If the story of travel over the past few decades has been its transformation from a competitive service into a dismal commodity (this is my theory), there is still an occasional flash of light in yon bleak tunnel.
The flashers of these lights (a phrase that didn’t seem quite so wrong until I typed it out) are to be cherished, and when possible rewarded. This is an extension of my theory, and I have lately had a chance to carry it out.
In 2008 my husband and I were on the brink of a long-planned and somewhat extravagant (for us) three-week vacation consisting of a flight to Seattle, a train ride to Vancouver, a cruise to Hawaii and a week in the islands. We were celebrating his birthday, one of the big ones that ends in zero, the kind marked by some hideous new medical screening that you couldn’t even have imagined when you were 21.
The crowning feature of this trip was a surprise. I had arranged to fly our daughter from San Diego, where she was attending law school, to meet us when the ship got to Kauai. She would stay the night in Lihue, then fly to Honolulu, following the ship, to spend another day with us there before returning to her study of torts and contracts.
I found a well-rated hotel in Lihue on TripAdvisor, the Garden Island Inn, and booked a night for her. I bought the flights to Honolulu and the interisland flights. We were all set. Except that a week before departure, the cruise line changed the itinerary, as was its clearly stated contractual prerogative, so that we would not be on Kauai that day but on the Big Island.
A secret scramble ensued. We had to buy new interisland tickets to Kona because Hawaiian’s change fee was higher than the fare. We also had to book a hotel in Kona and cancel the reservation in Kauai, which was going to be another total loss because the cancellation fee was a one-night deposit.
Except that the Garden Island Inn, on hearing my explanation, simply refunded my money. The owners had no obligation to do that. There seemed to be no motivation other than sheer decency.
And this is why, six years later, as we plan a return trip to Kauai, I have booked two nights at the Garden Island Inn. We weren’t particularly planning to stay in Lihue but I made a point of it. I have no motivation other than sheer gratitude. I feel good about it.
We don’t encounter a lot of decency or feel a lot of gratitude toward travel providers these days. Even in better days, there wasn’t much of that. The most we could expect was to trade brand loyalty for some customer service.
So my husband and I used to fly Delta, drive Alamo, stay in Hiltons and cruise on Royal Caribbean. Those days are over. Sure, we still have preferences. We like Southwest’s service and policies. But now we fly what’s convenient and book hotels and cars on Priceline. Our last two cruises were on Carnival. Our brand loyalty is almost dead.
But gratitude, that’s another thing. The world can’t have too much of it. Somebody was kind to us because they’re kind people and I want to be kind right back at them.
I’ll bet they run a nice hotel.