Adios TripAdvisor! Sketchy Business Practices And Zero Customer Support Led Me To Delete My Account


TripAdvisor Inc.
400 1st Avenue, Needham, MA 02494
Phone: 781-800-5000

I was, and the operative term is “WAS”, a TripAdvisor “Top Contributor” until recently with hundreds of reviews and photos in many of the 41 countries I have visited. My reviews are honest and as objective as anybody’s opinion can be and I received hundreds of “Helpful” votes for my reviews and photos.

TripAdvisor is very selective about the reviews it posts, unlike Yelp (where I have been “Elite” since 2014), refusing to post reviews willy-nilly based on criteria only they are aware of. I think the operative answer is, if a review does not conform to a “standard” which favors the business that is paying them for advertizing, then it does not conform and is not posted.

For example, I have written several reviews that TripAdvisor refused to post, claiming that the content was “too similar to that found on the internet”. Basically, they were saying that I plagiarized my content from a website, something I have never done nor will I ever do. I may use information from a website or pamphlet as background for readers in a review or copy the ingredients for a recipe from their menu for simplicity’s sake from time to time, but never word for word and I always edit the material into my own words and style. Sometimes they simply refuse to post a review with no reason given as was the case with my review of the Villisca Axe Murder House, having submitted the review numerous times without it being published and without explanation.

TripAdvisor would not exist without the reviews of travelers, so I find it extremely self-serving and deceiving to refuse to post reviews from Top Contributors that do not conform to their paying advertiser’s demands. I put a lot of time and effort into my reviews as evidenced by the 40,000+ visitors to my blog each year and the 40,000+ views of my reviews and photos on Yelp each month. My content is original, honest, and objective as any reviewer can be, so when TripAdvisor recently refused to publish my review of Cataldo’s Italian Restaurant in Brooklyn recently (because the content “was not original” … BULLSHIT!) for the umpteenth time, I deleted my account.

The other reason I deleted my account is because TripAdvisor, as I found out, has zero integrity themselves, allowing people to post reviews whether they have been to a restaurant, hotel, destination, or attraction or not. There is no requirement to having been a customer (as Money Magazine reported in a recent issue – see excerpt from Money Magazine below) to write a review, so businesses can use robots and fake review websites to fluff their ratings, making them relatively useless. I have found during my travels to 41 countries that TripAdvisor may be good for general information about a business or location, but the ratings rarely accurately reflect the experience and now I know why.


Yelp on the other hand uses complex algorithms and your GPS location to ferret out fake reviews. They also have “Elite” members, reviewers like myself that are hand selected by the Community Manager (CM – each major metro has one, a paid Yelp employee) with several face-to-face and virtual interactions taking place between Elites and CMs each year. So if you really want to ensure you are getting a valid rating and honest review, use Yelp and sort reviews or pay attention to those only written by “Elites”.

TripAdvisor does not appreciate the countless number of honest reviewers out there, refusing to interact one-on-one with even Top Contributors. Trying to get an explanation for a decision they make or get an question answered is impossible with TripAdvisor, unlike Yelp where you get an answer from a Yelp employee every time you have a concern or question.

My recommendation: Dump TripAdvisor and download the Yelp App on your phone or tablet. You will be glad you did!

CombatCritic Gives TripAdvisor 1 Bomb Out Of 10 And A Spot On My “WALL OF SHAME” … More Bombs Are Better!








One Bomb Equates To:

Read Reviews By CombatCritic:

Yelp – Elite ’14/’15/’16

Tabelog – Official Judge (Bronze)

Zomato – #1 Ranked Foodie

View my food journey on Zomato!



… And Don’t Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube


Tabelog Reviewer CombatCriticView my food journey on Zomato!


Title: Adios TripAdvisor! Sketchy Business Practices And Zero Customer Support Led Me To Delete My Account

Key Words: TripAdvisor, trip, advisor, trip advisor, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, hotel, attraction, destination, review, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zomato, integrity, reviews

Translation for Civilians: FUBAR = “Fucked Up Beyond All Repair”
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Clean, Safe, Fair Priced and Unlike Anthony Bourdain … Some Reservations


Hotel Heritage Home
1603/4 Main Bazar, Pahar Ganj
Near RK Ashram Metro Station
New Delhi 110055, India 
Phone: +91-987-352-9223

Prices: $$$$$

New Delhi (Paharganj), India: I found Hotel Heritage Home on TripAdvisor and made my reservation on Booking.com after reading numerous good reviews. The hotel is just a few blocks from the Ramakrishna Ashram Marg Metro station (opposite end from the train station) on Main Bazaar and just around the corner from Café Festa. It was easy to spot because of the good signage in front. It has a clean, open, rustic feel with a long entry through automatic glass doors, a small reception along with a travel office, an elevator and a rooftop restaurant. The area around the station is seedy to say the least, but vibrant, energetic, and colorful although filthy as is the case around much of Delhi.

Arriving at 1:30 AM after a 30-hour journey, I decided to defer to the hotel to pick me up at the airport. My driver spoke little English, but was right where I was told he would be with my name on a sign. The drive took about 25 minutes with little traffic due to the early hour. The trip was quoted at 900 Rupees ($14.65), not unfair by American standards but 500 Rupees more than the “standard” (400 Rupee – $6.50) fare from the airport to Delhi. In fact, when I inquired about my return trip to the airport, I was quoted 400 Rupees, so maybe there was a “late arrival surcharge”, an not totally unreasonable assumption.

I booked a “standard” room (1200 Rupees/night – $19.50), but found out the next say I was upgraded to a “deluxe” (normally 1800 Rupees – $29.25). The room was basic with marble floors, a large king bed, flat screen TV and cable, a small wardrobe, mini-sofa and table, and a bathroom that also serves as a shower due to the lack of a curtain or door. The room was fortunately in the back away from the street with no windows, which is not a bad thing considering I am sensitive to light and noise when I sleep and Main Bazaar is extremely loud due to the crowds below and the incessant honking of horns that Delhi drivers seem to thrive on.

The hotel’s travel office is convenient and helpful, but based on the prices I was quoted you may be better off booking your (train/bus/hotel/sightseeing) reservations online or directly with the provider as travel agents (and most other businesses) in this area are notorious for overcharging tourists. I will defer my opinion until I can compare quoted charges with online/counter prices through the respective purveyors.

Their rooftop restaurant is “relatively” quiet and inviting with plants, three parakeet cages, and local furnishings with several tables sitting below their own canopy for shade from the warm Delhi sun. The waiters speak barely passable English, but are attentive, efficient, and friendly. The menu has few beverage options, including bottled water, coffees (30-35 rupees – 55 – 60 cents), teas, shakes and other local drinks as well as vegetarian breakfasts, appetizers, pastas, sandwiches, and several options from India. There is no Diet Coke or other low calorie soft drinks and the coffee adequate, seemingly instant and likely Nescafe. The offerings are cheap by American standards, but not great. In two visits, I tried the egg and potato breakfast (80 Rupees – $1.30), accompanied by two pieces of toast (butter and jam), and a coffee with milk (35 rupees). It was adequate, but an excellent value. For dinner I went with the butter chicken (170 rupees – $2.75 – normally, one of my favorites) and an order of garlic cheese naan (60 Rupees – $1.00). The butter chicken came in a tomato-based sauce that tasted like sweet spaghetti sauce, not the creamy, savory variety I have come to love in restaurants in the U.S. and England, and the naan was slathered in butter/oil, a bit too much for my taste.

My biggest disappointments were the unexplained airport surcharge mentioned earlier, the horrible and nearly non-existent internet, and the phantom (500 Rupee) SIM card charge for my iPhone. The internet seemed to work OK upon my arrival and I was fortunately able to Skype with my wife and let he know I was alive, but it was “down” the next two days (the manager said it was their service provider’s fault) and accessible the next two, but so slow that my browsers gave up trying to load. Google also locked me out of all my email accounts because they thought someone was trying to hack me from India, but I could not access my ten accounts to resolve the issue due to lack of internet. What fun! When I told the manager that I wanted to get a local SIM card for my phone, he gallantly offered to have a colleague help me out. I was quoted 500 Rupees ($8.15 for a SIM card) and 495 Rupees for 2GB of 3G data. The data is an excellent value compared to American standards, but when I went to the Vodaphone store in Connaught Palace the next day because I could only get 1G data service throughout Delhi, I was told that “SIM cards are free, you should not have been charged for one”. Oh well, live and learn!

There are much cheaper (and more expensive) options available in Delhi, but if you are looking for a reasonably priced hotel, centrally located near the Metro in an area not abundant with clean, modern facilities, then Hotel Heritage Home is a good option, but be careful about add-on services as they are likely highly inflated.

CombatCritic Gives Hotel Heritage Home 6 Bombs Out of 10 



… Would Have Been 8 If Not For the Airport Surcharge, Internet Fiasco, and Extraneous SIM Card Charge .. MORE BOMBS ARE BETTER!

Read More Reviews By CombatCritic On Yelp And TripAdvisor … And Don’t Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube

Title: Clean, Safe, Fair Priced and Unlike Anthony Bourdain … Some Reservations

Key Words: Hotel Heritage Home. hotel, heritage, home, New Delhi, new, Delhi, metro, train, Main Bazaar, main, bazaar, budget, travel, value, TravelValue, CombatCritic, TripAdvisor, trip, advisor

Ramana’s Garden: Good Cause, Bad Attitude, Above Average Value


Ramana’s Garden
Village Tapovan, Laxman Jhula
Rishikesh 249192, India

Having studied psychology for over 30 years, I will never completely understand the territorial nature of humans, particularly when it involves a very worthwhile charity, but I have experienced this phenomena more times than I can count, including at Ramana’s Garden in Rishikesh.

Entrance from Path

I decided to visit Ramana’s Garden after reading about the charity and café on TripAdvisor and their website, but the compound was very difficult to find. There are no maps online and the only sign I found was on a gate I spotted while on a path leading toward the Ganga (Ganges) and just happened to come across.


I asked the man behind the counter at Ramana’s if they needed any volunteers as I had about four more days in Rishikesh before heading to Delhi, but I was quickly dismissed without further inquiry. He told me that they only accept volunteers for three months or more because the children need consistency in their daily lives. I understand that the children need consistency, but when someone is kind enough to offer their time to your charity, maybe you should ask a couple questions before making them feel unneeded. I could have been CEO of a Fortune 500 company for all he knew, but he did not seem to care.

One of the Residents

In my case, being the author of two popular blogs, producer of a very successful YouTube channel (400,000+ views), a licensed professional counselor, and a retired military officer, I think I could have contributed something to their cause without being an unnecessary stress or burden on the children. I could have taught them how to make my World Famous Orecchiette with Broccoli Sauce recipe in less than an hour, but it was not meant to be.


Menu

In any case, even though I was more than a bit put off by the volunteer in question, I decided to stay for their “set menu” lunch and I am very glad I did. A tulsi (a local herbal tea-like drink), starter (soup or salad), entree, and dessert runs 400 rupees ($6.40), rather pricey by Indian standards, but a good value in this case.


The tulsi was warm, sweet, and tasty and the cup of soup of the day (a creamy kale consommé straight from the garden) flavorful and light, although rather small. Some bread, crackers, or croutons would have been a nice addition, but it was a  good start to a late lunch (they close at 4pm, so dinner was not an option) nonetheless.

Cup of Kale Soup

There were several entrées to chose from, including spinach gnocchi, pumpkin ravioli, enchiladas, and momos among others, but I went with the special of the day … cannelloni. The cannelloni (2) were large and accompanied by a few greens. Unfortunately, the pasta was lukewarm, but flavorful nonetheless, particularly for a vegetarian dish (everything on the menu is vegetarian or vegan). 


Canneloni


The chocolate cake, although very small, was decadent and rich, making me wish there were more to go with my coffee and milk (hot from the cow in the barnyard).


In all, coming in at $8 including a small donation, I have to say that the meal was a very good value. The terrace overlooking the Ganges River below was quiet and a pleasant place to enjoy a mid-afternoon meal while helping a good cause, even if it was for just an hour. Ramana’s probably would have garnered a 5 or 6 OUT OF 10 TravelValue rating if not for the kids they support and the natural, organic ingredients they use in their foods, so …

CombatCritic Gives Ramana’s Garden 7 Bombs Out Of 10 … Bombs Are Good!




Follow CombatCritic On Yelp (An Elite ’14/’15 Member) And  TripAdvisor (“Top Contributor”) Where You Can Read His Latest Reviews, Try His Favorite Recipes, And More!

Cake and Coffee

Café Entrance 

Organic Garden

Garden

View of Ganges from Terrace

Key Words: review, Ramana’s Garden, blog, CombatCritic, TravelValue, Ramana’s, Ramana, Garden, restaurant, café, cafe, food, menu, lunch, Rishikesh, India, travel, value, TripAdvisor, trip, advisor

CombatCritic Q&A: "Hill Top Swiss Cottage, Rishikesh"


Hill top Swiss cottage, rishikesh
Has anyone stayed at Hill Top Swiss Cottage? We are staying there for the whole of March 2015. I am wondering what the access is like as it looks very high up.

Helen T. (Nottingham, England, UK)

———————————-

15 December 2014, 09:27

Re: Hill top Swiss cottage, rishikesh

I’ve been staying for 2 of 7 nights and the property seems a good value. Rooms are big and bright, internet fast by Indian standards. 

It is a bit isolated from the Ganges (Ganga) and town, but offers a quiet environment and a few shops, restaurants, yoga/meditation/massage options.  I have bad knees, but the walk to the river takes only about 15-20 minutes and is not a bad climb up or down.

There is a wonderful new Italian restaurant a short walk away, A Tavola con Te (atavolaconte on TripAdvisor) owned by an Italian couple from Milan that make wood-oven pizzas, pastas and desserts. 

Let me know if you have any questions.

Chris S.
aka CombatCritic

Key Words: CombatCritic, question, answer, TripAdvisor, trip, advisor, TravelValue, travel, value, questions, and, answers, Rishikesh, Hilltop, hill, top, Swiss, cottage, hotel, guest, house, India








India’s New Visa Contractor Stole My $170 … And I Still Don’t Have A Valid Visa!


I have always wanted to travel to India, but as a result of a potentially life threatening medical condition that is exacerbated by stress, I decided to visit Dharamsala later this year to learn about Buddhism (and forgiveness) and study yoga full-time. At least that was the plan until I applied and paid ($200) for a valid visa … which I have yet to receive.

I bought my ticket to travel to India after finding a reasonable roundtrip airfare ($1100), then purchased my wife’s ticket ($1700) so that she can visit during the Christmas holidays. Visas to travel to India are contracted out to a new contractor (effective July 2014), Cox Kings Global Services USA, LLC(CKGS), and their processes and website are not easy to navigate, even for someone with a fairly high IQ. Be prepared for confusion, difficulty obtaining your visa, and wasted time and money at least based on my horrible experience. Here is what happened …

I followed the detailed directions on the CKGS website and submitted all required documentation, paying $150 for the (10-year – available only to US Citizens) visa, $20 in processing fees to CKGS, and $25 to FedEx to get my passport and documents to Houston and back for a grand total of nearly $200. A week later I received a message from CKGS stating that 1) I did not sign under the photo on page 1 of my application (which was true in that it was neither obvious nor included in the instructions) and 2) I did not include the “additional particulars form” (which I had in-fact submitted with my package) … not a good start!

Signature Required On Page 1 Of Visa Application
Here is the email I received from CKGS:
—————————————–
From: 
Date: Monday, July 14, 2014 at 2:12 PM
To: CombatCritic
Subject: Incomplete Application
Dear CombatCritic ,
The following Documents are incomplete: We are not able to continue processing your application due to is missing; signature on the first page of the application form right under the picture, anf the additional particulars form which can be found on our website (in.ckgs.us). Please sent the required to our Houston Center. Thank you.
Regards,
CKGS
——————————————
I quickly submitted the signed page and the same “additional particulars” form I originally submitted with my application to the email address provided by CKGS:
From: CombatCritic
Date: Thursday, July 17, 2014 at 10:52 AM
To: 
Subject: In Regard To Your Email Indicating My Incomplete Application
Cox Kings Global Services USA, LLC
1001 Texas Avenue, Suite 550
Binz Building
Houston, TX 77002
7/17/14
To Whom It May Concern:
In reference to my India Tourist Visa (Application Number application, I am providing the required signature on page 1 (under the photo) and the additional particulars page (which was provided with my original application, but was indicated as missing by CKGS), attached, as instructed by your staff in a phone call earlier today.
Please process and approve my visa at your earliest convenience.
Thank you!
Respectfully,
CombatCritic                                                   
Attachments –
1.     Signature page
2.     Additional Particulars Page
—————————
I received confirmation that my visa was being processed and a little over a week later I received my passport in the mail only to find that the visa was for just 6 months, not the 120 months I had paid for! In-fact, the expiration date of my visa was A FULL MONTH BEFORE MY SCHEDULED RETURN, making it completely useless!
I sent a very polite email to CKGS informing them of the discrepancy:
———————————–
From: CombatCritic

Sent: 01 August 2014 20:52

To: PAD HOUSTON

Cc: fasttrack.usa@ckgs.comenquiriesusa@ckgs.com
Subject: In Regard To My Visa Application – INCORRECT VISA RECIEVED (6-MONTH, NOT 120-MONTH)
Greetings,
I received my visa yesterday. Thank you for the quick turnaround.
Unfortunately, I applied and paid for a 120 month visa ($150 + processing fees = $170), BUT I RECEIVED A 6-MONTH VISA WHICH WILL EXPIRE BEFORE I AM SCHEDULED TO RETURN TO THE USA. Please tell me how you will resolve this situation as soon as possible so I can continue making my travel plans. I have neither contacted the Consulate or Embassy of India regarding this situation nor the US State Department and would appreciate a quick resolution, without further expenditure by me, because of this unfortunate mistake made while processing my visa.
Please contact me by email or phone at your earliest convenience so that I can secure the 120-month visa applied and paid for.
Thank you,
CombatCritic

————————————-
This is the totally unacceptable response I received from CKGS:

——————————-


Dear Sir,
Sorry for the inconvenience caused to you.
The Visa issuance/rejection is sovereign right of a Nation and is not open to any discussions. Your Visa has been issued after due process, and this is to inform you that in this case you won’t get the refund of the rest amount. And if you want to extend your stay in India you can contact FRRO for extension.
We highly appreciate your co-operation.
Thanks & Regards,
Rehana.S
A Cox and Kings Company

———————————————
Now that CKGS had made it clear that they neither cared about my concerns nor were they going to make things right, it was time to take my grievance to the next higher level … The Embassy of India’s Consulate Services in Washington DC:
—————————
Greetings,

I applied for a 10-year, multiple entry visa last month (application and additional particulars form attached) through CKGS in Houston, paying $170 ($150 + processing fees = $170) as required via money order. When I received my visa via FedEx two days ago, I noticed that the visa was only for 6 monthsexpiring a month before my scheduled return to the USA. I paid an additional $90 for the 10-year visa and, being a retired US military officer, do not understand why I only received a 6 month visa when I paid for a 10 year visa ($200 total including FedEx charges).

… Devona at CKGS in Houston, Texas stated that “the consulate decided to only grant … a 6 month visa”, so I am contacting you to find out what happened so that I might resume making my travel plans to your historic and beautiful country.

Beside being a retired US Air Force officer, I am a food and travel critic with a popular blog, http://www.combatcritic.com, and wish to travel to India to see the sights, study Buddhism, Hinduism, and yoga, volunteer in Dharamsala to help those less fortunate than me, and write about my experiences. I am also a Yelp Elite member and TripAdvisor Top Contributor, having many fans who will be following my journey and hope that they (and I) will not be disappointed by an unfortunate and unexpected curtailment of my travel plans.

Please help me resolve this issue without any additional expense as I followed all of the rules required in acquiring the visa and see no reason why my visa was shortened, particularly without refunding the additional $90 I paid (CKGS). I am sure that there must have been some type of error and respectfully ask you to assist me in resolving this mistake and acquiring the 10 year visa I paid for without additional unnecessary expenditures. I hope that we can resolve this unfortunate situation without delay.

Thank you in advance for your assistance.

Very Respectfully,
CombatCritic
————————————–
The Embassy of India states ontheir website that visa issues will be responded to in “1-3 working days”, having been submitted on August 2nd, 2014 and 10 days later I still had received no response.

I then filed a formal complaint on India’s                         PORTAL FOR PUBLIC GRIEVANCE – Department of Administrative Reforms & Public Grievances:
———————
Greetings,                                                               August 10, 2014

I have a potentially life threatening condition exacerbated by stress and planned to travel to India … not only to see the sights, but to study religion and yoga in order to prolong my life. I applied for a 10-year, multiple entry visa last month (application and additional particulars form attached) through CKGS in Houston, paying $170 ($150 + processing fees = $170) as required via money order. When I received my visa via FedEx two days ago, I noticed that the visa was only for 6 months, expiring a month before my scheduled return to the USA. I paid an additional $90 for the 10-year visa and, being a retired US military officer in particular, do not understand why I only received a 6 month visa when I paid for a 10 year visa ($200 total including FedEx charges).

Devona at CKGS in Houston, Texas stated that “the consulate decided to only grant … a 6 month visa” and that I am not entitled to a refund, so I am contacting you to find out what happened so that I might resume making my travel plans to your historic and beautiful country.

Beside being a retired US Air Force officer, I am a food and travel critic with a popular blog, CombatCritic’s TravelValue eZine (where you can read the whole story), and wish to travel to India to see the sights, study Buddhism, Hinduism, and yoga, volunteer in Dharamsala to help those less fortunate than me, and write about my experiences. I am also a Yelp Elite member and TripAdvisor Top Contributor, having many fans who will be following my journey and hope that they (and I) will not be disappointed by an unfortunate and unexpected curtailment of my travel plans.

Please help me resolve this issue without any additional expense as I followed all of the rules required in acquiring the visa and see no reason why my visa was shortened, particularly without refunding the additional $90 I paid. As an upstanding, law-abiding citizen, I am sure that there must have been some type of error in processing my visa and respectfully ask you to assist me in resolving this mistake and acquiring the 10 year visa I paid for without additional unnecessary expenditures. I hope that we can resolve this unfortunate situation without delay.

We have spent $3000 on airfare and $200 on a useless visa so far and hesitate to spend another dollar or make additional travel plans until this issue is resolved. If we do not receive a satisfactory resolution (very) soon, we will be forced to change our tickets and travel to a country that treats tourists with compassion, dignity, and respect.

As states, I submitted an email complaint to the Embassy of India’s Consular Department over one week ago, but even though they promise a reply “within 3 working days”, I have received no indication that they intend to intervene on my behalf. I am also contacting the Ministry of Tourism to let them know what is happening.

Thank you in advance for your assistance.

Very Respectfully, 

Chris Sorrentino, LtCol, USAF (Ret)

————————–

I also informed the US State Department about the scam, hoping that MY GOVERNMENT is interested in a US citizen whom is being mistreated and abused by another nation’s government:

Greetings,
I filed a grievance with the Embassy of India in Washington DC (8/2/2014) as well as the Department of Administrative Reforms & Public Grievances (below – 8/10/2014) regarding my problems obtaining a valid visa through Cox Kings Global Services USA, LLC (India’s US visa contractor – CKGS – Houston, Texas). After asking them nicely to provide the 10-year visa I paid for or refund the money ($170 + $25 postage) I paid, CKGS failed to resolve my visa dilemma to my satisfaction, stating (in so many words) we’re a sovereign nation, can do as we please, you won’t get a refund, and there’s nothing you can do about it”. You can read the whole story on my blog http://www.CombatCritic.com
I am hoping that the US State Department might be interested in knowing how India’s contractor (CKGS) is treating US Citizens, having spent $2.4 billion in India in 2011 alone. With the tourism industry being the fourth largest source of revenue for their nation, I would think that tourists would be treated better than I have been since starting the visa process. 

Here is the grievance:

Grievance Status

Print || Logout
Status as on 10 Aug 2014
<asp:literal runat="server" style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px;" text="”>Registration Number :
Name Of Complainant :
Date of Receipt : 10 Aug 2014
Received by : Ministry of External Affairs
Officer name : Shri Muktesh Kumar Pardeshi
Officer Designation : Joint Secretary PSP & CPO
Contact Address : CPV Division,
Patiala House Annexe,
Tilak Marg, New Delhi110001
Contact Number : 23387013
e-mail : jscpo@mea.gov.in
Grievance Description : Greetings, I have a potentially life threatening condition exacerbated by stress and planned to travel to India not only to see the sights, but to study religion and yoga in order to prolong my life. I applied for a 10-year, multiple entry visa last month (application and additional particulars form attached) through CKGS in Houston, paying $170 ($150 + processing fees = $170) as required via money order. When I received my visa via FedEx two days ago, I noticed that the visa was only for 6 months, expiring a month before my scheduled return. I paid an additional $90 for the 10-year visa and, being a retired US military officer in particular, do not understand why I only received a 6 month visa when I paid for a 10 year visa ($200 total including FedEx charges).

Devona at CKGS in Houston, Texas stated that “the consulate decided to only grant … a 6 month visa” and that I am not entitled to a refund, so I am contacting you to find out what happened so that I might resume making my travel plans to your historic and beautiful country.

Beside being a retired US Air Force officer, I am a food and travel critic with a popular blog, http://www.combatcritic.com (where you can read the whole story), and wish to travel to India to see the sights, study Buddhism, Hinduism, and yoga, volunteer in Dharamsala to help those less fortunate than me, and write about my experiences. I am also a Yelp Elite member and TripAdvisor Top Contributor, having many fans who will be following my journey and hope that they (and I) will not be disappointed by an unfortunate and unexpected curtailment of my travel plans.

Please help me resolve this issue without any additional expense as I followed all of the rules required in acquiring the visa and see no reason why my visa was shortened, particularly without refunding the additional $90 I paid. I am sure that there must have been some type of error and respectfully ask you to assist me in resolving this mistake and acquiring the 10 year visa I paid for without additional unnecessary expenditures. I hope that we can resolve this unfortunate situation without delay.

We have spent $3000 on airfare and $200 on a useless visa so far and hesitate to spend another dollar or make additional travel plans until this issue is resolved. If we do not receive a satisfactory resolution soon, we will be forced to change our tickets and travel to a country that treats tourists with compassion, dignity, and respect.

I submitted an email complaint to the Embassy of India’s Consular Department over one week ago, but even though they promise a reply “within 3 working days”, I have received no indication that they intend to intervene on my behalf. I am also contacting the Ministry of Tourism to let them know what is happening.

Thank you in advance for your assistance.

Very Respectfully,

CombatCritic

Current Status : RECEIVED THE GRIEVANCE
I hope that my grievance will be addressed by the government of India as soon as possible and would appreciate any assistance my government (Department of State) can offer in this matter. If you like, I will keep you informed regarding the progress (or lack thereof) in my case. I hope that I can continue my plans to travel to India. Otherwise, I will be forced to travel to a nation that better appreciates tourists and our hard earned money.
Thank you.
——————————–


Having heard nothing … zip … nada from either India’s embassy, Ministry of Tourism, or Department of Administrative Reforms & Public Grievances after filing my grievances, I had to assume that they were either as  incompetent and unethical as CKGS or they simply did not care. I finally located a contact at India’s Houston Consulate where my visa was incorrectly processed, so I decided to give them one more chance to make things right, contacting the Vice Consul (Visa), Mr. Rakesh Sharma:

Mr. Rakesh SharmaVice Consul (Visa)Consulate of India – Houston 
Dear Honorable Vice Consul Sharma,
I have always wanted to travel to India, but as a result of a potentially life threatening medical condition that is exacerbated by stress, I decided to visit Dharamsala later this year to learn about Hinduism and Buddhism (and forgiveness), study yoga full-time, and volunteer to help those less fortunate than me. At least that was the plan until I applied and paid ($200) for a valid visa … which I have yet to receive. I bought my ticket to travel to India after finding a reasonable roundtrip airfare ($1100), then purchased my wife’s ticket ($1700) so that she can visit during the Christmas holidays. Cox Kings Global Services USA, LLC’s (CKGS) processes and website are not easy to navigate, even for someone with a fairly high IQ. I followed the detailed directions on the CKGS website and submitted all required documentation, paying $150 for the (10-year – available only to US Citizens) visa, $20 in processing fees to CKGS, and $25 to FedEx to get my passport and documents to Houston and back for a grand total of nearly $200.
 I received confirmation that my visa was being processed and a little over a week later I received my passport in the mail only to find that the visa was for just 6 months, not the 120 months I had paid for. In-fact, the expiration date of my visa was A FULL MONTH BEFORE MY SCHEDULED RETURN, making it completely useless.
 I sent a very polite email to CKGS informing them of the discrepancy:
 From: CombatCritic
Sent: 01 August 2014 20:52
To: PAD HOUSTON
Cc: fasttrack.usa@ckgs.comenquiriesusa@ckgs.com Subject: In Regard To My Visa Application – INCORRECT VISA RECIEVED (6-MONTH, NOT 120-MONTH)
 Greetings,
 I received my visa yesterday. Thank you for the quick turnaround.
 Unfortunately, I applied and paid for a 120 month visa ($150 + processing fees = $170), BUT I RECEIVED A 6-MONTH VISA WHICH WILL EXPIRE BEFORE I AM SCHEDULED TO RETURN TO THE USA. Please tell me how you will resolve this situation as soon as possible so I can continue making my travel plans. I have neither contacted the Consulate or Embassy of India regarding this situation nor the US State Department and would appreciate a quick resolution, without further expenditure by me, because of this unfortunate mistake made while processing my visa.
 Please contact me by email or phone at your earliest convenience so that I can secure the 120-month visa applied and paid for.
 Thank you,
 This is the totally unacceptable response I received from CKGS:
 Dear Sir,
 Sorry for the inconvenience caused to you.
 The Visa issuance/rejection is sovereign right of a Nation and is not open to any discussions. Your Visa has been issued after due process, and this is to inform you that in this case you won’t get the refund of the rest amount.
 We highly appreciate your co-operation.
 Thanks & Regards,
 Rehana.S
 http://www.in.ckgs.usA Cox and Kings Company
 Now that CKGS had made it clear that they neither cared about my concerns nor were they going to make things right, it is time to take my grievance to the next higher level. Please help me resolve this issue without any additional expense as I followed all of the rules required in acquiring the visa and see no reason why my visa was shortened, particularly without refunding the additional $90 I paid (CKGS). I am sure that there must have been some type of error and respectfully ask you to assist me in resolving this mistake and acquiring the 10-year visa I paid for without additional unnecessary expenditures. After all, I am a retired military officer with a top-secret security clearance and a law-abiding citizen, not a criminal or social misfit, and do not understand why my visa was denied.
 I am very ill and the stress of this situation is weighing heavy on my mind, keeping me awake at night and causing unnecessary stress instead of relieving stress as vacations should do. I am a little over two months away from my scheduled departure yet still do not have a valid visa even after paying $200 to get one.
 For a nation built on the fundamentals of Buddhism and Hinduism, including compassion for all living things and the cessation of suffering, your contractor (CKGS) leaves a lot to be desired. All I know is that my travel date is quickly approaching, I still do not have a valid visa, and time is running out to complete my travel plans and ensure a relatively stress-free trip.
 Please tell me what I have to do to get a valid visa so I can resume making plans to visit India. If this is not resolved soon, we will have to try to change our itinerary and travel to another country. I hope that we can resolve this unfortunate situation without delay.
 Thank you in advance for your assistance.
 Very Respectfully, 

CombatCritic

For a nation built on the fundamentals of Buddhism and Hinduism, including compassion for all living things and the cessation of suffering, their contractor (CKGS) leaves a lot to be desired. Will the Government of India DO THE RIGHT THING and grant me the 120 month visa I paid for or will they treat me with the indignity and disrespect I have endured from CKGS? Only time will tell.

All I know is that my travel date is quickly approaching, I still do not have a valid visa, and time is running out to complete my travel plans and ensure a relatively stress-free trip. I am seriously considering changing my plans and traveling to a nation where they appreciate tourist’s dollars and treat people with dignity and respect, but our tickets are non-refundable and I am not looking forward to the added stress and expense of having to change our tickets and plans at this late date.
I have not yet learned to forgive and will pursue this issue relentlessly until I am satisfied with the response from the Embassy/Consulate of India, Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances, Ministry of Tourism, CKGS, and/or the US State Department. This dilemma has only caused me more unneeded stress, wasted time and money, and caused grief instead of helping to relieve it. I will keep you posted and update this post as details change, for the positive or otherwise.

Namaste

CombatCritic

UPDATE: After being ignored by CKGS, the Embassy of India in Washington DC, and the Official Grievance Portal of the Government of India, I was finally able to locate and contact the Vice Consul for Visa Services in Houston, Texas where my visa was incorrectly processed.

I was contacted by phone and email and told that there was in-fact a mistake in processing my visa and told to send my passport (at my own expense – another $50 out-of-pocket) directly to his office for processing. I did as I was instructed and a week later I had my 10-year, multiple entry visa in-hand … FINALLY!

After weeks of stress, sleepless nights, and well over $250 in expenditures, I received the visa I paid for and was able to continue planning my journey. 

My only question is: Why was Cox Kings Global Services not able to remedy this situation

Recommendation: If Cox Kings Global Services refuses to assist with visa problems, CONTACT THE CONSULATE DIRECTLY AND PROMPTLY

CombatCritic Gives Cox Kings Global Services 1 Bomb Out of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!
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