(Tribune Media Services) -- Lois Shestack is having trouble redeeming her Greyhound Road Rewards points. The bus company says there's a "lack of knowledge" about the loyalty program at its terminals. But Shestack's points are about to expire, and there's still no ticket. What now?
Q: I need your help with a bus ticket. A few days ago, I received a notice from Greyhound that a ticket I had earned as part of its rewards program was about to expire.
I tried to resolve this at the Greyhound station in Philadelphia, but they said their computers couldn't handle an awards redemption. I called the customer service number they gave me, but they said they do not process award tickets any more, and they gave me another number. The person at that number was extremely rude and refused to help me. I was told to go to a Greyhound station in some other city that had the computer capability.
I sent an email to Greyhound and received a reply that they'd reimburse me for half a ticket if I paid for it.
This is a classic example of bait-and-switch. I am thoroughly disgusted with Greyhound. I don't think they have any intention of keeping their promise. Do you?
-- Lois Shestack, Philadelphia
A: Are you sure you weren't flying? The kind of behavior you're describing -- the silly rules, the endless runaround, the rude customer service -- is typically associated with airlines, not Greyhound.
Greyhound's Road Rewards program is relatively straightforward, compared with the average frequent flier program. It entitles you to discounts, companion passes and free tickets, with a minimum of fine print. But you still have to read the terms carefully: Many of the rewards expire or can be used only in conjunction with other offers.
I couldn't find any restrictions about redeeming the rewards that apply to your situation. On the contrary, the Greyhound site is clear about where to redeem your reward ticket. You can cash in your points at the terminal or by phone, it says. All you have to do is to print your reward voucher and bring it to the bus terminal.
What went wrong? In the email you received back from Greyhound, a company representative blamed the problem on "a lack of knowledge regarding the program in the field." Greyhound also promised to forward your concern to a program manager so that it could be addressed, but as far as I could tell, it didn't actually resolve your problem. Instead, it warned that you only had a few weeks left to use your voucher, but offered no meaningful information on how to redeem it.
Sending the email should have been the first rather than your last resort. Once you received the apparent form response from Greyhound, you could have searched for a supervisor, but I had some trouble finding anyone at the company in charge of customer service. Greyhound does, however, have a Twitter account (http://twitter.com/GreyhoundBus) that seems pretty responsive. That might be one way to escalate your grievance.
Ultimately, I think you might want to reconsider your participation in any loyalty program that makes it difficult to cash in your points. Make that any loyalty program, period. I believe so-called "rewards" programs invariably benefit the travel company more than they do the traveler, and your experience with Road Rewards doesn't give me any reason to change my mind.
I contacted Greyhound on your behalf. A representative called you and made arrangements to issue your ticket at the Philadelphia terminal. Greyhound also offered you a $50 certificate to make up for the trouble.
(Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org).
COPYRIGHT 2010 CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT, DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.