20130731-IMG_0943I’ve just come off the road after a 4 day business trip to Salt Lake City, Utah.  While there I was lucky enough to have time after daily meetings to take advantage of some tremendous photo ops.  The image accompanying this blog entry is from Antelope Island State Park.  I also spent one afternoon at Albion Basin chasing wildflowers.  But that’s not what this blog is about.  I’m a bit new at the business travel game and still learning some tricks and tips for business travel.  I’m a quick study though, and remember the lessons when I learn them.  This trip turned out well but it started out with a lot of potential to be a disaster.  Strap in and I’ll tell you about it.

In the past when I’ve flown somewhere either for business or pleasure I’ve flown United, Frontier, and Southwest.  I much prefer Southwest for reasons I outlined in previous blogs so I won’t bore you with that again.  When this trip came up I went to book travel through our corporate travel portal and for some reason the link to book Southwest wasn’t available.  I needed to get the trip booked so I selected Frontier.  Not a wise decision…..

In the past I haven’t flown a tremendous amount of times but I’d say I’m an experienced traveler.  For the record I have NEVER paid for a beverage on a flight so you can imagine my surprise when the pre-flight spiel came to the place where they tell you that “…as of July 1 Frontier is now charging for all drinks except water.”  What????  It now costs $1.99 for a 12 oz can of soda or cup of coffee…it’s okay though, you get the whole can of soda and there are unlimited refills on coffee.  Really?  REALLY?  You want me to pay 2 bucks for a soda that cost you 50 cents?  Not bloody likely!  I’ll buy my soda at a kiosk in the terminal and carry it on thank you very much.  I’ll definitely overpay for a soda at the airport but I will NEVER pay an airline for a soda regardless of price.

Then there’s the thing about my carry on bag.  I have a problem with the policy of charging customers for checked luggage.  It’s one of the reasons I like Southwest but that’s another story for another time.  For business travel I have a carry-on suitcase and either a camera bag or computer bag and as a courtesy to my fellow passengers I check my bag at the gate if asked.  When I flew United in June I did that and my bag was waiting for me at the gate where I got off the plane.  Think Frontier does that?  NOOOOOO!  I like the carry on deal for 2 reasons:  I already talked about the fee for checked bags but the other advantage of carry on is I get to avoid the crowd and wait at the baggage carousel.  But not with Frontier.  After checking my bag at the gate in Denver I got off the plane in SLC and started looking for my bag…no luck.  I asked an attendant that was coming off the plane and was told I had to pick it up at the baggage claim area like everyone else.  Really?  REALLY?

And let’s not forget Avis…First time I’ve ever rented from Avis.  I normally rent from Hertz if it’s a company trip or Alamo if it’s personal.  Not sure why I chose Avis this time but it was an educational experience.  With Hertz I have a Gold membership and in most locations I locate my name on a board, get the space number of my car, and head out.  With Avis, not so much.  It’s as if I just walked in from the terminal and decided to rent a car.  I suppose that could change with more rentals but doubt I’ll ever find out.  At the rental counter they asked the usual questions:

“Insurance?”  No

They asked if I wanted to take the gas option at $3.50/gallon.  That seemed fair so I said “Yes.”  The clerk printed my rental agreement and we started going over the numbers.  I stopped when I came to an item titled “Gas option:  $64.95.”  I asked what that was for and was told that’s how much it costs to fill the car up.

Me:  “So you’re saying you charge me that amount regardless of how much it takes to fill the tank?”

Avis:  “Yes.  You said you wanted the gas option at $3.50 per gallon and at that price it’s $64.95.”

Me:  “What if I bring it back and it only takes 5 gallons to fill the tank?”

Avis:  “Well, if you put gas in the car before bringing it back just show the receipt to the guy that checks the car in and if it takes less to fill the tank they will credit you for that amount.”

Simple right?  Maybe but it’s a pain in my behind so I asked her to redo the agreement and take the gas option off.  She did but only after emitting a heavy sigh and tossing things around the counter.  Great customer service…but wait, it gets better.

If you’ve ever rented a car at the Salt Lake City airport you know that the area where you pick up the car is very dark.  I did my usual walk around to look for damage and initially noticed none so I drove out.  A few miles down the road I stopped for a soda (since I didn’t buy one on the plane) and noticed a major scrape on the front bumper that I didn’t see in the dark garage.  No problem, I’ll just call and have them add a note to my rental agreement.  Right….

I grabbed my contract and started by dialing the 800 number for reservations.  That got me a national reservations desk and they couldn’t make any notes on my contract.  They gave me a number to call at the SLC airport.

Me:  “I don’t see a pen in this car can you just transfer me to that location?”

Avis:  “No, you’ll have to call the number.”

Me:  “Marvelous.”

I dialed the number that I thought she had rattled off to me but I got it wrong.  Next step, call information to get the number.  They connected me to a number that they said was the Avis counter at SLC airport.  I described my problem to the woman that answered.  She told me I had to call the counter agent I had dealt with…

Me:  “I don’t have

a pen to write down the number, can’t you just transfer the call for me?”

Avis:  “No, you’ll have to call that agent directly”

Me:  “Well, I’m only 10 minutes from the location, how bout I just drive back, turn in the car, and rent from your competition?”

Avis:  “You could do that and only pay for 1 day.”

More great customer service…..So I drove back to the airport and to the Rental Car Return with the intention of having someone make a note on my rental contract about the scrape.  When I got there and pulled up to the office instead of the back of the return line the attendant started yelling and screaming at me.  He stalked up to where I was parked and insisted that I had to go to the back of the line.  Me being me I told him I’m a paying customer and if Avis wants me to keep the car for 3 more days instead of turning it in and disputing the charge for a 30 minute rental I’ll park where I damn well please.  During this poetic interlude one of the guys came out of the office and asked if he could help.  It was still very dark so I grabbed the headlamp out of my camera bag and showed him the scrape.  He took my contract and added the appropriate notation…Finally!  Someone with decent customer service skills.  Sadly it was not soon enough to keep me as a regular customer.  Sure enough, when I turned the car in at the end of the rental the guy checking me in says “Wow, it looks like you scraped something pretty hard.  Did you get the insurance option?”  I had to show him the note on my contract to get a receipt issued saying the car was returned full of gas and undamaged.  Awesome!

The rest of the trip was fine.  The car performed well and I was able to fill it up for a lot less than $64.95.  The flight home was no problem and there were no surprises.  This was my second experience with Frontier and since they’ve stopped flying to Mesa/Gateway airport in Arizona it will most likely be my last flight with them.  They’ve gone from number 2 on my list of choices to rock bottom.

And Avis?  Well, I may rent from them again but only if Hertz, Alamo, and Dollar are out of vehicles.  For me, it’s all about the customer service experience.  It’s what I do for a living and I know what I have to do to keep my job.  When I’m a customer I expect that level of service.  Unfortunately it’s getting more and more rare.

Rant over, Peace…Out!