Still waiting for that VAT refund? The surprise I got after four years

Feb 20, 2021

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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.

An email from American Express regarding a merchant refund

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).

Related: Does it make sense to hold multiple Marriott Bonvoy credit cards?

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.

Online account activity with American Express

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.

American Express statement jewelry purchase

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

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