Disputing a charge with the credit card issuer when the airline refused to refund

May 11, 2020

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Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Anirudh, whose credit card issuer was able to help him get a flight refund when the airline wouldn’t cooperate:

“In October 2019, I booked travel to Santiago, Chile (SCL) on Aerolíneas Argentinas for a global summit that was to take place in the first week of December. Due to increasingly violent protests in Santiago, the Chilean government declared it could no longer host the summit. I called the airline and explained the situation, but because there was no travel warning for Chile and all airlines were operating their flights to Santiago without disruptions, the airline said the best they could offer me was credit for the full amount of my flight (with a $250 rescheduling fee that had to be charged separately and could not come from the credit amount) and no ability to roll over unused credits.

Moreover, the credit would only be valid for six months, and had to be used towards a round-trip originating in the U.S. With the number of restrictions imposed on me, I got ready to say goodbye to the money, but a friend to whom I related my woes suggested that I speak to my credit card company. I called up American Express and within minutes they had temporarily deducted the amount from my statement and raised the matter with the airline. Within a month, Amex contacted me to say that they would be permanently refunding the amount to me.

I had never thought to request that my credit card company intervene. Had I not chosen to lament about my loss to this particular friend, I would never have known that credit card companies could not only adjudicate disputes in the traditional sense, but also negotiate a refund from the airline or offer one unilaterally out of goodwill.

Since the COVID cancellation kerfuffle began, I’ve been able to do the same with two canceled events, one a concert and the other a half-marathon, through an entirely online process on the American Express website.

I really hope my experience helps your readers avoid losing money from cancellations that are entirely outside of their control!”

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Anirudh’s story raises two great points that everyone can benefit from, the first of which being you won’t get what you don’t ask for. This can apply to refunds, extensions, credit card retention offers or even goodwill courtesy points, but simply put it never hurts to ask. The worst-case scenario is you waste time on the phone and are told no, but the best case is you get your money back, bonus points, or whatever other accommodation you were asking for. Even major corporations like credit card issuers can be flexible on an individual basis, so if there’s something you need, set aside a few minutes and ask for it.

This story is also a great lesson in your last line of defense when trying to get a refund from a company: chargebacks. Buried in the fine print of most credit card agreements is language that says something to the effect of “if you paid for a good or service and did not receive it, you can dispute the charge and get your money back.” In Anirudh’s case this was a goodwill gesture on the part of his card issuer as his flight wasn’t actually canceled, but if you find yourself unable to get a refund from an airline when your flight is canceled or even trying to refund tickets from an airline that’s gone bankrupt, disputing the charge might be your fastest and most successful option. Sometimes I’ve found that even the threat of initiating a credit card chargeback is enough to stop companies from dragging their heels and get me my refund.

Related: Airline coronavirus change and cancellation policies: A complete list

I love this story and I want to hear more like it! Please email your own award travel success stories to info@thepointsguy.com; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. Feel free to also submit your most woeful travel mistakes; due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually.

Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Featured photo by Emilija Manevska/Getty Images

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