As the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe, it caused an immediate and massive disruption to the travel industry, and consumers everywhere began to panic.

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Man on laptop with credit card

A flood of demands for refunds on prepaid airline, hotel and tour reservations overwhelmed companies, which found themselves faced with a financial crisis even as their business suddenly vanished. Many mitigated the damage by offering flexible rebooking options or vouchers for future travel, some with adding incentives, to avoid paying back so much of their capital to confused and frustrated customers.

As the global health crisis continues to drag on after a full six months, however, travelers have no way of knowing how far out they’d need to postpone their trips and some would prefer just to get their money back, especially given economic pressures in the current climate.

FinTech (financial technology) executive Monica Eaton-Cardone pointed out that all kinds of hospitality providers now face the possibility of a huge volume of chargebacks being demanded due to COVID-caused cancellations.

Eaton-Cardone specializes in risk management and fraud prevention and is the co-founder and COO of Chargebacks911 and CIO of its parent company, Global Risk Technologies. She professionally counsels consumers and merchants on the best ways to navigate the current dilemma and answer the challenges of the serious situation affecting the travel and hospitality sector as a whole.

Countless consumers have prepaid via credit card to secure reservations for flights, cruises, hotel stays and tours that, now, may never happen, Eaton-Cardone notes. She advises that the best move for hospitality companies hoping to prevent as many chargebacks as possible is to work closely with those consumers who have paid bookings to find a satisfactory option that enables them stay the course until normal travel resumes.

“This is a complex, time-consuming process,” said Eaton-Cardone, “and the sheer volume of cases will compound that exponentially. Over the long run, however, it will be worth the effort, in terms of both recovered revenue and sustainability.”

Should their airline, hotel operator, etc. actually go under, customers are given the option of filing for a chargeback to their card, she said. However, in cases of multiple bankruptcies of large companies, acquirers may have no one to pass along these losses to and they have already initiated legal processes to mitigate their own risk. Still, consumers are protected under certain U.S. laws and there are steps they can take to get their money back.

Consumer Rights and Action Tips:

— Eaton-Cardone advises customers with canceled travel reservations to always speak directly with the travel company as a first step, as opposed to demanding a refund or filing a claim with their credit institution. The company may have other options or alternative arrangements that appeal to you.

— The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has obligated airlines to provide their customers full refunds (ticket price and any cancellation fee) for flights that had to be canceled due to COVID-19. If your airline fails to do so, you can file a report with the DOT.

— Every consumer is entitled to dispute a credit charge, whether or not it pertains to a COVID-19 cancellation. Eaton-Cardone said that, while it may seem old-fashioned, your best bet is to write a letter to the creditor explaining the details of your dispute, send it via certified mail with a return receipt and keep a copy of all documents.

—The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforces the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) for most creditors, except for banks. If you feel that a creditor has violated the FCBA in its dealings with you, you can file a complaint directly with the FTC. The FTC outlines some other helpful information about charge disputes involving credit cards or revolving charge accounts here.

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