Coronavirus Cancellations Have Left Many Travelers Frustrated, whether it's an airline that has cancelled a flight but is only providing free changes or travel credit (but no credit card refund), or a hotel that, even though a guest has given the required notice to receive a refund of the initial deposit, has stopped responding to emails and isn't refunding the deposit (looking at you, St. Regis Bora Bora). There are also the airlines and travel providers that have already gone out of business, such as Air Italy and Flybe. Can a credit card chargeback get you your money back? Possibly–here are our tips.
1. Research the Travel Provider's Policies and Legal Obligations
Before seeking a refund, check the company's refund policy and also any legal obligations it may be under, so that you can pursue a remedy that you're confident you're entitled to. For example, U.S. airlines that cancel flights are required by the Department of Transportation to provide a refund, not just a travel credit. And EC 261/2004 requires European airlines to offer passengers a refund for cancelled flights. Even though airlines may only want to offer vouchers for future travel, they are bound by EC 261/2004 to offer a refund. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for Canadian airlines, since the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) has endorsed a 24 month travel voucher instead of an actual refund to consumers for airlines that cancel flights.
2. Try to Resolve It With the Travel Provider First
Always try to obtain a refund from the travel provider first, since credit card disputes will generally require this anyway, and it's usually a more protracted process. It can be painful trying to get through on a phone line, so also try to use email, chat, or even Twitter to get through to the travel company. If using chat and a transcript isn't provider, be sure to take screen shots, and if speaking by phone, take notes and make sure to select the option to have your call recorded; it's helpful to have documentation of your efforts to obtain a refund.
3. Check if Your Purchase is Protected by the U.S. Fair Credit Billing Act
If your credit card purchase was made within 60 days of a cancelled flight or other service that won't be delivered as promised, you can file a billing error dispute under 15 U.S.C. §§1666(a)-1666(b), which states: “After complying with the provisions of this subsection with respect to an alleged billing error, a creditor has no further responsibility under this section if the obligor continues to make substantially the same allegation with respect to such error” where a billing error can consist of “A reflection on a statement of goods or services not accepted by the obligor or his designee or not delivered to the obligor or his designee in accordance with the agreement made at the time of a transaction.”
Note that there are several things that must be true to exercise one's rights using the U.S. Fair Credit Billing Act:
- You must be a U.S. consumer and have used a credit card to make the purchase
- The airline must have cancelled the flight or the merchant didn't provide the agreed upon good or service
- You must have sent your credit card issuer's billing inquiries department a written letter that reaches the issuer within 60 days from the statement date that showed the charge, making a good faith attempt at a refund
- You cannot have accepted a travel credit, itinerary change, or other change to the original agreement as that would constitute a new service agreement
Your credit card issuer must then acknowledge your complaint within 30 days, unless the dispute has been resolved
4. Be Persistent; Poor Responsiveness May Indicate Cash Flow Issues
Understandably, travel providers are swamped right now, so you may well not hear anything back within 24, 48, or 36 hours. But if you've contacted, say, a hotel, several times and still not heard back after a week, I'd be concerned and would file a chargeback on a deposit that hasn't been returned, if you're outside the cancellation period and it's supposed to be fully refundable.
Similarly, while I understand that manual refund processes for a high volume of requests could take longer than normal, I find one cruise line's “refunds could take up to 90 days” highly concerning and more likely indicative of cash flow issues, in which case you want to file a chargeback sooner than later. No one wants to be left with a travel credit for a company that no longer exists.
5. File Non-FCBA Disputes Online
While Fair Credit Billing Disputes must be mailed to the credit card issuer's billing inquiries address, if your dispute doesn't qualify, say because it's for a purchase too long ago, file online. Most credit card online accounts enable you to click into a specific transaction and dispute it. Otherwise, given the sheer volume of calls right now, you could be waiting a very long time for customer assistance when calling the number on the back of your card.
Even if you file online, however, also be sure to open all snail mail as you're likely to receive a response from your credit card issuer by mail on whether you've prevailed or not in your chargeback dispute, and this notice may not be sent to you by email.
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