Christopher Elliott is an author, advocate, and journalist.
Elliott’s books are practical guides that help people make smarter purchases. He founded two nonprofit organizations for consumers. Elliott also writes six weekly columns that have a combined reach of 10 million readers.
How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler (And Save Time, Money and Hassle) (National Geographic) is the book you’ll want to take on your next trip. It’s full of actionable advice you won’t find anywhere else. It also answers the most common and most perplexing travel questions. How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler shows you how to save time and money and prevent hassles. Elliott shares his favorite shortcuts and bargain tips. He reveals which ones are too good to be true. Plus, he explains how to avoid travel irritants such as onerous contracts or aggressive timeshare salespeople.
Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals (Wiley) is the ultimate guide for consumers. Once upon a time, store prices were simple and fair, businesses stood behind their products with guarantees free of fine print and loopholes. Companies genuinely cared about their valued customers. But those days are long gone. In this exposé of corporate America, Elliott pulls the curtains back on the broken relationship between American consumers and businesses. He explains how companies came to believe that fooling their customers was a viable, and profitable, business plan.
Elliott Advocacy is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers people to solve their problems and helps those who can’t. Elliott.org helps readers through direct advocacy, journalism on an ad-free website and maintaining the largest database of executive contact information on the Internet.
He also co-founded Travelers United, a nonprofit organization that works in Washington to help travelers.
Elliott writes six weekly columns about customer service, with a special emphasis on travel and technology. His work reaches more than 10 million readers a week.
• He writes The Travel Troubleshooter, which is syndicated by King Features Syndicate. You can find the feature in newspapers across the country, from the San Francisco Chronicle to the Miami Herald. Archives of the Travel Troubleshooter are available on his personal site, too.
• He also writes the weekly Problem Solved column, which is independently distributed to more than 50 newspapers and websites. The feature has been published in the Hartford Courant, San Jose Mercury News and Seattle Times.
• He writes USA Today’s weekly On Travel column, a weekly feature that helps travelers understand the inner workings of the travel industry, and how to make the most of their next trip. You can find past On Travel columns on this site, too.
• He’s a senior contributor to Forbes. Elliott writes about customer service issues, with a specialty in technology and travel. Many of these columns are also distributed as Smart Consumer columns through syndication.
• Elliott also writes Elliott Confidential, a Substack newsletter. The newsletter publishes exclusive news and commentary about customer service.
Elliott contributes to a variety of media organizations, including National Geographic, NPR, Smithsonian and Travel & Leisure. He’s a regular guest on a variety of national news programs, including the ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and the Today Show.
Elliott was born in Charlotte, N.C., and grew up in Vienna, Austria. He attended primary and middle school in Austria (Volksschule Südstadt, Bundesgymnasium Mödling and Vienna International School). Later, he transferred to Black Forest Academy in Kandern, Germany, before graduating from Briarwood Christian School in Birmingham, Ala., in 1986.
He attended Biola University in La Mirada, Calif., for two years and then transferred to the University of California at Irvine, where he graduated with a bachelors degree in humanities in 1990. He received a masters in journalism from the University of California at Berkeley in 1992 and was awarded a Fulbright fellowship to Germany in 1996.
Elliott completed a total of six editorial internships, including stints at the Claremont (Calif.) Courier, the Daily Bulletin in Ontario, Calif., the Birmingham (Ala.) News, The Dallas Morning News, the Los Angeles Times, and Reuters.
Elliott began working for Dow Jones & Co. in 1992 shortly after graduating from Berkeley. He covered initial public stock offerings from Dow Jones News Service and occasionally wrote Abreast of the Market and OTC Focus for the Wall Street Journal. He took a job as the business travel editor for Travel Weekly, a travel trade publication, in 1994.
Elliott returned to Europe after receiving a Fulbright scholarship in 1996. In 1997, Elliott came back to the United States and started writing a weekly travel column called The Crabby Traveler for ABCNews.com. Three years later, the column moved to CNN.com and eventually went into syndication.
Transition to advocacy
In 1996, Elliott registered the domain Elliott.org and began posting stories from readers. Many articles involved seemingly intractable problems with a company. Rather than just complaining, Elliott engaged in an early form of solutions journalism. He contacted the company on behalf of the consumer and helped negotiate a settlement. The stories formed the basis for a weekly feature called the Travel Troubleshooter. Then, in the late 1990s, the Miami Herald picked up the Travel Troubleshooter as a regular column.
In 2006, Tribune Media Services added the Troubleshooter to its lineup for national syndication. In 2009, Elliott started to develop a companion column, Problem Solved, which handled non-travel complaints. Both the features are now syndicated by King Features. In 2001, Elliott became National Geographic Traveler’s reader advocate. He remained in that role until National Geographic’s sale of the magazine to News Corp. in 2016.
In 2018, after 22 years of self-publishing Elliott.org, Elliott incorporated Elliott Advocacy as a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization, with a mission to help empower customers to solve their problems and help those who can’t.
Radio and television reporting
Elliott has hosted radio and TV shows on travel and advocacy. In the late 90s, he began reporting for National Public Radio as an independent producer. In the early 2000s, he hosted What You Get For The Money: Vacations on the Fine Living Network (now the Food Channel). Elliott also co-hosted the weekly syndicated show Rudy Maxa’s World with Christopher Elliott from 2009 to 2011. Elliott has appeared on virtually every major TV network as a subject matter expert, including ABC, BBC, CW, CBS, CNN and NBC.
Here are some of the issues that Elliott fights for as an advocate.
Treating customers with dignity, kindness and respect. Companies should treat their customers as they would want to be treated — with dignity, kindness and respect. And that should be reciprocated with respect and loyalty by their customers. Programs that attempt to manipulate this natural relationship between companies and customers, such as loyalty programs, hurt everyone in the long term.
Ending deceptive advertising. Consumers want products to do what they promised — no more, no less. When a company advertises something but doesn’t deliver, we have a problem.
Encouraging more choices. Mergers and acquisitions are never better for customers — ever. What’s more, I’ve never spoken with a customer who demanded two competitors merge. Simply put, mergers are bad for consumers. The more choices, the better.
Stopping “gotcha” contracts. Companies often create contracts that give their customers zero rights while allowing them to do whatever they please. These so-called “adhesion” contracts are universally hated by their consumers.
Scrapping junk fees. Customers hate surprises. So when you sell a product but then force someone to pay extra to make it work, that’s an unwanted junk fee. “Free” smartphone apps are the worst. You have to make an in-app payment to unlock the functionality. Come on.
Keeping your personal information private. People hate — hate! — seeing their personal information shared with a third party without their consent. Just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right. It’s an invasion of privacy and a breach of trust.
Removing opt-in traps. When companies pre-check the “subscribe” button to send you offers or automatically renew your subscription annually, that’s wrong. Customers should always have a choice about what they buy and when.
Zero debt. The best way to control your finances is to avoid any kind of debt. Financial instruments and purchases that encourage debt are best avoided.
Approach to advocacy
Elliott advocates for anyone, regardless of political affiliation, race, ethnicity or gender. He tries to keep politics out of his advocacy to the maximum extent possible.
But if you must know, according to the Political Compass Test, he leans a little to the left.
In addition to being a nationally-recognized expert on customer service, Elliott is an inveterate traveler. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking, photography, and scuba diving. His weekly family travel column for USA Today chronicles his never-ending journey around the world with his three children. He lives in Sedona, Ariz.
About his travel companions
Iden Elliott (left) is a senior at the University of Arizona, where is is majoring in business. Aren Elliott (center) is also a senior at the University of Arizona where he is studying computer science. Their sister, Eris Margaret (everyone in Europe calls her Margarita), is a freshman at Yavapai College in Sedona, our local community college.
You can reach Elliott at [email protected] or call him at (202) 370-7934. You can also join a community of consumers on social media:
Want to know more about Christopher Elliott?
Read his personal website, Chriselliotts.com or his consumer advocacy organization, Elliott Advocacy. Or check out a list of his favorite mistakes. If you’re a publicist, please also review his FAQ about media queries.
The fine print
About Christopher Elliott’s sites. Christopher Elliott is an author, consumer advocate and journalist. He founded a nonprofit advocacy organization that publishes a site and weekly newsletter. He also publishes a personal site.
Who funds the advocacy? The projects are supported by individual and corporate underwriter memberships (like public TV and public radio). All the money raised from reader donations is used to fund the advocacy efforts. The proceeds cover IT expenses, web design, servers and staff.
What underwriters get. Corporate sponsors receive a rotating banner on the sites and in the daily newsletter for their support. A mention of a sponsor or past sponsor on social media or in editorial coverage isn’t meant to imply any kind of endorsement.
About Elliott’s stories. Elliott does his best to cover his stories fairly and without favor. Since the nonprofit consumer advocacy site he founded receives funding from multiple sources, including reader contributions and corporate sponsorships, it’s a balancing act.
Accountability. Elliott adheres to several conduct codes. He follow’s SATW’s code of ethics. In addition, he complies with the FTC’s disclosure requirements for bloggers. Elliott has regular conversations with his supervisors about his activities and any potential conflicts. But ultimately, he answers to you, his reader.
How he makes a living. During his career, Elliott has earned a living by various means, from ghostwriting to straight-up journalism. He strongly prefers journalism, but that isn’t always possible. With shrinking editorial budgets, many outlets now ask you to submit publication-ready stories for free.
Occasionally, Elliott accepts assignments from companies to write guest blog posts or to do a satellite media tour. In those cases, he has two essential ground rules: Don’t say or write anything that he wouldn’t be comfortable publishing in an editorial outlet. Also, he always insists on full disclosure (“this post is sponsored by ‘X'”).
Friends and family. Over the years, Elliott has had friends and family members who have been engaged in advocacy or travel journalism. He doesn’t just make an effort to ensure that there isn’t a conflict, but also that there isn’t an appearance of conflict.