The travel agency owes you money? Here’s how to get your refund
Travel agencies love to keep your money, even when they’re not supposed to. If you don’t believe me, ask Melina Jose, who was supposed to fly from Paris to Orlando, Florida recently.
His itinerary, booked through Expedia, included several airlines. But on its return flight, one of the legs, on Flybe from Paris to Manchester, England, mysteriously disappeared. She and her husband, Jerard, had to pay $ 437 for new tickets.
Although she sent Expedia all of her receipts, the online travel agency refused to reimburse the unused ride or new ticket she had to purchase. And the airlines have relied on Expedia.
“They were making us dizzy,” says Jose, a medical technologist from DeLand, Florida.
Stories like hers repeat themselves every hour of every day. Airlines and other travel agencies greatly facilitate the flow of money. But when it comes to refunds, they cite rules and policies designed to make it difficult, if not impossible, to get a refund. Experts say you can overcome these hurdles by using the right payment method, creating a paper trail, and knowing how to appeal your case.
José waited three months before contacting me. I contacted Expedia and they finally refunded them $ 437.
This is one way to do it.
The way you pay matters
If you think you might want a refund on a travel product at some point – and let’s face it, who doesn’t? – so how you pay matters. Paying with a debit card, check, or even wire transfer means the money is gone. But use a credit card, and you have the full force of federal law (the Fair Billing Act) and your local credit card resolution service. That way, when a business drags its feet on a refund, you can file a chargeback.
“It’s always best to book a tour, hotel or activity for your trip with a major credit card,” says Claire Soares, founder of the travel company Up in the Air Life. “Your card has built-in consumer protection programs so you can dispute a charge if the seller does not live up to what was promised. With the backing of a major credit card, you can even dispute a part or a percentage of the services provided.
Experts say you shouldn’t use a credit card dispute unless you have no other choice i.e. the travel agent won’t refund your purchase even if it agreed to do so. Give the system a chance to work before filing a chargeback.
Be informed and make a written record
“Stay informed,” says Michael Foguth, founder of Foguth Financial Group in Brighton, Michigan. Foguth says details matter. “And be careful.”
Watch out for what, though? What kind of “money” the travel agency wants to send you, to begin with. For example, airlines love to send you coupons, but that fun money expires after a year. If you pay by credit card, you should receive a refund on that credit card. Don’t take vouchers or points.
Also keep all emails and receipts. Experts say the “paper trail” will get you a refund faster. I can’t guarantee this – I’ve advocated many instances where a company has promised a refund in writing – but it can help.
Finally, make sure you are dealing with the right company. Jose had contacted his agency online and all the airlines on his itinerary. But in the end, Expedia was responsible for its refund; as a travel agent she had to work with these airlines to determine the correct reimbursement.
Appeal your case
Miguel Suro, a Florida lawyer who writes a personal finance blog called Rich Miser, says that if “no” is the answer, you need to bring in someone who can turn it into “yes.”
“For the airlines, if you can’t get anywhere with the airline itself and you have a valid claim, file a complaint with the US Department of Transportation,” he says. “Airlines hate third-party involvement and may react favorably. I had to do this for a foreign airline that owed me a partial refund for a flight from the US, and they ended up giving me a full refund, voluntarily.
It is not always necessary to appeal to the government. For example, you can email a hotel chain executive when one of the properties refuses to offer you the refund you deserve. (I post a full list of customer service managers’ contacts on my nonprofit consumer advocacy site, elliott.org. Often a short, polite, written call to someone higher up can do wonders.
If you want to make sure you get your trip reimbursed every time, remember to use a credit card, save every email, and be prepared to appeal your case. And if that doesn’t work, you can always contact me.
Use the three P’s for a refund
One of the techniques I developed as a consumer advocate is called the three ‘Ps’. It works great on refunds.
• Patience. Give the company at least one week to respond to your refund request and two credit card billing cycles to pay you.
• Persistence. Don’t let months go by without the business knowing your money is still running out. If necessary, set a calendar reminder so you don’t forget.
• Courtesy. Angry demands for reimbursement and threats to sue a company almost always backfire. The company may refer your case to their legal department, where they could linger for weeks or months. Be nice!