Hertz allowed me to cancel, but can Economy Bookings keep my money?

Days before Hurricane Irma hits Florida, a representative of Economy Bookings informs Stephen Sherman that he can cancel his Palm Beach-area Thrifty car rental with no penalty. So why is the company still holding on to his money two months later?

Question: I rented a car through Economy Bookings and prepaid $150. It was a nonrefundable reservation, but because of Hurricane Irma, I had to cancel my entire trip. When I called the company to cancel, I was promised a full refund because of the hurricane situation.

After a week with no refund, I filed a chargeback with my credit card company. However, I lost this case because Economy Rentals fought back and refused my refund despite the promises made.

I have called Citibank and Economy Bookings several times and have been stonewalled. Earlier in the process a Citibank representative told me it would be no problem because of the hurricane; not so!

Economy Bookings told me since I filed a chargeback they could not refund… but if I canceled the chargeback they would refund.

Citibank told me if I canceled the chargeback I would have no recourse, so I let it go forward and they now have denied the chargeback.

I am at a loss what to do now. Is there anything you can do for me? Stephen Sherman, Needham, Mass.

Answer: Of course when a hurricane is heading for your intended car rental agency, you should be able to cancel your reservation and receive a full refund.

So why didn’t you receive yours as promised?

I reviewed your paper trail and I noticed that you had never directly contacted Thrifty (company contacts are listed on our site) to see if the company had canceled your reservation.

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So, first things first, I went to Hertz, the parent company of Thrifty, to find out if Economy Bookings had transmitted your payment.

Hertz confirmed that it had allowed your cancellation and the company did not charge you.

This information made your chargeback loss particularly puzzling. I asked to see a copy of your credit card company’s final decision.

Unfortunately, the documentation that you sent me was almost entirely illegible. You told me that you had received the letter in this condition. It was impossible for me to read the results of Citibank’s investigation.

When you called your credit card company for an explanation, CitiBank reiterated that your reservation was nonrefundable and that it would reapply the $150 to your account.

It is rare that we can achieve a positive resolution after a consumer loses a chargeback case — and it’s not hard to see why. After a bank deems a company the official “winner” of a chargeback investigation, there is very little motivation to entertain a consumer advocate about the same case.

Unfortunately, you had nothing in writing to show that Economy Bookings had offered a full refund. However, I thought the fact that Hertz had confirmed your penalty-free cancellation was substantial evidence that Economy Bookings should return your money.

I contacted Economy Bookings on your behalf and asked why it had not returned the rental prepayment.

Economy Bookings is a somewhat obscure company based in Latvia. Initially, the company did not respond to my request. I was beginning to anticipate that your case would end in the Case Dismissed file, but I tried again. This time I got the good news that you would be receiving a refund. The company executive I reached explained:

Please be informed, that we have a record of Mr. Sherman contacting us to request a cancellation. The reservation had been canceled on September 5 and the information had been passed to our finance department in order to process a refund.

However, on September 8, Mr. Sherman disputed the charge with his bank. Mr. Sherman didn’t give us an opportunity to assist him without the bank’s help. Due to this reason, the refund should be processed by the bank.

Therefore, I would like to inform you, that we have accepted his refund request.

So, as it turns out, the origin of your refund problem was that you had initiated a chargeback after just three days.

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This was a mistake on your part. When the accounting department attempted to process your refund, it was notified that the payment had already been reversed by the bank.

A chargeback case should only be used as a last resort — after all other less drastic steps are taken. Economy Bookings had already told you that your refund was approved. But when you filed your ultimately unsuccessful chargeback after just three days, your impatience almost led to the permanent loss of your money.

Luckily for you, this company has now put your refund offer in writing and Citibank has reopened the case to secure the return of your money. You are quite pleased with this outcome.

And there is one final lesson in your story. Your experience perfectly illustrates why we don’t recommend using third-party booking sites — especially ones based outside of the U.S. with which you have no familiarity. If you had booked directly with Thrifty, your money would have been quickly refunded, and you could have avoided engaging in this battle in the first place.

Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is a consumer advocate, writer and licensed clinical social worker who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. As the managing director of Elliott.org, she leads the advocacy, editorial and production departments. Read more of Michelle's articles here.

  • Dan

    Uses oddball 3rd party site from Latvia, books a nonrefundable reservation for a rental car, tries to cancel said non-refundable reservation, files charge back almost immediately despite agreement to refund non-refundable reservation.

    I’m sorry but I have a had time empathizing with this LW. Not only do they lack travel booking experience, but it seems they don’t know how to properly and patiently escalate requests with companies where bureaucracy is involved. I would also love immediate action from companies, but that’s not the world we live in.

  • Lindabator

    agreed — he needs to learn patience – these are not instantaneous refunds after all – just ridiculous

  • The Original Joe S

    OTA – ha ha ha! Again, the lesson is iterated.
    Citibank – Gave me lots of hassle when my aunt died. Only financial institution which was being bad about it.

  • The Original Joe S

    But they take your money INSTANTLY. They NEVER refund it instantly.

  • SirWIred

    Yeah, filing a chargeback 3 days after filing the refund request is kind of jumping the gun. I would at least have given them a couple weeks.

  • RichardII

    This is often stated (that they take the money instantly…). But, in fact, you GIVE them the money, and it it usually not instantaneous. You may take days getting ready for the purchase. Also, you take care of your own work 1:1. But, they may have just one employee serving many customers. So, it really may take them a day or even a few days to get your request queued in their work flow. Plus, the transfer itself, depending on the means of payment, may appear to be instantaneous, but the actual funds might not be available to the recipient for up to 3 days.

    So, just as you don’t want to be rushed in your purchase, let them have a reasonable amount of time to process a refund. However, the keyword is reasonable. Many days, and weeks is not reasonable.

  • Donald Filiault

    Why would anyone book a non-refundable reservation with a car rental company? A savvy traveler would book directly with the car rental company and check frequently to see if the price drops, which it often does.

  • Dutchess

    They sure do charge us instantly, I’m not sure why they can’t..or rather WONT refund instantly.

  • C Schwartz

    I sometimes think that is the fault of the credit card and the processing company. When I have gotten a credit it can take days to show up. I cannot put the blame all on the merchant.

  • jae1

    He says he waited a week before filing the chargeback, but company records indicate 3 days. I can only think it took them a few days to process the cancellation, something they ought to have told him up front. Stating something along the lines of “It will take us a few days to process the cancellation, and it may be 2 weeks before you see a credit on your charge card.” would have gone a long way to easing this situation. Ultimately this represents yet another problem with using small 3rd party sites that may not have robust customer service.

  • Steven Reed Sr.

    I always book directly with the travel vendors or my Amex Travel agents and have never had any problems, so far, knock on wood, lol

    But seriously never use a vendor based outside the US to book travel within the US

  • Dutchess

    It certainly takes a couple days for a credit to post, just like it takes 24-48 hours for a charge to post but it sure the heck doesn’t take 3-6 weeks!!

  • Michael__K

    Mr. Sherman didn’t give us an opportunity to assist him without the bank’s help. Due to this reason, the refund should be processed by the bank.

    I don’t understand this. If Economy Bookings had the money, which Thrifty/Hertz had refunded, then it seems unethical for them to simultaneously contest the chargeback AND refuse to process the refund.
    I’ve had merchants refund me after I initiated a chargeback. And then either the credit card company closes the case by noting that I was refunded or I proactively close the case myself if I notice the refund first.

  • Michael__K

    How does the LW initiating a chargeback excuse the merchant from refusing to issue a refund and contesting the chargeback at the same time, even though they have the customer’s money which was refunded by the travel vendor?
    You also don’t know how close to the chargeback deadline (60-days from the statement date) the customer was, and if he would have missed this deadline had he been more patient.

  • Michael__K

    He says a week. Wouldn’t be surprised if it took 4 days after the promised refund before they processed the cancellation. And then by the merchant’s own admission the refund was still not processed 3 days after that.
    We also don’t know how close to the chargeback deadline the customer was.

  • joycexyz

    I’d love to know how much he thought he “saved” using some company in Latvia. Latvia???

  • joycexyz

    And through some company in Latvia???

  • Dan

    RE: [after a week, not “almost immediately”]
    According to the article, “[LW] had initiated a chargeback after just three days.”
    I don’t know from where you got that it was a week. The article says three days.

    RE: “…excuse the merchant from refusing to issue a refund and contesting the chargeback at the same time”
    Also according to the LW, the merchant agreed to the refund. Seen here:
    “When I called the company to cancel, I was promised a full refund because of the hurricane situation.”
    Nowhere does the article does not claim the merchant refused a refund.

    A customer is not entitled to both a refund and a chargeback. That would effectively give the customer their money back twice if the chargeback were to be decided in favor of the customer. Therefore a business who is processing a refund must contest the chargeback in order to prevent repaying the customer twice.

    Further, the shady Latvian travel agent delivered the product the LW bought – a nonrefundable car rental reservation. Therefore there was no legitimate reason for the chargeback. That’s why the LW lost the chargeback. The travel agent’s agreement to refund was a goodwill gesture.

  • Michael__K

    First sentence of the article’s second paragraph:

    “After a week with no refund, I filed a chargeback with my credit card company”

    Paragraph 4 (which is corroborated by the merchant’s own written words in their own belated response after the advocate’s repeated attempts to contact them):

    “Economy Bookings told me since I filed a chargeback they could not refund”

    The nonrefundable policy was Thrifty’s. But even non-refundable reservations become refundable when the business can’t honor the reservation because of a natural disaster [Mandatory evacuations in Florida jam highways>/a>]

    So what are you claiming entitles Economy Bookings to keep the money that Thrifty/Hertz decided to refund because of a natural disaster AND for Economy Bookings to contest the chargeback — at the same time that they claim that “the [customer’s] refund should be processed by the bank.”??

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