The Fine Print: The Results Are In!

The following is not legal advice. Please contact the author ( or your own attorney should you have questions.


Call the company. Get put on hold. Email the company. Receive an automated response. Repeat, repeat, repeat. When it is all said and done, time is wasted and nothing is accomplished. That was the experience with eBay and British, two cases presented in the Fine Print Series. (see Should You Record Your Calls for Quality Assurance? and Who’s To Blame: eBay, PayPal or Hyatt?)

In both situations, the parties involved were not looking for a payday and were not money hungry. Instead, they just wanted to be made whole again. Unfortunately, pleading with customer service was not an effective strategy in either case. Against British, I filed a complaint in small claims court for the value of the lost business class tickets. Against eBay, I, on behalf of my client, sent a letter stating my intent to seek arbitration.

Unlike TV court room dramas, the response from both companies was prompt and professional. Each launched an investigation and both, without admitting liability or wrongdoing, settled the cases for a fair amount. British refunded the cash and points and gave me 20,000 Avios points for the inconvenience. eBay compensated my client the amount of the failed transaction.

Why do claims have to be escalated to this level before they are handled by a sympathetic human? The optimist will answer that companies are massive and imperfect. As such, mistakes happen but they are corrected when they receive the proper attention. The pessimist will argue that companies stand to make millions if not billions of dollars by short-changing consumers on nominal sums of money, knowing that consumers are unaware or overwhelmed by dispute resolution processes.

Whatever the reason, companies should be held accountable whether the claim is for cash, points, or a combination of the two.

If you have questions about consumer arbitration or are looking to file a claim, contact Alexander at

About Alex Bachuwa

Alexander Bachuwa is a New York attorney who focuses on consumer protection. He is also a BoardingArea blogger. Contact Alex at through his website at and visit

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  1. Alex – I have all but given up on dealing with front line customer service. After disasters with both IHG and Budget recently I took a similar route threatening to initiate litigation in both instances. I sent the demand letters to their in house counsel and both issues were resolved in less than 24 hours with apologies.

    It’s a sad world that you have to threaten litigation to get a company to remedy a situation especially when their is no reasonable basis for their position.

  2. You ask “Why do claims have to be escalated to this level before they are handled by a sympathetic human?”

    Simple. Too many times the company has been ripped off by people looking for a payday. When it is easier to scam a big, faceless company than getting a job, people will always find the path of lease resistance.

    Why do you think many companies are restricting sign-up bonuses? Because people have taken advantage of them by churning, and the companies are just saying “STOP!”.

      • It does not have to be a “general” ahead. Just a few rotten apples spoil the whole bunch.

        A few people who churn sign-up bonuses and the next thing you know, AMEX is limiting the sign up bonus to once per card per lifetime.

        A few people who MS their way to get rewards and then the sources for MS simply dry up. Oh yeah, and companies claw-back bonuses earned under somewhat questionable circumstances.

        And then there’s the 5/24 rule. Does not matter to me, but it sure has some folks torqued.

        Why does this happen? Because companies see these as taking advantage. And no one likes being taken advantage of.

        • I see your point but disagree wholeheartedly.

          The banks limit the sign up bonuses because profits are great, there is no recession, and they are not desperate for business. When there’s another downturn, the 5/24 will go away, the once per lifetime language will change, and points will be readily available again. I jokingly once said that the best thing that can happen in the world of points is another recession.

          The MS issue is even more vexing. Banks can easily eliminate this by capping bonus spend. Instead, this is what happens: customer gets 5x to buy widgets. Customer buys a bunch of widgets. Customer calls to cancel card. Bank provides retention for 5x widget offer. Customer continues to buy widgets. Customer looks to redeem points. Bank shuts down customer and bans customer for life. Customer has no choice but to file arbitration claim or come away with nothing. Meanwhile, bank raked in tons of cash from the transactions.

          Finally, let’s assume that points people are greedy hoarders who can’t go to the buffet without taking the whole tray. Their exploits are a rounding error compared to the corporate greed of financial institutions that ruined the US economy. They took advantage of every loophole available and when they came up short, they received a bailout. And that mischievous behavior has not stopped, reference Wells Fargo.

          Again, I get your point but I have to side with the consumer.

      • I don’t think he means ahead, but that a small population of “consumers” have undercut the corporations’ profits by just enough of a margin for the corporations to take notice and take actions in order to curb those dips in profits.

        Think of churners as polluters and American Express as mother earth. If the churners/polluters all cut back a little, they won’t get American Express/mother earth to turn around and whoop their asses back in line. However, there are always people driven by greed (such as BP, lol) that don’t care about the consequences and will eventually lead to account shutdown/end of humanity for everyone.

        • I agree to an extent. There’s no need to go absolutely nuts. Take what you need and be happy. At the same time, the banks know they have the leverage and they use it, sometimes unfairly.

        • Please never compare AMEX to Mother Earth. One sucks and has shitty customer service and one gives us life.

        • For all this to make sense, you have to believe that these corporations are somehow benevolent, and that they are forced to take unpopular actions to protect their razor-thin profit margins against rapacious consumers; otherwise they won’t be able to feed their families!. The data, unfortunately, shows precisely the opposite. These corporations are literally money engines, churning out wealth far faster than any reasonable person can understand. The idea that they have to protect their tiny margins against us mean old consumers is simply silly.

    • Correct. I am a consumer protection attorney and blogger. And I have not called anyone that but let’s not use Frequent Miler’s blog to make this about me personally. You can comment on my site should you feel the need.

  3. Another good post, and it’s nice to know how things have progressed. I’ve thought about going after Amex when I recently signed up for a 100k business platinum card, then got another higher offer which they agreed to honor for 150k, but then didn’t actually do so. Every time I ask about the higher offer, I’m promised a call back (which they don’t do) while they play stupid. It’s annoying as hell, but I also have to figure whether it’s worth it to risk poisoning my relationship with the company over their show of bad faith.

  4. Sort of hard to extrapolate how customer greed led to my six phone calls in 24 hours trying to reserve a United awards trip with miles they say I earned. I still don’t have the ticket. Fact is the airlines generally offer pretty bad customer service. If they were selling televisions, I could just buy somewhere else, and I would. But airlines are semi-monopolies operating under license as federally regulated service providers; and when their service is so bad it violates those regulations, I will get their ass every time I can. Nothing personal. Just business. We’ve had ample lessons that service improvements will come only when lousy service costs money. Make them pay.

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