Rabbi loses Supreme Court bid to have frequent flier status reinstated

While I’m amazed that someone would take such a case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and that the court would agree to hear it, the case of Northwest (Airlines) vs. Ginsburg has some important lessons for frequent travelers who have achieved, and want to keep, their higher-tier frequent flier or frequent guest level.

A priest, a minister and a rabbi walk up to an airport baggage carousel to wait for their luggage. And wait. And wait. Finally, it arrives.

“Patience is a virtue,” said the priest. "From 'Piers Plowman', William Langland."

“All good things come to he who waits," said the minister. "From the Bible; James 1:17.”

“What took so long?” kvetched the rabbi. “I want compensation!”

Except for the references to the priest and the minister, this actually happened!

According to court documents submitted by Northwest Airlines, Rabbi S. Binyomin Ginsberg, who achieved Platinum Elite status in Northwest’s WorldPerks program in 2005, complained to the airline 24 times in seven months, including nine complaints about delayed luggage.

The airline responded by giving Ginsberg $1,925 in travel vouchers, 78,500 bonus miles, nearly $500 in cash reimbursements, and a travel voucher for another family member.

Finally, in 2008, Northwest had enough and stripped him of his top-tier status and subsequently cancelled his membership. The rabbi responded by filing suit, claiming that the airline was trying to cut costs because of its merger with Delta (NYSE:DAL), and that it did not act in good faith.

U.S. Supreme Court
On Wednesday, April 2, the high court dismissed the suit, finding that the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 gives airlines the authority to cancel frequent flier memberships essentially at will (Case No. 12-462). Read the full story here.

There are some important lessons here.

Airlines and hotels keep track of complaints by their guests, particularly if they’re members of loyalty programs. Don’t let that deter you from complaining when it’s warranted, but that segues to the next lesson.

Be sure your complaint is legitimate. State it succinctly, with a minimum of emotion. Tell the provider what went wrong, how it affected you adversely, and how you'd like it rectified. That can range from a simple apology to compensation.

To that point, when asking for compensation, choose your battles wisely. Was the issue merely an inconvenience, or was there a more serious impact, like missing a connecting flight because of a luggage or other delay or a noisy air conditioner keeping you awake the night before an important meeting where you needed to be well rested and at your best?

When you ask for compensation, be sure it’s commensurate with the offense. Asking that the cost of an unsatisfactory meal at the hotel restaurant be taken off your bill is fine, but asking for a free night because of a bad meal is over the top.

Be prepared for the consequences. While few of us complain to one travel provider 24 times in seven months, the Court’s ruling makes it clear that complaints don’t have to reach any certain level before the airlines can act; it’s their call.

By that same token, if we’re not happy with a provider’s service, there are other airlines we can fly and hotel chains at which we can stay.

And if we’re as unhappy as Rabbi Ginsberg, perhaps we should.

Visit my main page at TheTravelPro.us for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.

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