How to complain and get a “Gesture of Goodwill” in return

I believe this is a problem in all aspects of our lives. You encounter a situation where you’re not happy with the result. It might be that you flew on an 8 hour flight and the In Flight Entertainment (IFE) wasn’t working at all, or maybe you stayed at a hotel that you heard the constant up and down of the elevator. Either way, your experience was less than stellar. Maybe you are comfortable accepting that and moving on.

But if you aren’t, you might ask, how do you make your inconvenience known? Even better, how do you respectfully ask for consideration, since, after all, your experience was less than stellar? I mean, when I fly, I generally expect the IFE to work, I mean, that’s part of the reason I might have chosen that airline. When I stay at a hotel, if I’m not alerted to an issue, I don’t expect to learn about it after the fact.

Requesting a Gesture of Goodwill 

I can’t remember where I learned this. It was either from FlyerTalk, View from the Wing, or another place I can’t think of. But, in my time, I’ve learned that asking for a Gesture of Goodwill often helps when you complain.

Key Considerations when asking for a Gesture of Goodwill

There are a few considerations, when you pull the Gesture of Goodwill card. First, I’d recommend that you keep your message short and sweet. When folks who are empowered to do things that you’d hope that they would do, they generally appreciate a short, succinct explanation of the issue. Further, they appreciate a proposed solution. If you lay out the issue, and forget to say what would make you happy, you are putting the onus on the empowered person, and you don’t guarantee that they will come to the same conclusion as you do. If you propose a solution, it is much easier for them to agree and make it happen.

But be sure not to ask for too much. A broken IFE doesn’t justify 50,000 miles, when you may have only paid 50,000 miles for the one way business class award. After all, you have to consider that you are still getting quite the experience–food, lay flat seat, actual travel from point A to point B. Be sure to ask for something reasonable.

An Example of a Successful Request

Requesting for something is hard. I get that. So I thought I’d share a successful request for a Gesture of Goodwill, just to give you an example, if not a template to work from.

Dear Mr. Smisek,

I am writing to inform you a surprisingly disappointing experience that I received on my return flight from Accra, Ghana on [Date]. I have both been a loyal United Airlines costumer for a decade, having made 1K last year, and been a Premier Executive in the Mileage Plus program for the previous two years. Generally speaking, I have been highly impressed by United’s service.

  • That said I had put in for an upgrade using miles for my return flight from Accra on [Date and Flight #]. This upgrade did not appear to clear , up until about 2 hours before flight time (I had been in the lounge with internet access and saw I was #4 on the upgrade list, with 22 of 26 seats booked). I had thought, as has happened in the past, that a ground crew may move me before departure.
  • While seated in the seat I ended up occupying for the entire flight, 21B, another gentleman came up, with the same seat. He had mentioned that his seat had been changed at the gate. While I thought this was a sign of an upgrade, it was not. I spoke to flight attendant Ms. [Include name, and anything else they wish to share], who attempted to clear up the mix-up, found the other gentleman a seat. In the final minutes before the doors were closed, the ground crew appeared to seat a number of individuals in Business class, while at the time, I could not be sure, I found more disturbing information when I made it home and checked online.
  • Attached, I have included an image taken from the mobile United App. It shows that apparently my upgrade had in fact cleared, and I should have been seated in 9B. The 35,000 miles remain taken out of my account, and I did not in fact receive this upgrade.I have CCed Ms. [Flight attendant, if e-mail provided] on this e-mail, as she can verify that I was in seat 21B the entire flight.
  • Given this divergence from the understood policy, due to the ground crew in Accra, I would greatly appreciate the return of the 35,000 miles that had been deducted from my account for the upgrade that I did not receive and a Gesture of Goodwill.

I would like to also note that the cabin crew of flight UA 991 on [Date] was spectacular. Given the circumstances, I thought [FA’s name] and her colleagues did an excellent job, and maintained the high quality of service throughout the duration of the flight, that I have come to appreciate over the years.

Ultimately I am sending this note in the hope that you may be able reinstate the 35,000 miles and offer a Gesture of Goodwill given the apparent breach in policy due to the ground crew in Accra.

Thank you in advance for your consideration.


Now of course the first thing you must be thinking is, Wow, this is a dated letter! And you’re right. Smisek was out months ago, but, back then he had an e-mail account that a special cadre of customer care associates checked. I’m not sure whether this trend continued, or to that matter, whether other airlines have emulated it.

For complete transparency, I ended up getting my 35,000 miles back, but unfortunately, United’s Gesture of Goodwill was only 10,000 more redeemable miles. I felt this was pretty unfortunate, but, the fact of the matter is, had I not asked, I would have gotten nothing.


Asking for a “Gesture of Goodwill” or at least complaining in a succinct fashion, generally gives you the opportunity to get some gesture from the airline that you would not otherwise have gotten. This of course goes to one of the lessons I learned from my father early on: If you don’t ask, you don’t know. I personally believe strongly in asking, although normally, I do shy away from complaining. I think in all of my time flying, I’ve probably submitted less than a half dozen letters of complaint. I suppose this is the case, because I hope that when I do, it carries with it, some level of gravity.

Have you ever written a complaint letter to an airline? If so, what did you receive (if anything)?

11 thoughts on “How to complain and get a “Gesture of Goodwill” in return

  1. I received 30K miles from AA in Aug 2014 because they forgot to load the food cart for biz/first. With only warm nuts to eat I was quite hungry after a 4 hour flight over lunch.

  2. I complained to AA once on behalf of my spouse when she was scheduled on a short domestic non-stop flight home that was cancelled about 1.5 hours prior to departure. It wasn’t the last flight of the day, but there were no seats available (none for sale when I searched) on later flights. She had to wait in line for 1.25 hours before getting to talk to someone. I was on the phone with AA simultaneously, and they were trying to put her on a 6am flight the next morning (with no offer of overnight accommodation). We pushed and got them to put her on a connecting flight on United that made it back that night. Though they told us how “lucky” we were to get approval to be put on another airline, it ended up being 2 hours of craziness for the both of us and a 6 hour delay on her arrival back home. I did some research about how many AA miles typically will award as a gesture of goodwill in these situations and found 5k to be expected with 10k a stretch. I wrote up a somewhat concise complaint but also complimented them on getting the seat on another airline and asked for 10k miles as a gesture of goodwill. They sent back a long canned response, but it finished with them giving 7,500 miles as a gesture of goodwill. Mission accomplished, though we would have traded 7,500 miles to have the flight run as scheduled.

  3. Sometimes you can get a gesture of goodwill for your own mistake rather than the company’s. I signed up for a new Bank of America business checking account which included a $1,000 bonus if I opened a BOA business credit card and spend $2,000 in the first 60 days. So I opened an Alaska Air business credit card, but I only ended up spending something like $1,950 in the first 60 days due to a calculation error on my part. I contacted my BOA business account specialist and asked if there was anything she could do, and while she could not give me the $1,000, she did give me 5,000 Alaska miles.

  4. One time on DL CDG-ATL I was seated next to over weight guy. It was so bad tat we couldn’t even put the elbow rest Down. The plane was full so hostess just apologized for inconvenience. Later after complaining DL gave 5k miles.

  5. So I planned this awesome weekend in Portland and Southwest ended up screwing up my flight, which is another story which I’m trying to work out right now.

    The real story is with my SPG hotel reservation. I ended up having to cancel both nights of my stay. The rep mentioned they would have to take my points and charge me $450 for canceling. I explained the situation to a SPG specialist and she said she would take care of everything and I would get my points back alongside not getting charged for canceling.

    Well the $450 was pending on my credit card for a few days. I thought it would fall off, but it didn’t. I had to call two days ago about it and the SPG rep said they would contact the hotel because I shouldn’t have been charged. It’s been two days now and there hasn’t been any credit to my card. Should I call again? Is this a situation where I could get a “Gesture of Goodwill”?

    • @Logan, I’m not sure. Did you happen to get the rep’s name? If so, I’d just work through that, I don’t know that I’d use the “Gesture of Goodwill” card here, since, the Rep said she would take care of it, and may have dropped the ball. You’re not really encountering an issue where the hotel didn’t live up to your expectations, rather, the rep said she’d do something and hasn’t. This is one of those situations, where I’d be happy just to be made whole – e.g. $450 and points back.

  6. So, I made a bought an AA gift card for the Citi Prestige air fare credit a day before the December statement closed, but it posted a day after. Citi said there was nothing they could do, as it’s based on the post date, not the transaction date, so consequently I’m out of the $250 2015 air fare credit. Is there a good way to ask for even partial credit? I don’t want to come off as greedy, but I lost out literally by a day.

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  9. I booked a package holiday with On the Beach but I accidently clicked on the wrong year and instead of booking for October 2018, I booked October 2019.

    I phoned immediately to make them aware but their lines were closed as it was late at night, so I phoned again first thing the following morning.

    I was informed they don’t do amendments to bookings over the phone and that I needed to send a request on their website, but unfortunately that I would be charged for the full cost of the flights plus the cost of the new flight bookings. This is their policy (see below):

    “All flights, transfers and car parking are 100% non-refundable and non-transferable as per the suppliers’ booking conditions, therefore the minimum price that must be paid to change dates will be the full cost of a holiday on your new dates PLUS the cost of the original flights, transfers, car parking + an admin fee of £80.00.

    If the reason that you wish to change dates is covered by your insurance then please contact your insurance to establish that this is the case prior to processing the change with us.

    If you wish to process a change of date, please follow this procedure:
    •Please rebook your holiday on our website for the new dates required including any ancilliary services that you require (transfers, car parking etc)
    •Please submit the form below with the MYB reference number of the new replacement booking
    •Once we have received this we will cancel the original booking and refund the cost of the hotel on the original booking less our admin fee of £80.00.”

    Could I ask for an Offer of Goodwill?


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