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Credit card chargebacks for cancelled travel plans

When, and how, to charge back credit card payments for airline, travel agents, cruise lines and hotel bookings.

Last updated: 24 September 2020

Need to know

  • If your travel agent or airline has gone bust, a credit card chargeback may be the only way to get your money back
  • There are time limits on credit card chargebacks, so you need to act quickly

Travel bans introduced to curb the COVID-19 coronavirus have caused turmoil in the travel industry. Airlines, travel agents, cruise lines, hotels and tour providers have all been affected by large-scale cancellations and rebookings.

Companies such as STA Travel and Virgin have entered administration. Some of these companies may become insolvent. Others will just act unreasonably in a bid to hold on to your money. 

When is the right time to go down the avenue of processing a credit card chargeback?

What is a credit card chargeback?

If you paid by credit or debit card (and you selected 'credit' when you paid), you can ask your bank for a chargeback. 

This means your bank reverses a disputed transaction back to the merchant's bank in accordance with card scheme rules set by Visa, MasterCard or American Express – and the money goes back onto your credit card.

When to ask for a credit card chargeback

Some of the circumstances you could try claiming a credit card chargeback are:

  • your travel agent, airline, or other travel provider has become insolvent, and your travel insurance doesn't cover insolvency
  • you think a travel agent or travel provider is unreasonably withholding your money despite not providing a service (complain directly to them as a first step, but if you're not getting anywhere, ask your bank about a credit card chargeback)
  • a telephone salesperson got your credit card number and used it without your permission
  • you were charged two or more times for a single purchase
  • your credit card statement claims you bought something, but you never received the service or merchandise.

For more information on which scenarios are considered 'reasonable' for a travel agent to withhold your money, see our advice on flight refunds and travel agent refunds.

How long do you have to ask for a credit card chargeback?

There are time limits imposed on your bank by the card schemes, so you need to be prepared to act fast if your travel agent, airline or other provider goes bankrupt. 

For example, if you're asking for a chargeback for "services not provided or merchandise not received" under the Visa card scheme rules, you have 120 calendar days from the transaction processing date until your chargeback rights expire.

The time frames differ depending on your bank, the card issuer and the transaction type. The credit card terms and conditions of most banks will simply instruct you to let them know as soon as possible, pointing out that your right to a chargeback will expire after a time frame imposed by the credit card scheme. 

You need to be prepared to act fast if your travel agent, airline or other provider goes bankrupt 

But beware that some banks set their own shorter time frame, such as 30 days after the date of the statement on which the transaction is recorded.

Here are some tips to help make sure you don't miss the opportunity to claim a chargeback:

  • If you booked via a third party online, or with a travel agent, keep tabs on them after you've booked so you're the first to know if something has gone wrong.
  • Keep records of all your payments and correspondence.
  • Write to your bank asking for a chargeback as soon as you notice something is wrong, and include a copy of all the documentation.

Unfair contract terms  

Businesses cannot require you to give up your right to chargeback. Consumer protection agencies are likely to treat this as an unfair contract term. To be safe when booking, don't accept any contract terms that require you to give up chargeback rights.

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.