But Hotwire refunded Singer’s purchase anyway. Why? It turns out that the Hertz location was closed because of storm damage, so he wouldn’t have been able to pick up the car if he’d traveled. Hotwire was the merchant of record in the transaction.
These cases raise two key questions: Who takes your money when you’re buying a travel product? And how do you know where to go for a refund?
When you buy through a bricks-and-mortar travel agency and pay by credit card, charges are passed through to the airline, hotel or car rental agency and are governed by its merchant agreement, which is the contract between the company and the credit card.
“That means that when our clients see their credit card statements, they’ll see a charge for the specific supplier they’re using, rather than for the agency,” says Steve Loucks, a spokesman for Travel Leaders, a travel agency consortium in Plymouth, Minn.
Refunds on credit card purchases pass directly back to the consumer, so an agency wouldn’t be able to hold back the money because of its refund policy.
In other words, if you want to know who has your money, check your credit card statement. Unfortunately, you can’t always know who will charge you until you’ve been billed. But roughly 5 percent of travel purchasers can know, because they pay by cash, check or other non-credit-card method, according to Loucks. For them, the company taking the money is the company that will give them the refund.
Singer and Weiss probably would have gotten their refunds eventually without my involvement. Even if they hadn’t asked me to intervene, they could have filed a dispute with their credit card company. With right on their side, they would have won.
Elliott is National Geographic Traveler magazine’s reader advocate. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.