Airline Transaction Gone Bad

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A reader wrote in with the following question:

Dear Sir,

I am faced with a rather complex situation. I had purchaesd airline tickets using a certain credit card (Card 1) then my plans changed and I had the refund credited to a different credit card (Card 2) as I had misplaced the original card at the time.

Fearing my information was accessible, I changed all credit cards subsequently and the credit amount issued to my credit card 2 was transferred to my replacement Credit Card 3.   A few weeks later I was surprised by a reverse transaction where the Vendor or the airline company simply affected a charge against my Credit Card 3 thereby wiping off the credit amiount and charging the balance onto my credit line. the amount the airline reversed exceeded my cerdit card limit but nevertheless, the bank allowed it.

I have been trying to get this matter resolved but without much luck. Please advise what my rights are and whether the issuing Bank had the right to allow such a forced transaction without my consent or without informing me.

You have stumbled across a little known characteristic of credit cards.    People think that you card number is unique, and that if your card is lost or stolen, the charges or refunds that merchants try to credit to your account will therefore fail.    In fact, that is not always the case.

For example, I paid my water bill online with my credit card, with the charge set to post in the future, when the bill was due.   In the interim time, my credit card was lost and replaced.   Nevertheless, the charge went through.    In another instance, I had my mobile phone company set up to direct bill my credit card, yet I later canceled that account.   This time, the company contacted me to inform me that the charge failed to go through.

The point is that no matter how many different credit card numbers that you are assigned, they are all linked to the same account.    While the credit card numbers may be invalidated, somehow the banks process these transactions to your account anyways.    I don’t know all of  the details, but it would seem logical that some pre-existing authorization must be made.   Certainly, having charged a card number, the merchant can later refund money to an “old” number.

In essence, you problem is probably not directly related to all of the new cards.    I would go back to the airline and ask them why they ran the charge through again after the refund.   Airlines are notoriously difficult to get refunds from, even with a refundable ticket, as they want to wait some period after the original flight to see if you actually flew.     It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the airline made a mistake and charged you again.

You should contact the airline and explain the situation to them, however, the different credit cards used should not be relevant.    If you were entitled to a refund, and then they charged you again, you should ask for an immediate credit.   If they refused, ask for a supervisor.   If the supervisor refuses, you should then threaten them with a chargeback.    Tell them clearly and politely that their latest charge was unauthorized, and that you intend to file a chargeback with your credit card company.

Chargeback Is A Merchant’s Worst Nightmare

When you threaten a chargeback, you are not just calling into question the amount in dispute, but you are severely endangering a merchant’s relationship with their credit card processor.    This is especially true with an airline.    The rate of chargebacks a merchant gets can change their service fees that they pay to their processor.    Going over a certain percentage by just a single chargeback can cause their merchant fees to jump by a fraction of a percentage point.   That doesn’t sound like much, but it can cost a large company tens of thousands of dollars a year or much, much more.    Worse yet, in the case of an airline, a large percentage of the money you think you are paying to the airline is held back until the flight is actually flown.    This is why you can get refunds from your credit card company if the airline goes out of business after you your ticket.   These holdbacks have even caused an airline to go bankrupt. To make a long story short, airlines will do anything to avoid a chargeback, and the threat of a chargeback will prompt them to do the right thing.

If you have already threatened a chargback with a supervisor at your airline, the next step is to actually request a chargeback with your bank.    At this stage, your best bet will be that you have properly documented the circumstances that entitled you to your original refund.

Good Luck!

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