How To Write A Good Complaint Letter

Airline lost your bag? Maybe they left just you stranded overnight in a foreign country that you weren’t even supposed to go to. Both? Yeah, it happens.

It is inevitable. Stuff goes wrong when we travel, and when it does we often find ourselves wanting to complain about it. Here are a few tips to help you make your next complaint letter as effective as possible so you can get what you want.

This should be the sentence in the first paragraph or your letter. Tell them why you are writing. It can be as simple as, “Dear Airline, My name is this, and I am writing to complain about this…”

While it is important to provide details about why you are complaining, too many can hurt your cause. Think who, what, where, when, why and a brief description will do. Don’t make any speculations. If you are complaining about maybe how an employee was mean to you, skip the line about how “maybe they were just having a bad day” and simply state that the reason you are complaining was because they were rude and dismissive. Details that are important to include are things like the date, your flight numbers, your ticket numbers/frequent flier account and anything that can help them identify you and validate your claim. The more facts you give them, the less research they have to do in order to process your request.

Don’t make them guess. This can be simple as asking for an action like, “Please deliver my lost bag to this address,” but if what you are seeking is compensation (i.e. e-certificates), then don’t be shy; give them a number. I know it is uncomfortable for some people to outright ask for money. Try using wording like, “I am seeking a token of your good faith in the form of a $200 e-certificate, something that shows you appreciate my continued business.” You may even butter them up a little bit and mention you want to use that voucher on a future trip with them because you know they can do better. Just make sure you don’t make any threats like, “I won’t fly your airline ever again unless you give me $200!” That is bad and likely to get you nowhere.

Three paragraphs is perfect: Introduction, the facts, and then any final details like what you want and where it should be sent, sincerely, you name. People who read complaint letters all day probably aren’t interested in another 37-page manifesto on “How Delta Should Be Run According to yours truly,” and frankly they don’t have the time. You are much more likely to get their attention, and what you want, if your letter is quick and easy to read. Bullet points, numbering, anything you can do to make their job more simple, is a good idea. Unless your complaint is ridiculously complex like how I spent Chinese New Year in the Hong Kong Airport on a trip when I was supposed to go to Tokyo, try to keep it under a page. That complaint letter was a page and a half.

I’m not one of them, but some people are offended by bad language. Take into account who your audience is and don’t cuss at them. Chances are the person reading you letter is not the same person who broke the non-reclining business class seat you spent nine hours in, so don’t take it out on them. The person you are writing to is someone you want to be friends with and someone you are asking for a favor. You want them to take your side. Tone is important. Be assertive in your claims, but there is no need for rudeness or sarcasm.

Nobody likes a DYKWIA (Do you know who I am?), but gently reminding the airline of your status if you have any is a good idea. Most likely the better your status, the more the interested the airline will be in your continued business. Sentence number two can be, “Never in my 25 year history with your airline have I encountered such horrible service or unprofessional conduct,” or it can be something more subtle. Instead of saying, “My frequent flier number is XXX,” try, “My Super-Duper Elite Gold Platinum number is XXX.” Along those lines, make sure they have all your contact information so they know where to send your prize and/or which mileage account they should deposit into.

Good Luck! And remember, “Don’t get mad, get even.”

There are lots of threads here on FlyerTalk about compensation like this one. They are usually airline specific and can be found in the Miles and Points section under each program. That is a great place to find out what other people received for similar complaints and how much you should ask for.

Recommended Reading: “The Business Writers Companion,” by Gerald J. Alred, Charles T. Brusaw and Walter E. Oliu. This little spiral bound guide has been through several editions now and is an invaluable resource that covers everything from formatting to grammar. My third edition copy was a required course material for two different communications classes when I was an undergrad at USC Business School, and the title is still used at many other top institutions across the country today.

Just for fun, check out this guy’s hilarious complaint to Continental about getting stuck in the seat next to the bathroom. Maybe it’s not the best example to model your next complaint after; It’s handwritten and illustrated on what appears to be a napkin but I’m sure it got someone’s attention at the airline before going viral. Anyway, Enjoy!

So what is the worst thing you’ve had to complain about? Are there any tips you’d like to share? Please comment.

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