How We Gather (and How to Interpret) Our Data
Last updated in May 2015
We regularly survey area Checkbook and Consumer Reports subscribers for their feedback on services they have used. For our survey on travel agencies, we asked consumers to rate their experiences with companies they had most recently used "inferior," "adequate," or "superior" on several aspects of service, including "doing service properly," "completing service promptly," "letting you know cost early," "pleasantness," "advice on service options and costs," and "overall performance." Our Ratings Tables show the percent of each company's surveyed customers who rated it "superior" (as opposed to "inferior" or "adequate") on each question.
We have included on our Ratings Tables all of the companies for which we received at least 10 ratings on our customer surveys. If a company is not listed on our Ratings Tables, it simply means we did not receive at least 10 ratings for it.
Since many companies were rated by rather small numbers of raters, small differences between two companies in the percentage of raters who gave a particular rating (say, "superior") should be ignored. The table below gives a rough guide to minimum differences you should look for in deciding on one company over another.
When using these survey data, remember that the questions are to some degree subjective and that the differences among companies might be explained by differences in the personalities, backgrounds, critical standards, and other characteristics of the raters or by biases these raters might have.
Complaint Counts and Rates
For companies that were evaluated in our last full, published report, our Ratings Tables show the number of complaints filed with local Better Business Bureaus (BBB) for a recent three-year period.
When using the complaint information, keep in mind that complaints are not always justified; sometimes customers are unreasonable. And remember that we didn't have a measure of business volume; large companies are more likely to incur complaints simply because they serve more customers.
We always recommend that you look for substantial differences in complaint counts and rates. We also advise giving little weight to complaint counts if the total count against a company is less than three or four.
Timeliness of the Data
All of the data must be interpreted in view of timeliness. Our customer survey data are from surveys conducted from January 2004 to December 2017. Survey respondents were asked to report on experiences in the preceding year. Our data on complaints for the BBBs are for a three-year period dating back from a date between December 1, 2011 and January 31, 2012.
For the most part, our tables include companies for which we collected 10 or more ratings on our customer survey during the customer survey period mentioned above, but we do not report data for periods prior to companies' changes of name and ownership. As a result, some large companies are not listed at all. If only name or ownership changed, we do report the data. Changes subsequent to the dates listed above may not be taken into account.
We give checkmarks to companies that score highest on a scoring system that we devise for each service field. Our scoring systems weight the various data in our tables and text based on our subjective judgment of their importance. Since the scores are based entirely on information presented, you can apply your own subjective judgments, and decide whether you prefer companies we have not given checkmarks. Where we do not have important data on a company, we cannot give our checkmark.