Don't take "Confederate currency" when businesses apologize for doing wrong

When litigator Mitchell Berns was told by Delta that his flight was canceled because of weather, he didn't get mad. He did research.

He checked with the National Weather Service and found out the airline's excuse was a sham: Snow wasn't due for many hours.

See, airlines are allowed by law to cancel flights because of bad weather, but Berns knew at a glance that Delta was just using it as an excuse. He booked with another airline, took off, and then filed suit against Delta in small-claims court to force it to pay back the cost of his replacement flight.

Delta tried to settle the matter by offering him frequent flier miles. But as most travelers are already too aware, frequent flier miles are woefully devalued, over-issued, and flooding the travel market.

As Berns told Fortune -- and this is my favorite part of the story -- frequent flier miles are "Confederate currency." Just as Dixie once did, instead of dealing with systemic problems, the airlines are just printing more useless cash to pawn off challengers.

Don't be pawned off. Say no. Make the company that ripped you off up its game. Berns told Delta he didn't want its Dixie dollars and that he wouldn't accept them. Eventually, he got the carrier to pay all but $100 of his expenses.

It's not just airlines that try to fob off legitimate beefs with pathetic offers. Electronics superstores, cruise lines, and other high-volume money machines are quick to extend a placebo olive branch. The most common ones are apologies (totally worthless) and 10% discounts on future purchases (barely noticeable, almost an insult). Just as this confessional by a Kmart manager says (see point 6), companies will often toss you a measly 10% discount to shut you up, just like you might throw some kibble to a noisy lap dog. Hold out for steak.

When a company does wrong by you, why on earth would you want to accept any deal that requires you to do more business with it? It would be like being sold a rotten apple from a bushel and then accepting a second one as an apology.

Berns reports that the whole tussle took about four hours of his time, but he got what he wanted. Those of us who aren't lawyers will probably find such victories take a little longer. But it's inspiring to see that when it comes to legitimate consumer complaints, you should never give up even when you feel like you're being Stonewalled.

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