attorney general’s office, the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Aviation Administration, etc.), or try the Better Business Bureau.

I’ll file a complaint with the BBB if I haven’t had any luck resolving the issue with the company (I would say I’ve filed about one complaint a year for the past five years or so). I’ve usually had really good results this way, but once or twice companies have ignored my BBB complaints (Uber, I’m looking at you).

Some things to keep in mind about the Better Business Bureau:

  • They basically act as an intermediary between you and the business – you should complain to the BBB only after trying to resolve your issue with the company itself.
  • They’re divided into regional offices, and your complaint is handled by the office that services the region in which the business you’re complaining about is located.
  • They only handle complaints for companies with offices in the United States. However, plenty of foreign companies do maintain offices in the U.S.
  • They review your complaint, forward it to the business, and then give them a certain period of time to respond to your issue. If the business doesn’t respond, the BBB closes your case.
  • There is nothing compelling a business to respond to a BBB complaint, aside from the fact that companies that regularly fail to respond typically earn a failing rating from the BBB. (There are a few other elements that also factor into the BBB’s rating of a business, such as advertising issues and transparent business practices.)

Of the 3 biggest airlines in the U.S., interestingly, American earns an F from the Better Business Bureau, while Delta and United each earn an A+.

   

To me, this means you can expect prompt responses from Delta and United, while American might ghost you. Or, they may just take a really, really, really long time to review your complaint, as was the case for me.

My complaint

A little over two years ago, I had an issue with American. Long story short, I received a $500 voucher for them for volunteering to take a later flight (score!), and when I tried to mail it in to redeem it, they misplaced it. (There was a happy ending: after about three months, they found it and mailed it back to me.)

At the time, I got nowhere with American’s customer service, so I filed a BBB complaint. American did not respond to it.

Well, last week I received this e-mail:

This message is in regard to your complaint submitted on 7/30/2015 against American Airlines.

The business has sent the BBB a message regarding this complaint, and we are passing it on to you. The contents of this message are below or attached. All responses will be copied to the company. Please respond within 6 calendar days or the complaint will be closed as assumed resolved. The text of your response may be publicly posted on the BBB Web Site (BBB reserves the right to not post in accordance with BBB policy). Please do not include any personally identifiable information in your response. By submitting your complaint, you are representing that it is a truthful account of your experience with the business. BBB may edit your complaint to protect privacy rights and to remove inappropriate language.

MESSAGE FROM BUSINESS:

American Airlines has indicated that they’ve received your correspondence and have responded accordingly. Given that they’ve address your concern/question, they have since closed your file. If you need any further assistance from American, visit them at aa.com.

This makes me wonder if American is only now getting around to looking at complaints filed two years ago, or if maybe they’ve recently turned over a new leaf when it comes to responding to customers. Either way, it was amusing.

American, I’ve moved on with my life. You should too. It’s not healthy to be stuck in the past!

Have you tried using the Better Business Bureau to resolve a complaint with a travel company? How’d it go?

Comments

  1. File complaints with DOT, which in my view is very responsive. I filed one after Lufthansa never replied to my complaint about being totally unreachable during one of their regularly-scheduled wildcat strikes that suddenly saw me automatically rebooked on Delta with no way to get to my original destination. Lufthansa’s US Public Relations called me after DOT contacted them on my behalf.

    https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/file-consumer-complaint

    BBB in my view doesn’t have the big claws for stuff like this.

  2. This is like the companies who reject you six months after you sent in an application and never so much as had a phone interview.

  3. Luckily for me I have had no problems with American recently on getting refunds or getting compensated for delayed flights, broken seats, horrible FA Service. I have usually
    Written a lot of positive reviews for their service as well. I have done my fair share of complaints. I understand their low rating but for me an EXP they are trying in my perspective. As long as I am on one of their new planes or unless I have to fly MAD Dog 80 flights between STL-ORD, DFW I will be satisfied.

  4. American has been completely ignoring a complaint submitted to them by me and my +1 for a couple months. We have both been EXP’s for over 10 years. Not happy. We will probably continue giving them lots if business, but when the opportunity to take advantage of them comes along, it will be utilized.

  5. Are use the DOT site to file complaints against airlines when they have clearly not lived up to the conditions of carriage contract. I have found that this is a very effective way to voice my displeasure and I always get a response in a reasonable period of time from the airline. Since my complaints are not frivolous, they always get resolved.

  6. The BBB is a for-profit, non-governmental organization that sells A ratings to small businesses for a few hundred dollars. It’s not a real thing, but rather a sort of pre-Internet, Yelp-like concept – with the same quasi-extortionist business model.

    The Consumer Protection Bureau is a governmental department aimed at recording, investigating, and reducing fraudulent business practices. This is always where complaints should be aimed, in my opinion. For airlines specifically, the DOT website Rjb mentioned works too.

  7. Does nobody else think it odd the disparity between the grades for AA and UA/DL while their overall marks are fairly comparable? This tells me the BBB grading system is either highly flawed or is too dependent upon the airlines responding. I would like to see the scoring criteria as I’ve heard rumors that BBB accepts payment to raise ratings artificially.

    Can anyone confirm that?

  8. BBB A ratings are for sale for something like $480. I wouldn’t trust any rating they publish as being true.

  9. If any of government institutions done their job correctly (don’t need to go above and beyond at all), we wouldn’t see stupid-funny news regarding TSA. What makes you think BBB any different or better maybe? Stop daydreaming.

  10. This was a 60 minute piece a few years back. The BBB charges businesses membership fees. It just so hapoens that if a business pays the BBB the enormous fee, they get A plus ratings. American doesn’t pay.

    Given the sorry state of Airlines today it us obvious that making a complaint yo the BBB will solve nothing. The BBB is not a government entity.

  11. most airlines only issue electronic vouchers that you can redeem online or by calling the reservations department quoting the voucher number
    If you lost the original email containing the details it should have easily been resolved

  12. It is time to break them up. Market monopoly leads to shitty and manipulated service. Some routes and hubs are in the total control of a single carrier.

    Transportation is a vital and strategic structure of a nation. if Government allowed this monopoly, then government should beak it up.

    Competition is healthy. Monopoly leads to chaos. Write to your congressmen and women, your senators.

    Break them up!

  13. I’ll go with most of the others. I wouldn’t bother complaining to the BBB. Take it to the credit card, take it to a government agency, anyone they *have* to pay attention to. The BBB they can just ignore.

  14. @Icarus, American (and US Air before them) still issues some certificates that you have to print out and physically mail in. One example was the companion certificate that you got with one of the US Air credit cards. You had to mail it somewhere in North Carolina. We did this once or twice and were luckier than Andrew as they did not get lost, but still the possibility for that happening is too high.

  15. Speaking from my experience: one DOT complaint against an airline, two BBB complaints (one against an accredited computer store, one against a non-accredited furniture store). All three resolved quickly and to my satisfaction.

    Just my personal experience; worth it each time.

  16. I reported CheapTickets to the BBB after their worthless customer service reps told me they would refund my airfare (within my 24 hour purchase window) but failed to do so. When I called them back, after my 24 hour window, of course they didn’t want to give me the refund.

    After I filed a dispute with Amex and the BBB, they responded with a ‘courtesy’ refund. I still was not happy because the refund was owed to me, and wasn’t done as a ‘courtesy’. I don’t do business with CheapTickets or whoever owns them (Orbitz I think) anymore.

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