Jewish World Review April 15, 2008 / 10 Nissan 5768
Put up or shut up for card companies
By Vicki Lee Parker
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | (MCT) For years, credit card companies have bragged about their dispute policies - you know, the ones that let customers challenge charges on their accounts when the services aren't rendered or a product was otherwise misrepresented.
Now the dispute policies will be put to a real test as thousands of travelers try to recoup money from troubled airlines that recently went bust, including ATA, Skybus, Aloha and Frontier.
No doubt when it's all said and done, this problem will show consumers just how serious credit card companies are about customer service.
Lindy Marshall, who lives in Johnston County, N.C., is hoping to get a refund of $5,000 for five tickets she bought from ATA Airlines with her Wachovia Visa credit card.
For the past five years, she and her husband Mike have saved to take their entire family in August to Hawaii on their 25th wedding anniversary. Without a refund, the trip will be canceled.
"I can't afford to spend another $5,000 on tickets," Marshall said.
Marshall said she called Wachovia on April 5 and again Monday. She was told in a company e-mail message that she had to complete dispute papers, which would be mailed to her within 30 days. After that, it could take an additional 90 days to resolve her case.
Wachovia spokeswoman Christine Shaw said that is the bank's policy for purchases bought with a Wachovia credit card.
Typically in these cases, if a consumer bought tickets with a credit card, he or she should get a refund. But given the enormity of the situation - complicated by airlines seeking bankruptcy protection - that's a big if.
"In general, the ... (dispute policy) is a great benefit and usually works quite well," said Curtis Arnold, founder and director of CardRatings.com. Credit card companies "typically get the money back. They can get results that the average consumer can't get."
A couple of credit card companies have said that their dispute policies are still in effect and that they offer instant refunds while charges are being disputed.
"When customers dispute a charge, they receive an immediate credit or reversal of charges," Chase spokeswoman Megan A. Stinson said. Chase customers can dispute charges online, by phone or by mail.
Discover gives customers a credit while it investigates a dispute, spokeswoman Laura Gingiss said.
Disputes are usually resolved within 30 days, she said.
Attempts to reach Visa, Master Card and American Express representatives for this column were unsuccessful.
Gingiss explained that because the merchants are the credit card company's customers, too, they have agreements that aid in resolving disputes.
For those who bought tickets with cash or check, the chances of a refund are bleak. Those customers will have to try to recoup their money in bankruptcy court, where they will likely be at the tail end of a long list of creditors - and unlikely to get any of the remaining cash.
There is still a question for people who paid with debit cards.
Ellen Cannon, managing editor of Bankrate.com, said based on recent conversations with representatives at Visa and MasterCard, the companies intend to offer the same protection to debit card users that they do to other credit card customers.
"You should be able to dispute a debit charge just like you would a regular Visa or MasterCard," Cannon said.
But some bank analysts say that might not be so easy. Getting a refund through a debit card depends on the banks' cooperation, Cannon said. Ultimately, the bank is the creditor, and it would have to put the funds back into the checking account.
For consumers, this refund issue is going to be a good lesson in customer service. For credit card companies, this will be a chance to shine by proving how well they protect their customers.
Whether you have charges in dispute or not, it's important to pay attention to how these customers are treated. The credit card companies that offer instant credit, resolve the dispute quickly and side with the customer are the ones I want to do business with.
Ditto for Marshall.
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Vicki Lee Parker is a columnist for The News & Observer. Comment by clicking here.
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