Ed Perkins on Travel: Get It Back

Ed Perkins on Travel: Get It Back

If you travel a lot, chances are at some point a travel supplier will owe you money. Maybe the obligation is not in doubt—where a refund or payment return is clear based on either laws and regulations or the terms of a contract. That may be no problem. All you need to do is remain patient: after an unnecessarily long wait for the supplier’s bureaucratic processes, the supplier credits your card account or cuts you a check.

On the other hand, a supplier may fail to refund you or deliver on what it promised and what you paid for—and stonewall your legitimate claim. As I noted in an earlier post, the contract you accept when you buy a travel service is stacked against you. Getting redress is not easy—but it’s often possible.

Everyone agrees that the first step is to go as far as you can directly with the supplier. If the supplier’s nominal customer support system doesn’t help, go to the top: My Tribune colleague Chris Elliott publishes detailed company management addresses and contact information for a wide range of travel suppliers at elliott.org. But if those efforts prove fruitless, you need outside help.

Credit Card Dispute

Over the years, I’ve observed that the best way to get money out of a recalcitrant supplier is to dispute your credit card payment. In general, laws require credit card issuers to refund payments you made for a service you didn’t receive. Just follow the issuer’s instructions. But this approach applies mainly to services you actually did not receive. It is much less likely to help if you received and used a service but found it unsatisfactory. And, of course, it doesn’t work if you paid cash—something you should rarely if ever do for a big-ticket service.


The federal government isn’t much help. The Department of Transportation (DoT) requires that airlines respond to complaints in a timely manner, but it gets involved only in a few cases where an airline has clearly violated the law or a rule. The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) provides a mediation service for consumers with cruise complaints, but it has no enforcement authority. And no agency has enforcement authority over disputes with hotel, rental car, tour, or other industry service segments.

Industry Associations

The American Association of Travel Advisors (ASTA) maintains a program of informal mediation for consumers with disputes with member travel agencies. And the US Tour Operators Association (USTOA) requires that members—mostly the large operators—maintain a bond or other proof of financial strength. Beyond that, other associations do nothing. The Airlines for America (A4A) is more concerned with weakening consumer protections than with helping.


When you can’t resolve a problem yourself you can turn to the courts. Small Claims Court is available to you even with airline problems—and probably even if the contract of adhesion you accepted limits you to arbitration or an inconvenient forum. DoT posts an excellent tutorial on use of small claims courts at transportation.gov/airconsumer/air-travelers-tell-it-judge that is helpful for complaints in any part of the travel industry.

If your dispute involves more money than the local small-claims limit, you need to see an attorney. As far as I can tell, you may sometimes be able to ignore mandatory arbitration or forum clauses in a contract if accepting them would be difficult. As a first step, you might want to send a “lawyer letter,” composed for you and signed by an attorney, through such services as sendalawyerletter.com/ or legalletters.co/, with a fee or $150 to $250.

The big problem with court cases is that even if you win, neither the court nor local public officials can necessarily help you collect any court awards—especially if the supplier is in a remote location. You may need to engage a collection agency, which will take up to half of your debt as payment.

Black Eye

Posting a bad review with a BBB or online may give a supplier a bit of grief, it usually won’t get your money. I say fuggedaboutit—either go for the money or stay home.

Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at [email protected]. Also, check out Ed's new rail travel website at www.rail-guru.com. (C)2022 Ed Perkins. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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