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 the executive director of Elliott.org. She is a consumer advocate, writer and licensed clinical social worker who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Friedman Read more of Michelle's articles here.

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