Ralph Nader, the almighty godfather of the consumer activist movement, has still got it. NYT’s “The Haggler” column just posted a story that Nader called up to tell him about how he got a full refund from US Airways after canceling two round-trip tickets, even getting back the $150 cancellation fee.
“The Haggler” tells how Nader had booked two round-trip tickets for $1,380 that he then opted to cancel because of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes in the forecast. Instead of giving him his money back, they charged him two $150 cancellation fees and gave him credits for his tickets. They were non-transferable and had to be used within a year. That wasn’t good enough for Nader so he started calling up customer service, writing letters, and even trying to call CEO Doug Parker. No dice.
So he got on the horn with the assistant to the general counsel for the airline and uttered three magic words: small – claims – court. Swoosh! The airline sent him a letter shortly after notifying him that, as a “one-time courtesy,” they would be giving him a full refund. Money in the bank.
“I read a lot of consumer books, and almost all of them completely ignore small claims court,” Mr. Nader told NYT. “Few people know how simple the forms are, how accommodating the judges are. A lot of them are even open at night.”
Here’s a good introduction to taking your case to small claims court, where you don’t need a lawyer and can get judgement on smaller item things, usually under $5,000. They are a great recourse for consumers to get justice, even when the “policy” says otherwise.
I gotta say, in my five years of writing thousands upon thousands of posts for Consumerist, I’ve never read a letter from a reader who went to small claims court where they lost. I don’t know whether people who lose in small claims court just then don’t go bother writing letters about it, but it’s a compelling statistics to ponder when you’re evaluating the cost-benefit ratio of taking such action.