Citibank credit card dispute problem: Did they just short me $550?

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By Christopher Elliott

Steven Tabet cancels his timeshare but doesn’t receive a full refund as promised. Why won’t Citibank help him? And is there any way to appeal Citibank’s decision?

Question

While I was on vacation in Mexico recently, I purchased a timeshare. I stayed at the resort for two extra days and received a spa package with the understanding that I would be charged for the value of those items if we rescinded the purchase agreement. I signed the “Membership Activation Letter” that listed the incentives and the associated value. 

When I returned home, I decided to cancel the agreement. The resort sent a rescission letter indicating charges of $1,325 for the two nights in a hotel and a spa treatment I received. However, I had only agreed to pay the amount noted on the Membership Activation Letter, which came to $775. 

I disputed the entire $1,325 bill on my Citibank credit card, but Citibank sided with the timeshare company. 

I have escalated this case to an account supervisor and manager at Citibank. On my last call, the account manager told me the dispute team had researched the case and that there was nothing more they could do. I was responsible for the $1,325, and my only other recourse was to send a letter to the office of the president of Citibank. Can you help me get a refund from Citibank? — Steven Tabet, Lithia, Fla. 

Answer

You’re a smart man to back out of the timeshare. I get more complaints about timeshares than I have time to advocate for, which has turned me into a timeshare skeptic. 

You know what I love about your case? You have everything in writing, including the timeshare’s promise not to charge you for the hotel room if you changed your mind about buying the timeshare. It’s unclear why Citibank’s dispute department would not credit you.

I have a detailed guide on how to file a credit card dispute on this site. I also list the names, numbers and email addresses of the Citibank executives in charge of customer service.

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Your case is a cautionary tale about promises made in the heat of the moment. Your timeshare company really wanted to make a sale, and it offered you something it wasn’t prepared to give you. 

How to say no to a timeshare

You could have avoided this by backing out of the timeshare sooner. It’s a lot like travel clubs; in fact, when I wrote “How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler,” my chapter on clubs and timeshares was merged into one. (Related: Why won’t Citi remove these fraudulent charges from my card?)

Here are a few strategies you can use once you’ve said “yes” to a presentation:

Don’t let them pressure you

Remember, it’s OK to say no! This is especially true if someone wants you to sign an agreement right now. Ask for time to take the document back to your room and read it. Send it to your attorney. (You already know what your attorney will say, don’t you?)

Just say no

Be firm and direct. You are under no obligation to buy, no matter how many free drinks and meals they’ve given you. Say “no” clearly and politely without feeling obligated to explain yourself. (Related: Help! After suspicious texts from Citibank, I’ve lost $2,500.)

Do not sign anything!

Just don’t. Particularly if they’ve plied you with drinks before the presentation. Keep that pen out of your hands.

Don’t walk away — run

If the salesperson gets pushy, just excuse yourself and walk away. Better yet, run. (Related: I never received my dresses. Why won’t Citibank refund my money?)

Will you ever get your money back from your timeshare?

You escalated this by the book — in writing, and up the ladder at Citibank. I’m impressed, but I’m not so impressed by the way the bank kept turning you down. The last manager was correct, though. You could have appealed this to Citibank’s office of the president. I’m not sure it would have made much of a difference. Credit card disputes are highly automated and rely on artificial intelligence, so you probably would have just gotten another form rejection written by an AI.

If I can find fault with anything you did, it was that some of your interactions with the bank were by phone. Those can be helpful when you want to answer a simple question, but you really need something in writing when you’re dealing with a credit card dispute.

I contacted Citibank on your behalf. A representative reached out to you by phone.

“I spent about 30 minutes discussing the situation with her,” you said. “Eventually, we got to the point where she acknowledged that their dispute investigation team had made a mistake.”

Citibank agreed to credit you for $550 over two billing periods, which it did.

“I fought this battle for about six months, and you were able to get through the logjam in just a couple of days,” you said.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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