The do’s and don’ts of credit card chargebacks

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When Jeff Campbell checked in at the Austin airport for a spring break vacation, the last thing on his mind was a credit card chargeback. Instead, he was thinking about the fun he’d have with his three daughters di lui at Universal Orlando Resort that week.

“Literally at the gate, my airline canceled the flight,” he says. “An agent said they would refund that specific flight, but then just handed me a business card to call and talk to someone about it.”

His only option was a pricey car rental and about a 17-hour drive to Orlando. He didn’t even bother asking his airline for a refund when he decided to drive home.

“I disputed the entire charge on my credit card,” he says.

Campbell, a personal finance expert who blogs at Middle Class Dad Money, joined the many other travelers who turn to credit card chargebacks when something goes wrong on a trip.

Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, consumers can dispute a credit card charge for goods and services they did not receive or accept. Your bank will investigate, and, if it sides with you, you will get a refund.

Monica Eaton-Cardone, chief operating officer of Chargebacks911, a company that protects businesses from fraudulent chargebacks, says it has become more commonplace for consumers to actively dispute credit card payments and demand refunds from their banks. According to research by the company, the number of such disputes has risen by 25 percent since the start of the pandemic.

Experts thought things would return to normal after the pandemic triggered an initial round of disputes for canceled vacations. Then came another wave from travelers who didn’t want to accept airline vouchers or cruise credits. Now, industry watchers say chargebacks are increasingly seen as a preferred tool for getting refunds from travel companies.

Take Campbell’s case, for instance. As a personal finance expert, he knows how chargebacks work and the limits of the Fair Credit Billing Act. (I’ll get to those in a moment.) But he didn’t want to bother asking his airline for a refund. He just wanted his $ 2,300 back from him. Two months later, his bank of him returned the money.

The dispute process wasn’t harder than in the past, he says. “But it took much longer to get a resolution.”

How bad has it gotten? Stephen Fofanoff, general manager of Domaine Madeleine, a small inn in Port Angeles, Wash., Says he has noticed a significant increase in credit card disputes since the pandemic started. They follow a similar pattern: Guests book the cheapest nonrefundable rooms, skip the travel insurance, then demand a refund when their plans change.

“If we don’t give them a refund, they threaten us with bad reviews and then file a chargeback with their credit card,” he says.

But a chargeback isn’t a magic bullet for travelers who want a refund. For starters, it only applies to credit cards. If you pay with cash, debit or wire transfer, you can’t get a chargeback.

The Fair Credit Billing Act protects purchases where the date is wrong. (For example, you booked an airline ticket for the 23rd of the month, but you received a ticket for the 25th.) It also applies to receiving the wrong number of goods or services (you booked one rental car but were charged for two) and math errors, such as a decimal-point mix-up that turns your $ 4 latte into a $ 4,000 cup of joe.

You have 60 days after receiving the first statement containing the disputed transaction to file a chargeback.

If you have a complaint about the quality of a travel product, as opposed to failure to provide a service, the threshold is even higher for credit card disputes. The law requires that the business must be in your home state or within 100 miles of your current billing address, and that the purchase must be for more than $ 50. You must also make a “good faith effort” to resolve the problem with the seller first.

A credit card chargeback is almost never the fastest or easiest way to get a refund. Even if you’re successful, a chargeback is long process, and the merchant could still send you to a collection agency or add you to its “Do Not Rent” list. It’s far better to work with the airline, car rental company or hotel to get your money back.

So when should you immediately file a chargeback? Only when a travel company charges you fraudulently. Be patient with any other dispute. If, for example, a company promises a refund and doesn’t send it, you should talk to your bank. (Don’t forget the 60-day limit.)

“Don’t use a chargeback as a weapon,” advises Y. Murat Ozguc, managing partner of Turkish tour operator Travel Atelier. He frequently deals with chargebacks from customers who don’t recognize the name of his company on their credit card bills. Instead of calling to ask about their bill, they file a chargeback. They don’t win the dispute, but it makes life complicated for everyone.

Read the fine print before you call your bank or credit card. Brandon Barron thought he could use a credit card dispute to get a refund from Aeroflot after the airline canceled his flight from Washington, DC, to Kemerovo, Russia, this summer. But the airline couldn’t refund the money, because it was affected by US sanctions. Then he realized he booked the tickets with a debit card.

“Rookie mistake,” says Barron, who works for a timeshare company in Charlotte. “I’m not very hopeful that I will ever see a penny back of what amounts to nearly $ 5,000.”

The takeaway: Credit card chargebacks can be a powerful tool for recovering your money from a travel company. But use them sparingly, and only after you’ve exhausted all other measures.

Potential travelers should take local and national public health directives regarding the pandemic into consideration before planning any trips. Travel health notice information can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interactive map showing travel recommendations by destination and the CDC’s travel health notice webpage.

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