let’s backtrack…get an opinion

Came across a blog TripAdvisor Watch: Hotel Reviews in Focus after I published my previous post “get an opinion…”. Since then I’ve encountered another site, Wallet Pop, whose post I read, “Is TripAdvisor.com one big joke?” Both had me rethinking my referral of TripAdvisor as the greatest pastime with a purpose, since the invention of hula hoops…which was suppose to decrease the size of my hips. Tongue-in-cheek humor aside, I never realized, in my naivete, that scammers would derail a system wherein people could share experiences so that others might avoid making the same mistakes, or get the best value for their money. It seems TripAdvisor is rife with competitors, or vengeful customers, faking reviews for their own benefit, whether to garner an increase in traffic, or deter bookings, or a combination of both.

Old postcards and a magnifying glass.

Image via Wikipedia

It’s been a few months since I’ve needed to use TripAdvisor. From here on out I’ll probably be dissecting their reviews with a scalpel and magnifying glass. But truth be told, I’m so anal about details that I already check to make sure all the “i’s” are dotted, and “t’s” are crossed. I recommend you do the same. Be thorough in your research, trust your gut instinct and common sense, confirm with other sources…like Rick Steves, and don’t hesitate to change your mind, and your plans, should something better happen along.

 

Group of American tourists encounter Rick Stev...

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Blest with a vivid imagination, I can picture myself trying to turn around in a typical, small European hotel shower. Or I can see myself annoyed with the comings and goings of people getting on and off the elevator, if my room is adjacent to one. A sucker for hospitality, I like to bask in the warmth of a friendly, accommodating reception staff. 

 

Perusing the reviews, it’s as though I’d traveled with the writer. After painstakingly researching my topic of interest, I feel comfortable with my final decisions. All I can do is make the best educated guess with the facts at hand. Things may not always turn out as expected, but I don’t wallow in regrets, knowing I did as much as I could.

Image representing Yelp as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

Evidently Yelp has also come under fire for manipulated reviews. All I can say is…proceed with caution. But don’t let a few bad apples ruin the good intentions of most reviewers. Rotten fruit turn up everywhere in life; that doesn’t stop us from living.

 

TripAdvisor Watch: Hotel Reviews in Focus indicated that Google is beginning to relegate TripAdvisor and Yelp to the bottom of their search engine heap. That’s because the internet giant is launching its own review community. Whether for personal gain or because of the bad press TripAdvisor has garnered, or both, Google has seen fit to attempt to beat TA at its own game. Hopefully, we Lilliputians will be the beneficiaries, and not the pawns in some elaborate game of chess.

Wallet Pop offers some sound advice when utilizing review sites, like TripAdvisor. As I scrolled through WP, I noticed it too offers articles meant to guide consumers through the maze of products and services available for purchase. Of course the question that immediately came to mind was “How reliable is Wallet Pop? Does it have an axe to grind, or a pocket to pad, or line, or whatever the saying is?

…wow!……..who can you trust these days?…trust me…you can trust me  …….hugmamma.            

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a little of this…a little of that…

Haven’t shared trivia with you in sometime. Thought you might be interested in the following regurgitated facts from experts in the field.

…from www.fsis.usda.gov: I was surprised to learn that what I thought would cause food poisoning insofar as perishable items are concerned, was incorrect. Mayonnaise may not be the culprit, but protein sources might. 

best egg salad sandwich ever, flying star, Alb...

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Can mayonnaise in egg salad make you sick when it’s warm out? Karen ( the virtual food safety rep) says people often think mayo is the cause of foodborne illness from chilled foods such as chicken, tuna and egg salad or on deli-styled sandwiches. But since mayonnaise is made with acid (vinegar or lemon juice), it tends to prevent bacterial growth. Usually it’s the meat, poultry, fish or eggs in a sandwich left unrefrigerated for more than two hours that becomes the medium for bacteria to grow.

What about leftover fried chicken? According to Karen, food left out of the fridge for more than two hours may not be safe to eat. At temperatures above 90 F, food shouldn’t be left out for more than an hour. If you have any doubts, throw it out.

When you’ll be in the great outdoors and a cooler chest isn’t an option, Karen suggests packing such items as fruits, vegetables, hard cheeses, dried meats, dried cereal, bread, peanut butter, crackers and bottled drinks. 

…from Jackie Keller (nutrition expert/licensed and certified wellness coach: Debunks popular myths.

My Weight Loss Coach

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Myth: Detox diets jump-start weight loss. I advise against detox diets, as they can cause the body to go into starvation mode and slow down the metabolism. If you want to cleanse your body, eliminate bad-for-you, processed foods and replace them with nutrient-dense foods.

Myth: Cutting carbs will help the pounds come off. The weight loss that low-carb dieters achieve in the first two weeks of carbohhydrate deprivation is measurable and not surprising. Carb-cutting will cause the body to shed water weight, as carbohydrates are stored in the body with water. That water weight will come right back on, and such a yo-yo weight loss is counterproductive and bad for overall metabolism.

Myth: Fat is the enemy. Research shows that monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats–which are found in foods such as fish, olive oil, avocados and walnuts–can actually improve levels of good cholesterol (HDL) and reduce the risk of heart disease. These healthy fats can aid in weight loss and even delay hunger pangs when consumed in appropriate amounts.

…from David Horowitz (leading consumer advocate) @ www.fightback.com: Warns against scams. In my February 27, 2011 post, “ever have one of those years…?” I talked about the first one. So trust me! It can happen to you.

McAfee
Image by biggraham via Flickr

A message flashes on your computer screen: “Warning! Your system requires immediate anti-virus scan.” A free scan is offered. What do you do?
This incredibly common scam is almost guaranteed to occur as you use your PC. Upon first look, it would appear that clicking “No thanks” would be the right solution. Wrong. Clicking anywhere in the on-screen alert can open the program further or direct you to a website you have no interest in going to. Worse, clicking anywhere in the on-screen alert can instantly infect your computer with a virus that can be difficult or even impossible to remove. (It cost me $199 to have Tech Pros remove it.)

The solution is to hold down the Control and Alt keys and hit “Delete.” Once the application tab pops up, select “End Task,” then do a full scan of your computer with the anti-virus software you already have. (That’s exactly what the expert at Tech Pros told me…after I paid the $199.)

You are in financial trouble, and as a result your credit is suffering. You have been approached by a variety of services offering to repair your credit. What do you do?
Although many companies offer to repair damaged credit, it can be difficult to tell which are legitimate. The most common scam involves a company advising you to stop paying your creditors and deposit money into a special account instead. In reality, the debt-settlement company withdraws fees from your account for “services,” long before it negotiates with your creditors, if it negotiates at all.

If these companies send you an unsolicited email or advertise on the radio touting a stellar track record, it may be a scam. Stick with a legitimate nonprofit counseling outlet with an established track record, and always try to negotiate directly with your creditors first.

Ebay Explained 2006 (KLCC)

Image by liewcf via Flickr

You have made an online purchase and the item never arrives, or the item is not what you thought you were buying. What do you do? 
If you made the purchase from a reliable company, review the return policy and keep all receipts once you ship the items back. …However, if you made the purchase through a third-party entity on a website such as craigslist or eBay, the solution can be  bit more complicated.

Eiko's credit card

Image by eikootje via Flickr

Look for telltale signs of a scam before charging your credit card. For example, buying tickets can be risky, as scammers often change one digit in the theater address or the ticket number, tricking you into buying tickets you think are real, only to be told they are fake once you try to enter an event.

Beware of merchants who provide you with only a cellphone number; they do this because cellphones can’t always be tracked. Look out for sellers who ask you to wire money, retail websites that don’t list an address or a phone number, and companies that don’t have much of a presence or any reviews online. These likely are scams.

…more than enough…to contemplate…hugmamma.

tenant must pay for bed bug treatment…???

Adult bed bug, Cimex lectularius

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You read correctly. In the continuing struggle to rid her apartment of bed bugs my daughter was advised that of the $600 charged by All America Pest Control, she had to pay $400, the apartment management would pay $200. That was the proverbial “last straw” as far as we were concerned.

A cat at the Seattle Animal Shelter

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Trying to carry on with her life as best she could, my daughter attended the final performances of her ballet company, cheering on her fellow dancers from the wings. In addition to that she partook of their annual choreographic project, WIP (Works in Progress), in which she choreographed a solo upon one of the trainees. My daughter also helped with administrative details like marketing the show, coordinating photo sessions with the dancers involved, distributing advertising fliers, and making contact with the animal shelter for whom donations were being requested as entrance fee for the show. All this while battling bedbugs and sleeping with one eye open, or not going home to sleep at all. Oh yes, she still had use of only one hand. Luckily, she’s left-handed so she could still drive, and write, and eat, and bathe and dress herself, however awkwardly. Within days of honoring her final commitments, my daughter came home for some much needed R and R.

Having seen to it that All America Pest Control treated her furnishings first, albeit minimally, my daughter approved our emailing the apartment complex‘s assistant manager detailing our disdain for how the bedbug situation had been handled. To be told by her that there was no plan in place to combat the critters once discovered, that our daughter’s case was the first, was unbelievable. The problem with bedbugs had been covered by local and national broadcasts beginning a year ago. That management didn’t take preliminary steps to deal with them since infestations were being reported to occur weekly, if not daily, in hotels and other public places seemed irresponsible. A worst case, best case scenario should’ve been worked out with Orkin, rather than subjecting my daughter to being the test case, the guinea pig. But matters went from bad to worse when my daughter was told that bed bugs weren’t covered by Orkin’s treatment plan, that they were lumped in with “general insects” for which there was no coverage. And so my daughter was being charged for treatment decided upon by management, which was less than satisfactory when compared with what Orkin’s rep said her company would’ve done. And never mind that my daughtered’d already spent almost $300 in following Orkin’s instructions.

As fate would have it, our family had already decided to move my daughter into a smaller, one-bedroom apartment. Of course we were prepared to honor her lease at the old one which didn’t expire until the end of July. But with the bedbug incident occurring the beginning of May, and my daughter not occupying the premises because of the bugs, we requested the lease be terminated the end of June. We felt the situation had been mishandled from the start: no formal treatment plan in place, allowing the Orkin rep to speak for the apartment complex, and then not following through with what she’d outlined to my daughter as the course of action, effectively telling her she shouldn’t have spent the several hundred dollars she did in compliance. We also asked that management pay for treatment because of their failure to point out that erradicating bedbugs would be my daughter’s responsibility, at the time she signed the lease.

What recourse did we have if the apartment’s management didn’t honor our requests? Social media, of course. While I explained in our email that we were just seeking recompense for the wrong done my daughter and no more, I went on to say that if she was not recused from her lease a month early and if she had to pay for treatment, we would have no choice but to broadcast the injustice to the world via the internet, and consumer advocates on TV. Thankfully the outcome was predictable, but only because the regional manager realized their mistake in not having a management rep present when the Orkin woman met with my daughter. It became a case of “she said – she said.” As it turns out, Orkin’s rep denied her entire conversation with my daughter, giving a signed affidavit that she lied about everything. Can you imagine?!? Why she would put herself through hell moving everything into storage, first having to find and rent a unit at the last minute, buy and load up huge plastic bins into her car with a broken hand in a cast, and sleep on her couch, and then on an air mattress is beyond comprehension, except for the fact that she was obviously complying with the advice of an expert in erradicating bedbugs, the Orkin rep! Did I want to nail that woman’s hide to the wall? You betcha! It’s a good thing I live 3,000 miles away.

In her email response the regional manager of the apartment complex apologized profusely for the distress my daughter experienced, but faulted her with not speaking up about it earlier. My email reply explained that my daughter handled the situation in a very grown up, rational manner. It wasn’t until the treatment went from happening 3 days after her conversation with Orkin’s rep, to 2 weeks later, that my daughter became anxious. Who wouldn’t in an apartment completely torn apart, with furnishings in and out of storage, having to board her cat at the vet’s in anticipation of the bedbug treatment (costing another $200 because of the delay), sleeping on the couch and then an air mattress and on friends’ couches, all with a broken hand?!?

Having put all our family’s frustrations into writing was very therapeutic. And it got us what we asked for as a result. The regional manager bore the complete burden of fault since management didn’t accompany Orkin’s rep in her visit with my daughter. In compensation, she bore no responsibility for payment for the bedbug treatment; her account was credited with $750; and she was allowed to exit her lease whenever she chose. In response to the regional manager’s generosity, I refrained from publicly denigrating their facility and its management.

My daughter was able to secure her new apartment on May 3rd, a month earlier than originally intended. And she was allowed out of her lease on the old apartment, without penalty, and compensated for her out-of-pocket expenses incurred in the treatment of the bedbugs. Lessons learned? Before signing on the dotted line, ask if bedbug treatment is included in lease. Make sure someone from management is present when advised how to proceed by a pest control rep. Ask questions, register complaints, and seek retribution if warranted. But always remember…you get more with honey, than you do with vinegar. But if you don’t succeed, get out your cannons…and blast away!!!

One foot shown en pointe.

Image via Wikipedia

the end? no way…the fun (ha!)only begins as the “saga of the bedbugs” continues…so stay tuned for the next episode…hugmamma.  😉 

lost or delayed baggage, “cha ching!?!”

The following information was posted on 41 NBC News website on 2/14/11. I thought it was important information for all travelers. Readers were invited to leave comments. Mine follows their reporting.
Last year, nearly two million bags didn’t show up on airline luggage carousels as scheduled according to the Department of Transportation, leaving many travelers desperate for every day necessities.Federal rules require airlines pay each passenger up to $3,300 in compensation for lost or delayed luggage.

 

Many people file a claim if their bag is never found, but you have the right to money even if your bag is just delayed.

Most airlines try to keep that a secret.

Sometimes consumer rights are posted; other times the details are buried on the airline’s website.

When you’re at the lost baggage counter, remember to use these words: “my legal rights”, “delayed or lost luggage“, and “compensation”.

Then ask to file a claim and make sure the airline gives you a copy.

Some airlines will give you money right at the airport to help you with necessities until your bag is found.

Others will ask you to pay and reimburse you.

Others may give vouchers for purchases at the airport.

It’s important to note, never expect money for electronics.

They are not covered, even if your bag is never found.

Good to know; not so easy to enforce. Most passengers would probably be intimidated about getting into an argument with airline reps. I’m sure they don’t make it easy to get the cash, probably making passengers “jump through hoops.” Sometimes my blood pressure and stress level are more important than a confrontation, especially since I’m 61, and trying to stave off Alzheimer’s. Money or health? Health or money? I guess it depends on what’s more important to an individual…hugmamma’s mind, body and soul.