It happens all the time.
I get a plea for help from someone like Eugene Teow, who appeared to have been scammed on a recent trip to Australia. In his case, it looked as if Hertz (www.hertz.com) had indiscriminately sucked $3,857 from his bank account for damaging a rental car -- money to which it wasn't entitled.
But then, when I ask the company about the overcharge, it turns out that the only problem was that the customer had failed to check his credit card statement. Because if he hadn't, he'd know the money -- or at least most of it -- had been returned.
Reviewing your credit card statement is the first step anyone must take when they're looking for a refund. Because some of the time, they'll find the money has been quietly put back into their account without notification.
When I asked Hertz about Teow's case, it didn't dispute the facts of his case. When he'd returned his rental, Teow reported a small dent on his back bumper.
"The staff at the counter asked us to transfer an amount of $3,857 for the insurance claim, saying everything would be done in at most two weeks," he says.
Two weeks later, he heard nothing. He called and e-mailed, but Hertz didn't respond. Finally, one month after his rental, he contacted me to see if I could find his money. I asked Hertz, and it said the refund had been processed, minus a $125 fee for the repair. (Teow says it deducted more, but agrees that most of the money has been returned.)
Sure, Hertz might have made his life easier by telling him most of his
$3,857 had been refunded. But he should have also done his due diligence.
This isn't unusual.
A few weeks ago, Carol Pulido came to me with a problem she had with Hotels.com (www.hotels.com). She'd pre-paid for a hotel in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, which didn't quite work out the way she thought it would.
"They said they were overbooked and no longer had any suites, but they could give us two rooms," she says. "I wasn't very happy with the arrangement because we wanted to keep our party together. But we went along with it."
Finally, a manager said they didn't have room at all, and offered to refund her money. She spent the night elsewhere at her own expense.
Neither Hotels.com nor the property offered her a refund, she says. A dispute with her credit card went the hotel's way. So she contacted me.
I contacted Hotels.com, and it initially ignored me. (Turns out my contact had left the company.) I blogged about Hotels.com pocketing her money. Still, no response from the company. So I tried reaching out to Hotels.com again.
When I finally reached someone, I got a different story from the company. Hotels.com said it had refunded Pulido's money months ago. Had she checked her statement, she would have seen a credit for the full amount of the room.
I should have asked Pulido to check her statement before putting Hotels.com in my crosshairs, of course. You live and learn.
How hard is it to review your credit card statement every month? Not hard at all. How many times would it have stopped travelers (and, uh, me) from pointing an accusatory finger at a travel company? Too many.
Makes me wonder if forgetting to do your due diligence before lodging a formal complaint is becoming a problem among travelers.
"Shoot first, ask questions later" may work on the battlefield, but not when it comes to fixing travel grievances.
Christopher Elliott is the author of the upcoming book "Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals" (Wiley). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. You can read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tips & News
That's Ridiculous! Oops, I Forgot to Check My Credit Card Statement
By Christopher Elliott
It happens all the time.