Credit Card Disputes For Travel Purchases: Will They Work?

Filed Under: Advice, Travel

There are all kinds of benefits to making purchases with credit cards over other forms of payment — you can earn rewards, you get fraud protection, you can dispute charges, and with some cards you even get purchase protection and other travel coverage.

In this post I wanted to specifically address something I’ve heard over and over, in hopes of managing expectations, if nothing else.

“Just dispute the charge”

This is an unprecedented time globally, in particular for the travel industry, given that it has more or less come to a standstill.

We’ve seen some travel providers offer generous change and cancellation policies, and we’ve seen other travel providers, well… not do that.

I’ve constantly heard people throw around the concept of disputing a credit card charge if you’re not getting what you want. I even recommended that, with caveats, in a post about how to cancel flights during COVID-19.

I have seen people mention this in just about every context imaginable, and I do think there’s value in managing expectations.

When is a credit card dispute appropriate?

Credit card companies are rather vague when it comes to the circumstances under which they recommend filing a dispute for a purchase. There are a few things to be aware of:

  • There’s a difference between a purchase you should mark as fraud, and one you should dispute; fraudulent purchases include completely unauthorized ones, with companies you don’t do business with, rather than maybe a recurring payment with a company you do business with (which you would dispute)
  • You’re only supposed to dispute a purchase after you’ve reached out to the merchant to resolve the issue, and after you’ve come to a dead-end there
  • You often have only 60 days from when the purchase was made to dispute a charge
  • Think of a credit card company more as a common sense court, rather than an assistant manager at an Olive Garden; in other words, you don’t dispute a charge because the pasta wasn’t very good, or because the service could have been friendlier, but rather because you didn’t get what you explicitly paid for

To give some examples of when a credit card dispute is appropriate:

  • If you didn’t receive what you paid for
  • If the item you received is defective
  • If you didn’t authorize a purchase
  • If you were double charged
  • If you were charged a recurring fee after cancelling
  • If you were charged the wrong amount

Expect credit card companies to crack down on travel disputes

Now on to my advice — if you have a travel issue it’s totally fine to file a dispute with your credit card, though don’t necessarily expect it to be successful. I can’t even imagine the extent to which credit card companies are being overwhelmed with travel disputes, and they’re not just going to approve all of them.

Even looking at the Chase page for disputing charges, they added this special section:

“If your dispute is related to travel, we recommend that you start with your travel provider because many airlines and hotels are being flexible about impacted areas. If they can’t help, submit a dispute online and we’ll work with you to try and find you a solution.”

I’ve also received several comments and questions from readers the past couple of days who are frustrated that their disputes have been denied. For example, reader Jasper just left the following comment on a post:

I actually tried a charge back after a hotel offered me a (likely useless) voucher after they cancelled my reservation. Amex flatly refused the charge back because “the hotel offered an alternative.”

Historically credit card companies have sided with consumers by default for disputes (with some issuers being more generous than others), though personally I would expect that to change for the time being, especially with travel brands.

The reality is that:

  • Even for credit card companies, liaising between consumers and travel brands is going to be challenging, since it can be hard to even get in touch with many travel brands
  • With many travel brands issuing vouchers rather than refunds, this further complicates the situation, since disputing a charge may lead to you getting a refund and a voucher

I’ll take it a step further — I wouldn’t be surprised to see credit card companies essentially not take “sides” when it comes to travel brands offering vouchers rather than cash back, arguing that they’re offering some alternative.

I get that this is super frustrating

Trust me, I’m in the same boat as everyone else. In many cases we’re left without options, and feel like a credit card dispute is the only option.

For example, last week I was supposed to go to Peru, and had booked two intra-Peru flights on LATAM. The flights ended up cancelling, so I’ve been trying to get a refund or rebook them, but I can’t get through to anyone at LATAM.

Heck, almost every day I still get a text saying that I’ve been rebooked the next day, which makes me wonder just how many of these flights are being cancelled. But there’s no way I can get through to anyone.

The way I saw it, the only option I had was a credit card dispute. Do I expect it to be successful? No, maybe not. But what else is one supposed to do?

Bottom line

There’s nothing wrong with trying a credit card dispute right now, but I would expect credit card companies to be significantly less generous than usual. I can’t even imagine the exponential increase they’ve seen in disputes, and they’re not just going to approve disputes by default anymore.

If you’ve filed a credit card dispute for a travel purchase during the coronavirus pandemic, how did it work out for you?

Comments
  1. Different laws in different jurisdictions; expect U.K. credit card issuers to be *much* more cooperative (they are legally obliged to be so).

  2. YEA…no what? When a credit card company cant get in touch with a merchant that charge should simply be removed. I mean if they can’t contact the merchant in 60 days game over.

  3. @54austin, I believe that’s Cape Town. I think it’s probably from the Silo Hotel at the V&A Waterfront.

  4. I disputed a charge I made on United 40 days ago for a flight in April using my CSR. I just received my credit, so I know it works! My only issue is I have some flights I made last December for flights in April-I’m screwed there…..

  5. Also keep in mind that the customer can still be contractually legally obligated to pay the provider even when their card company reverses the charge. The risk exists that the provider will pursue the customer via legal process or negative credit reporting, which can have long lasting effects on the customer’s credit score.

  6. I just filed a dispute with AMEX Plat of $98 for a fee I paid for preferred seat upgrades on TK flights to KHI and back from IST, which TK did not refund after they refunded me for tickets (less a $130 cancellation fee, which I have decided to let go even though TK subsequently cancelled all their intl flights).

    The claim here is that I never got the seat upgrades I paid for because I did not travel. AMEX told me to expect a resolution some time in May.

  7. As John says, the picture is from the Silo hotel in Cape Town. You can see the Table Bay hotel on the far right, and the V&A Waterfront hotel in the middle.

  8. Just a note as merchant. The merchant (in this case) airline pays the dispute not the bank. So if I lose a dispute I am charged the amount lost plus some fees by the bank, even if the customer is clearly lying to get out of something.

    Some of our dispute resolution is still done via US Mail but no one is in our office to get that mail.

    Feel free to dispute if you can’t get your money owed (I’m looking at you, United), but just know it will still take some time to resolve.

  9. DD is correct, a favorable bank dispute doesn’t necessarily absolve the consumer of the merchant debt and may be useful to highlight in these types of posts.

  10. People like Gene are just being lazy and sloppy in trying to ding CC issuers because they cannot negotiate exactly what they want from the merchant.

    I expect a small claims court will dismiss any such case with a minimal hearing.

  11. Lucky, the CC would be taking a side if they refuse to get involved because you’ve already paid for a service that is not or will not be delivered. So to say you have to accept for travel providers off, that’s no different that taking their side against you.

  12. Reginald,

    You have to prove fraud. It is fairly clear that it was not fraud but rather a disagreement between you and a merchant.

    Judges don’t like people who waste the court’s time with petty squabbles, especially when your real dispute is not with the CC issuer but with the travel company.

  13. Chase Sapphire Reserve just refunded me a hotel reservation that I booked in October 2019 for this week. I contacted the hotel who told me to contact the booking agent. I contacted Travel up who said I would lose 100% of the payment. Open a case with Chase with that information, received my refund. Total time was 20 mins, waiting on hold for Chase since I couldn’t do it online because it was past 60days. Everything else was done by email.

  14. @JustJerk

    Did they just temporarily credit the amount back or they actually did approve your dispute?

    One thing that @Lucky didn’t clearly post here is the actual process which takes much longer than 20 minutes unless the dispute is just few dollars. They normally will take your case, temporarily credit back the charge right away, and use few weeks to resolve the dispute. If it is in your favor, nothing else, if it isn’t you will get charge that amount again. This whole process takes much longer than 20 mins.

  15. @Ben,

    I’ve been successful contacting Latam through their online help desk (it gets to the same
    The website is:
    https://helpdesk.latam.com/hc/en-us?_ga=2.234816086.952426860.1585599728-1532285683.1583959125&_gac=1.229718508.1584115076.ADFOZV5SxDpUUd4jyU-IhEAdIidPLFbN1tjxzRcVA5bqF_Oqeu8e7kOPfxyztx3LsKWf9TDnzyWa4_z6vX7aAZUiU7_Cla0Wyc5lXicyOwY

    It’s not their reservation department but they can open requests to the reservation team to cancel/refund/change your ticket.

    If you know someone in Brazil, you can ask them to call Latam Brazil’s Customer Assistance Number: 0800123200
    It takes you to the same team that handles the online requests from the link above.

    I was able to get refunds and cancel tickets from my relatives through both aforementioned options last week.

  16. So does that make it okay for the airlines to take your money & not provide the service that you originally paid for? Consumers have a right to get their money back if a service has been cancelled due to circumstances that are out of their control. This also means that the airlines don’t have a right to keep the consumer’s money, especially if the airlines are the one’s that cancelled the flight in the first place. That is outright theft!

  17. booked a tour in Vancouver thru Viator.. had direct contact with the actual tour guide. after virus hit I canceled all flights, hotels, cruise and tours. tour would not refund cost until I went thru Viator..

  18. @Tom

    That’s not how fraud disputes work. Fraud is assumed to have occurred once reported and the merchant must prove that it wasn’t fraud.

  19. As both a merchant and cc holder, the cc landscape had changed significantly over the last decade. CC issuing banks and processors are extremely customer friendly, but again big businesses will have higher leverage with cc companies than small businesses. When you file a charge back dispute, your cc issuing bank will automatically credit you the disputed amount. The process is done online as Visa and MC only allows four weeks to resolve the dispute. If you have no backup assistant and receive an email while you are out of state or country, you are fried. No extension. No exception. After the merchant submits evidences through his cc processor, it will be forwarded to the customer’s cc issuing bank. If the merchant disagrees with the bank’s decision, he can escalate the case to arbitration that will cost $500 if the arbitration rules against him. But another commentator on Matthew’s blog assures that the process never reaches that far. The bank will charge labor fee for investigation cost. The customer and merchant will be notified of the result by their respective cc bank/ processor within four weeks. Merchants always swallow the loss not the banks when banks advertise that cc holders will never be responsible for unauthorized transaction. I never sought relief from small claims court due to time, effort and costs to sue and collect the judgment. Non-Americans remotely engage in charge back dispute so I welcome them anytime over American customers. If the merchant lists their rooms or sells air tickets on opaque site, it depends on the contract between two parties. AirBnB collects payments, not the hosts, and has the final say so customers must deal directly with AirBnB. But Booking.com and Price Line do not collect the payments so customers must contact directly with the facilities and airlines. Recently, the latter introduced an option where a customer can make direct payment to them but I elected to opt out because their staff are quite incompetent and I avoid being their captive .

  20. Globes post is very good but I will take it a step further. If I claim a charge is fraudulent, it is extremely difficult for a merchant to prove otherwise.

    ~ The Honorable Reginald

  21. I have a few comments to add here.

    1. Look at how you booked the travel and how it was paid. For example, if you have a pre-paid hotel reservation through Marriott or Hilton, often the hotel itself bills you directly and the hotel staff knowingly or unknowingly may not be informed about the current general policies, so you will have to deal with the hotel directly and you may have to point out the rules of what you are entitled to.
    2. Different airlines have different rules for the cancellation or refund. Many are offering credits for free and cancellations for a fee but if the airline cancels more than 14 days prior they will issue a refund.
    3. As Lucky stated getting in touch with some foreign airlines can be more difficult AND their policies regarding the virus may not be clearly stated so the general ticket terms may apply.

    I think customers and travelers should be patient. For example, if you are in a decent situation then just be patient. Let’s say you received a confirmation back from the hotel of a refund but it’s not posted yet, give it a few weeks and follow up before a dispute.

  22. @Greg Granger

    I love these kinds of response.
    Apparently you, like most people, never read the condition of carriage before you buy a ticket.
    As a bonus if you do intend to honor your contract you made with the airline, I give you word of the day for you: Force majeure.

    Now if you do read your contract even with such events, if you don’t make some mistake accepting compensation, you can still get a full refund on many of the cases. You just need to wait on hold for few hours and allow 12-16 weeks of processing.

    Remember, you don’t need to deal with airlines at all, you can always walk.

  23. When you look at the law that was written for the Fair Credit Reporting Act; U.S.C.15, Subchapter 1, Part D, 1666, it very clearly says the following:

    -You have 60 days after the transmission of a statement (ie: the statement closing date) to provide written notice to file a dispute for the charge (not from the date the transaction appears on your account) and;

    it outlines what a billing error is, including “A reflection on a statement of goods or services not accepted by the obligor or his designee or not delivered to the obligor or his designee in accordance with the agreement made at the time of a transaction.”

    There is nothing in there that I’ve seen (I’m not an attorney) where the offering by the travel provider of a credit would be a basis for the card company to deny the dispute if you can show the goods and services were not delivered in accordance to the agreement you made at the time of purchase.

    IMO, if the credit card company said they offered that credit to you, and we’re going to deny your dispute because of that, it would seem they would then be violating the terms of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Of course if you accepted the voucher or credit, that might be a different matter, but if you refused, not sure how they could deny your dispute if they cancelled your ticket and didn’t provide the trip you had paid for.

  24. Keep in mind many airlines get no money until they actually delivered the flight for the bank due to the high risk involved for banks. Norwegian writes about it a lot in there reports. So funds sit under fiscal responsibilities with the Acquiring bank using the funds to underwrite the entire risk of there merchants portfolio. This model works to some degree when flights are made but not now not its a revers situation. Airline have no funds to pay back and Acquiring bank sits on there funds to do them with (unless they release it) . Hopefully they stop selling air on credit cards and use debit och krypto would lower the prices

  25. I just cancelled a hotel with LegoLand in California and I had purchased the refund option for $35. They told me it may take 30 days to get a refund. Should I dispute the charge on my credit card that was made about 35 days ago? I’m concerned that I might go over 60 days, although there is no dispute I’m getting a refund because they send me a confirmation refund letter.

  26. @Justjerk-so Chase gave you no pushback on filing/processing the refund/dispute even though it was made many months ago? (That always seems to be an unfair issue for us consumers when it comes to making bookings well in advance). If the hotel itself was issuing no-penalty cancellation wavers (hopefully they were for people who booked direct), then what was TravelUp’s argument against doing it? They wouldn’t be out the $$. And did they refund any non-refundable deposit? I have a similar situation with them just unfolding now….my hotel CLOSED it’s doors. Will be curious to see if they refund the full amount paid (which was cancellable/refundable) or if they hold back and keep the deposit. If that happens, then I would feel a credit card dispute is appropriate b/c I didn’t receive what I paid for.

  27. Filing this under fwiw, ymmv, United informed me today my refund request for flights they cancelled was denied, 24 days after submitting it. I immediately went online to Amex, disputed the charge, and it was almost immediately approved within a few seconds, and the dispute closed.

    I don’t know if Amex is running a script on ticket numbers or what, and it was a sizable ticket, over $1,000. I am a good customer with Amex, but not that good to get an immediate dispute approval with no human interaction.

  28. United refused refund on a flight they significantly changed (6.5hrs). Disputed with Chase which resulted in instant credit. Provided Chase with policies for refund showing they changed it from like +/- 30minutes or an hour to now +/- 6hours. Waiting for full resolution..which United has a few more days to respond before default awards to me.

    Visa allows for disputes to start 120days after product/services were to have been delivered (e.g. flight date), not just statement dates.

  29. I paid for an NCL cruise from New York to Italy on March 6th. It was a repositioning cruise that was supposed to leave on April 18th. I made payment in full by Chase debit card. NCL is offering full refunds on cruises that they’ve had to cancel or you can opt for a full credit towards a future cruise plus a 25% bonus credit. I opted for the refund and was informed it would take 90 days to process the refund. Here’s the problem: I am still within the 60 day period of time for filing debit card disputes with Chase. It seems simple, I paid for a cruise that never materialized. NCL acknowledges owing me a refund but they want 90 days to process it. If I decline the dispute option, I will let the 60 day window of opportunity to file a dispute pass. If anything happens with NCL or if they decide to stop offering refunds, or whatever, I’ll have no recourse. I’m a rather cynical person when it comes to dealing with big companies and I would not be surprised if NCL was taking their time processing refunds to let the clock run on any potential bookings that were paid for within the window of opportunity for filing disputes. Most cruises are paid in full months before the sail date so those people would have no option to file a dispute. NCL would only have to worry about making sure the clock runs out on people like me who booked and paid at the last minute. So, I say file that dispute if you can. I wouldn’t be trusting any travel related business to hold my money at this point. Get those disputes filed ASAP.

  30. @William A: Most cruises are paid in full months before the sail date so those people would have no option to file a dispute.

    I can’t speak specifically about cruises but after speaking with Chase yesterday re. a similar issue for a hotel, they confirmed that its 60 days from the time of actually checking in/stay date and NOT when it was booked, which could be up to a year and a half. The 60 day clock starts when there was a failure to deliver services, not when the charges posted.

  31. I had to cancel flights with Frontier March 17. I received a cancellation email April 10, stating I had a credit that would expire 90 days from March 17. I’ve been restricted from traveling with my job (government) and the 5th traveler has been stuck in Europe. So I couldn’t book and thought I had another week before 90 days expired. I finally spoke to someone today and they say my credit expired and they are taking $2,300 without having provided service. Also this is the first time I’ve been able to speak with someone, usually the phone hangs up after they say they are busy. I’m shocked they refused to cooperate. I will try to dispute based on their failure to provide phone support. Is it right that they expire the credit in 90 days? Even less the way they backdated it?

  32. @William A – I wish I had read your comment when you posted it. I cancelled a cruise with Crystal on 3/16/20 and they said 90 days. I had paid for it in December 2019 so I was outside the 60 day window or so I thought. Here it is 120 days out and I still haven’t gotten my refund.

    I called Chase and they said the clock starts running from CANCELLATION not booking. And its 60 days plus to the end of the statement period. Which is why the cruise lines are saying 90 days. That way you wait the 90 days like a decent human being thinking they are going to keep their end of the bargain and when they don’t – you are outside the window.

    Chase told me I should have started the dispute within 2 weeks or so. Expensive lesson learned 🙁 So now I remain at the mercy of the cruise line.

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