DEAR TRAVEL TROUBLESHOOTER: My family and I canceled our airline tickets last year because of COVID-19. Singapore Airlines promised to refund the tickets but said it would take 16 weeks. I filed a credit card dispute with Citibank.
Citibank issued a temporary credit for the tickets. A month later, Singapore Airlines refunded one of the five tickets. But then, in October, Citibank closed the claim and charged us again for all the tickets.
Our credit card company said Singapore Airlines initiated a chargeback in September, and we lost the claim. Singapore said they “allowed the chargeback back” for the other four tickets in summer and therefore, they won’t refund the money again, but the credit card company said it’s Singapore Airlines who we need to deal with. Can you help us?
— Rebecca Engelmann, White Plains, N.Y.
ANSWER: If Singapore Airlines promised you a refund, you should have received one. But this case looks a little upside-down. Let me explain.
Normally, you would not get a refund for tickets you canceled during the pandemic. Airlines are only required to refund tickets when they cancel. Otherwise, you get an expiring ticket credit.
I don’t agree with that, by the way. I think if the government warns you against traveling, or if there’s no way you can safely or legally travel somewhere, then you should also get a refund. But that’s a discussion for another time, and it’s something legislators and consumer advocates are arguing about at the moment.
Anyway, it looks like you complicated things by filing a credit card dispute. I’m not entirely sure why you tried to claw your money back after Singapore Airlines promised you a refund. A credit card dispute is a nuclear option. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act — the law that protects you from fraudulent purchases — you typically have 90 days to dispute a purchase. After that, your next step would be small claims court.
I’m not sure why Citibank allowed you to file a credit card dispute. Someone from Citi should have advised you to wait for Singapore to make good on its promise. But even so, a written promise to refund the money is like a debit memo. If you show it to your credit card issuer, it’s an almost automatic refund — unless things get as mixed up as they did in this case.
I always recommend contacting the company directly. I list the names, numbers and email addresses for all the executives at Singapore Airlines on my consumer advocacy site at www.elliott.org/company-contacts/singapore-airlines. I also have Citibank executive contacts at www.elliott.org/company-contacts/citigroup/.
This case took some untangling. It turns out the partial refund you received was for an upgrade. Singapore thought Citi had your money. Citi thought Singapore had your money. My team and I spent some time tracking down the refund. Singapore finally refunded all five tickets, as promised.
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