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Power of a Well Written Letter on a Bad Experience

A few weeks ago I again embarked on a journey to Shanghai.  This time it was a short trip, pop out on Saturday and back on Friday.  For us east coasters that means a 20 hour 1 stop jaunt on a plane.  I am no stranger to such long haul flights, but this one was an especially bad experience.   A well written letter softened the blow somewhat.

The Flight to Shanghai

I boarded a plane at 6 am from Philadelphia to Chicago.  That means I left for the airport at 2 am in the morning via an airport shuttle.  Interestingly enough the shuttle service picked me up in a stretch limo as the driver did not have time to switch cars between me and a limo service trip.  A pretty cool first experience for me…  But anyway I got to Chicago on time and then flew on to Shanghai. 

Somewhere over Canada there began a frantic call for a doctor or nurse on board.    This culminated in an emergency stop in Anchorage where the airline was not sure if we could refuel quick enough to ensure the airline staff stayed within hour limits.  We were stuck on the tarmac for 2 hrs, but we did ultimately take off.  It was so close the baggage cars were circling the plane.   Keep in mind its 40 degrees outside in Anchorage and I am dressed and prepared for 80 degree China.  That would not have been good.

Anyway, upon landing in Shanghai they tell us the person was admitted and then released from the hospital during the 6 hour remaining flight.  It quite obviously was something like anxiety.  Not really the airlines fault but instead of 24 hours of travel I ended up with 28 hours.  I don’t sleep on planes so you can imagine I was doing great at arrival.  To make matters worse turbulence meant they did not serve hot beverages near landing.  So no coffee. (kiss of death if you know me)  Still at this point I would have called it a wash.

Returning from Shanghai

Leaving Shanghai ended up being the worse situation.  The plane was fully loaded and sat on the tarmac for an hour and a half before being allowed to depart.  We arrived in Chicago with me having 1 hour remaining between flights.  The airline though had decided I needed to rebook, so they refused to give me a priority pass to get through security at the jetway. 

After making it through customs I was able to get one from a baggage claim person and sprint to my next plane…. I missed it by the jetway pulling away from the plane (3 mins by my watch).   This meant a 5 hour layover in Chicago, a rebooking of my return shuttle at extra cost to my company, and 29 total hours of travel.    I was not happy.

So what did I do about it?  I didn’t throw a fit, yell, scream, or get re-accomodated .  No I coped with the trip and when I got home I wrote them a well written letter explaining the situation and asking for some frequent flyer points to make up for my horrible trip.  Guess what?  They gave me some.

The Power of a Well Written Letter

I was first introduced the idea of writing a letter to a company when you encounter poor service by a coworker.  That coworker sort of milked the system, he always had some freebie they gave him for complaining.  I always thought excessively using such an approach was kind of scummy.  But, I also realized that these things occurred because of an old marketing saying, “It costs more to acquire a new customer then to keep the ones you have”.  Realizing this I know these companies want me to keep coming back to them. 

They understand if I am unhappy I won’t return, so they want me happy.  If I am not happy they want to hear from me and sometimes will go the extra mile to make me happy.    This is why every place you go these days seems to incentivize you for answering a survey of some sort.  They want data on how to keep you coming back.    While I will not take advantage by always complaining, if I have an exceedingly bad experience I will definitely reach out.  I may benefit plus they may make adjustments to help the next person.

A Prior example with a Well Written Letter

I had a similar experience with a roadside assistance service we had years ago.  I called the service for help because my car started leaking gasoline.  They connected me to a towing company, who said they couldn’t do anything for me until I called a fire company.  I sat on the road for over an hour with gasoline pooling under my car trying to get someone, anyone, to help me out of the situation.  So what did I do afterward?  I wrote them a well written letter.  For my troubles they gave me a free year of service.  They also noted they had adjusted their training to ensure no one else had the same experience.    I  did my good deed by helping someone else in a similar situation and I got a free year of service, not bad for one well written letter.

Increasing your Chances of Remuneration

Now I will say one thing.  In each case I have outlined I was an existing customer with a track record of purchases.  In the case of the airline I was a higher status frequent flyer.  In the case of the roadside assistance, I’d just recently spent decent money buying one of their cars.   So my recommendation besides being willing to send a well written letter when things go really bad, is to sign up for a companies frequent customer program.  The more frequent you use the service the less likely the company will want to lose your business due to a poor experience.    A quick google of the airline further reflected this.  Essentially people with status were able to get some miles or other items for delays of around 4 hours.  One time bookers seemed to get nowhere.  


When you have a really bad experience with a company, let them know.  Get out your email, lookup their email address, and carefully write them a well written letter.  Outline the situation, why it was an inconvenience, and how they can make it better next time.  Remember to write the letter nicely, as my grandfather use to say you get more flies with honey than vinegar.  Then sit back and see what happens.  They may surprise you with a nice gesture of good will.

Have you ever sent a well written letter to a company in response to a bad experience?  Did they send you something to improve your view-point on their company?


  1. Leo T. Ly
    Leo T. Ly June 12, 2017

    I don’t remember having that many bad customer experiences. However, I do remember one incident where my printer had an issue with the print head and the support from that company suggested that I should buy new ink and a couple other experiments. The result, my printer was not working after all the suggestions. I did further research and found out that it’s a glitch in the product. I did not bother to do any further complaining as I didn’t want any freebies from that company nor did I want to buy their products again.

    • June 13, 2017

      There is definitely an aspect where sometimes you just don’t want anything more to do with the company. In that case the letter might be a moot point.

  2. Gary @ Super Saving Tips
    Gary @ Super Saving Tips June 12, 2017

    My experience is largely on the other end of the process as I was a department store manager for many years listening to customer complaints. As long as the complaint was valid, the person was civil, and there was something I could do, I was happy to help. Sometimes, however, I couldn’t figure out what the person wanted and I’d ask them. Sometimes they didn’t know or just wanted to be heard. So in any situation where you’re complaining about a product or service, I’d recommend knowing the outcome you’d like and asking for it. That doesn’t mean you’ll always get what you’re asking for, but it certainly increases your chances.

    • June 13, 2017

      Great point Gary, one I probably should have emphasized more. You definitely should indicate what you are looking for with your request.

  3. Mustard Seed Money
    Mustard Seed Money June 13, 2017

    I have a friend that if service is lousy and doesn’t meet his expectations. He’ll write to the CEO of the company with his demands for compensation. I can’t even tell you the number of times that he’s flown and it’s upgraded to the highest frequent flyer status. Well crafted emails definitely work especially if you outline specific issues. Glad to hear it worked out well for you after a trying experience. I too would have been in the same boat as I can’t sleep on planes either 🙁

    • June 15, 2017

      Writing directly to the CEO is a great way to do it. Thanks for adding your thoughts.

  4. Ryan @ Just Another Dollar
    Ryan @ Just Another Dollar June 14, 2017

    I’m generally one to sit back quietly and roll with any situation, but lately I’ve also been more assertive regarding bad experiences. In January, I had a flight cancellation that resulted in an overnight stay at the airport before a 6AM rescheduled connecting flight. I emailed the airline a couple of days later and ended up with vouchers and miles worth about 3x what the original ticket cost me. Speak up if you feel you have truly not gotten what you paid for, any good company will realize the value in keeping you as a customer.

    • June 15, 2017

      Overnight cancellations are some of the worst. I’m glad it worked out for you in the end.

  5. Troy @ Bear Market
    Troy @ Bear Market June 18, 2017

    I flew in once from HK to Toronto in the middle of winter. Massive flight, and there was a snowstorm in Toronto when we arrived. The plane circled around in the air for 2 hours before we finally landed.

    • June 19, 2017

      Ouch, 2 hours in the air over a storm is probably worse then two hours on the ground. Did they at least have the seatbelt sign off?

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