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What’s going on in this photo? Come up with a clever caption for this cute travel pic and you could win an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug.

little boy


To enter, drop your wittiest one-liner (or two-liner, or three-liner…) in the comments by Sunday night, August 5, 2012, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time. We’ll contact the winner and reveal our favorite caption on Monday. Please be sure to abide by our community guidelines when commenting.

Today’s photo was snapped by IndependentTraveler.com reader Rebecca McCormick while visiting a historic site in the U.S. She has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel comfort kit. Do you have a funny or bizarre photo that we could use for a future caption contest? Send it to us at feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put “Caption Contest” in the subject line.) If we feature your photo on our blog, we’ll send you a prize.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

suitcase cell phone womanMaybe you’re having a disastrous day at the airport, trying unsuccessfully to get rebooked after a canceled flight. Or you’re sitting at home on hold with an airline’s customer service department, listening to hour two of Elevator Music’s Greatest Hits. In growing frustration, you may be tempted to take your complaint to social media — but when you pull up your airline’s Twitter page, you encounter something like this:

“@jetblue doesn’t respond to formal complaints on Twitter. For official customer concerns go to jetblue.com/speakup or call 1-800-jetblue.”

“Have a complaint/compliment to share with us? Go to usairways.com/feedback so we can followup [sic] directly. We aren’t able to provide a proper response on Twitter.”

“Tweeting is short and sweet, but sometimes you need more than 140 characters to get an issue resolved. If you require a specific response: For post-travel issues related to travel [on] a United Airlines operated flight, please contact Customer Care at http://united.com/feedback.”

Why are the airlines on social media if they’re just going to shut down the conversation? Can they really do that?

Turns out that they can’t — and despite what their profiles say, they don’t even try. Even though JetBlue claims not to respond to complaints on Twitter, a quick scan of its Twitter page reveals responses to a delayed traveler (“We hear your frustration. What flight are you on so we can provide the most up to date information?”), a person having problems with the airline’s Web site (“You can either try using a different browser or give our Getaways department a call at 1-800-JETBLUE and they can help!”) and a passenger whose TV didn’t work in flight (“Sorry to hear – per our Customer Bill of Rights, you’re entitled to a $15 credit for the inconvenience”) — all within the past 13 hours.

Make Your Travel Complaint Count

US Airways, meanwhile, tweeted this morning that it would rebook a delayed passenger, and asked other travelers having problems to DM (direct message) their confirmation codes so that the carrier’s Twitter team could look into the problem. United Airlines answered traveler questions and offered the appropriate customer service phone numbers and Web sites to Twitter followers who needed more in-depth assistance.

It’s clear that despite the airlines’ efforts to discourage passengers from speaking out on Twitter, people are doing it anyway — and the airlines are responding, often within minutes. Really, it makes sense; a tweet that goes viral can turn into a public relations nightmare, so it’s in the airlines’ best interest to resolve issues on Twitter as quickly and effectively as possible.

So the next time you’re fed up with a flight, consider the power you have in those simple 140 characters.

How to Use Twitter in Your Travels

Follow IndependentTraveler.com on Twitter!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Hotel InternetDo extra fees really impact a hotel guest’s stay? A new J.D. Power and Associates survey indicates that unwelcome fees may be more than just a small annoyance. In fact, extra fees, like bad customer service, put hotel guests in a negative frame of mind — never a good thing when it comes to measuring satisfaction.

According to the North American Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index study, the average guest satisfaction is at 757 (out of a possible high of 1,000). But guests who indicated they had received free Internet were more satisfied (775) than those who were charged for Internet (743).

It seems that for many guests, what they paid (or didn’t pay) for Wi-Fi may have colored their entire hotel stay.

So, if Internet was free, their overall hotel experience was better, almost as if free Internet came with rose-colored glasses — what a pretty carpet, isn’t that receptionist nice, what cute little shampoo bottles.

But for those forced to pay for their Internet usage, the hotel was simply a disappointment — the carpets seem faded, the receptionists aren’t helpful and they’d much rather have free Wi-Fi than stupid little shampoo bottles.

Okay, specific questions about the carpets, receptionists and shampoo bottles weren’t in the survey, but you know what I mean.

I hate paying for Internet at a hotel, especially if I’m being charged per hour or more than $20 for a day. It just puts me in a bad mood, and yeah, maybe I do suddenly “realize” that what I first thought of as a pretty aqua blue carpet is actually faded royal blue that hasn’t been replaced in years. And the woman at the hotel’s front desk who I thought was working hard to help another guest was actually simply ignoring me.

But at hotels where the Internet is free, I’m much more relaxed, happily surprised and willing to give the hotel more leeway. So what if I never use the hotel’s shampoo samples? How nice that the hotel isn’t stingy and offers that amenity, in addition (of course) to the free Internet.

It’s really just a matter of the hotel setting up my mood. Give me something I want (and quite frankly need) for free, and I’m happy. Make me pay for it, and you get a grumpy puss who’s looking for something to complain about.

It’s really not a new concept. That’s why customer service has always been important. Good customer service makes for happy customers, who see the rest of their experience through a positive lens. Bad customer service…

Let’s go back to the J.D. Power survey for a moment. Guests with a high opinion of a hotel’s staff have an overall satisfaction index of 841, while those with an average or low opinion of staff have overall satisfaction indexes of 673 and 570 respectively. That’s a pretty big difference, if you ask me.

So if good customer service is giving guests what they want, and the hotel amenity travelers want most is free Wi-Fi, we can’t help but wonder: Why do any hotels still insist on charging for the Internet?

Tips for Better Wi-Fi on the Road

Hidden Hotel Fees

Choosing a Hotel

– written by Dori Saltzman