“I am sorry for any inconvenience this procedure causes you”

stdMy former editor used to say that giving a travel company money is a lot like pulling into a parking garage. Only after you’ve driven over something that looks like a speed bump do you notice the sign that says “DO NOT BACK UP — SEVERE TIRE DAMAGE.” And then you realize the money is gone and there’s no way of getting it back.

That’s the situation Barbara Watson found herself in after making a deposit on a Princess cruise. She had closed her credit card account, and Princess refused to refund the money to the new account, as it had for another reader. It wouldn’t even extend the credit on her deposit.

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“I am so angry,” she said.

Was her money gone?

Not all of it. Here’s what Princess offered her:

At this time we have requested a credit in the amount of $100 per person. This amount will be applied to the credit card presented as payment. I note that the request that the refund not be sent to the original credit card. Unfortunately, I cannot grant your request. I have been advised that we must initially return the refund to the credit card on which the charge was issued. If the refund is returned to Princess, we may then issue a check for the refund. I am sorry for any inconvenience this procedure causes you.

Also, I note you have requested an extension of your credit as an alternative to a refund. However, corporate policy does not allow for an extension of this type of future cruise credit. Therefore, I must respectfully deny your request for an extension of a credit.

In other words, do not back up.

(I love the line “I am sorry for any inconvenience this procedure causes you.” Sounds like Watson is about to undergo painful surgery.)

I can understand why a company might have misgivings about refunding money to a different credit card. There could be problems with fraud. It makes sense to try to push a refund through and when the money is returned, to cut a check to the same passenger. As long as it’s done quickly, I wouldn’t have a problem with that.

Also, a business wouldn’t want to extend credit to a customer indefinitely, because it creates an accounting headache. But it’s bad for a customer, too, since the value of money typically declines over time. Which is to say $100 today is worth more than $100 in five years, unless we experience massive deflation, in which case we’ve got much bigger problems than a worthless cruise credit.

I suggested Watson appeal her denial to Princess. She did. Here’s what she reported back:

I have been denied again. They will not work with me. They will not extend my future cruise deposit that only tells me they do not want any future business from me. They said that they will not refund me in a check only to my closed credit card account.

I can’t tell you how disappointed I am on this matter. Cruising many many times since 1980 with them and this is how I am treated.

They really couldn’t give me a good reason for not extending my deposit other than it is “policy”.

I was unhappy with that answer, too. So I asked Princess to take one more look at her case. Here’s what they said:

We’ve looked into Barbara Watson’s complaint and because this is a fairly new expiration policy, we will make an exception and extend her Future Cruise Credit for another year. She will have to sail by Oct. 31, 2010, and our Customer Relations department will note this in her file.

Excellent.

So, to recap: Princess has good reasons for its refund and credit policy, but there’s also a time and place to be flexible.

I’m glad it found a way over this speed bump.

(Photo: Vidiot/Flickr Creative Commons)

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