Still waiting for that VAT refund? The surprise I got after four years
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
In my decades of traveling the globe, I’ve seen a lot. From lost baggage to missed connections to that one time Delta picked me up in a Porsche to make my connection in Atlanta (I was Diamond Medallion at the time), it takes a lot to surprise me.
But earlier this month, that exact thing happened when a Value Added Tax (VAT) refund from a purchase I made in Europe posted to my credit card account — over four years later.
This incredible development kicked off with an email that I received from American Express on Tuesday, Jan. 19, notifying me of a refund that had posted to my account. With a few outstanding returns from the holidays, this wasn’t abnormal — but when I opened the email, I saw a couple of things that were entirely unexpected.
For starters, this credit was issued to my Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card. This is a card I rarely use, instead keeping it open primarily for the annual free-night certificate and 15 elite-night credits it offers — which can now be stacked with those from a personal Marriott card (and put me 60% of the way to Bonvoy Platinum status each year before I even set foot in a Marriott property).
In addition, the merchant — “Monex Financial Services” — rang zero bells for me.
And when I logged into my online account, I only became more confused. The company was based in Killarney, Ireland — and the refund was actually processed as 119.50 Euros.
It wasn’t until I Googled “Monex Financial Services” and started reading about the company that I saw this on its website (emphasis mine):
“We host an impressive client profile including: SIBS, Switch Commerce, Hertz, Ryanair, Bank of China, several large Duty Free Clients, VAT Refund Companies, and top ranking Hotel brands. We continue to increase our merchant portfolio in conjunction with major acquiring global banks.”
That’s when I put two and two together. My Marriott Business Amex was formerly the business version of the Starwood Preferred Guest Amex. Prior to the integration of Marriott Rewards and SPG, this card was a terrific option for everyday purchases, as it offered one Starpoint per dollar spent (a return of 2.7% based on our pre-merger valuations). And with no foreign transaction fees, it was one of my go-to cards for traveling outside the U.S.
Including that one time I brought jewelry for my wife in Mallorca for her birthday. For which I never received a VAT refund. From November 2016.
Sure enough, my old billing statement showed a purchase of 919.80 Euros.
And based on this online calculator, the refund I received this year was a perfect match.
I was stunned. A purchase I made on Nov. 14, 2016 — for which I submitted refund documentation on Nov. 27 at the Madrid Airport (MAD) — was finally processed on Jan. 19, 2021 (with a transaction date of Jan. 12).
For those keeping track at home, that’s a wait of 4 years, 1 month and 22 days.
Naturally, I was thrilled. This was a refund I had given up on (and completely forgotten about, to be honest), so it was a bit like finding $145 in my couch cushions.
However, I was also fascinated as to why this took so long. I have submitted VAT refund requests several times in my travels, and they never took this long. Needless to say, I wanted to find out more information.
I reached out the Monex Financial Services to inquire about my situation. Monex is the company that actually disburses the funds to customers, but after doing some digging, they discovered that my refund was initially processed at the source by Innova TaxFree Group (Euronet Worldwide). However, it wasn’t sent to Monex until Jan. 12 of this year — so the delay was on Innova’s end.
I connected with a customer service representative from Euronet Merchant Services, and she gave me the following statement:
“[Refunds typically take] 4 to 6 weeks, depending on whether the country in which the form has been validated by customs works digitally or not. We do not usually see major delays. [Your] specific case has been exceptional and is a result of re-adjustment necessary after we acquired the company that was delivering the service at the time of your transaction.”
It seems like my request had simply fallen through the cracks due to a merger or acquisition, and the fact that I had submitted paper forms probably didn’t help. Regardless, it’s great to see that this was ultimately processed.
So … what’s the takeaway from my experience?
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Always include your contact information when submitting a VAT refund form — “so that the customer may be reached if necessary” according to the Euronet rep. (Note that I did provide this information on my documents, so it’s not foolproof — but it can help.)
- Take pictures of all documentation before mailing out. I submitted an inquiry to Innova in late 2016, and an agent responded to ask for images of my forms. Thankfully, I had saved these and sent them along. There’s no way to know if this actually helped — but it certainly didn’t hurt.
- Follow-up if too much time has elapsed — and be persistent. As noted above, I reached out to Innova a few weeks after returning to the U.S. and then sent along my photo documentation. I then followed up twice via email in January 2017, but I ultimately gave up. All’s well that ends well, but I should’ve kept pushing for a response.
Finally, don’t give up all hope if these tips still don’t get you anywhere. While my case was truly exceptional, there’s always a chance that your refund could still arrive.
Though hopefully in less than four years.
All screenshots courtesy of American Express
Welcome to The Points Guy!
Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.
With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.
- Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
- Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
- Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
- Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
- Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
- Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
- Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
- Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
- Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- $250 Annual Fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees