By Christopher Elliott Travel columnist
Tribune Media Services
updated 2/4/2009 11:03:56 AM ET 2009-02-04T16:03:56
travel troubleshooter

Q: I'm looking for help with what should be an easy refund. A few years ago we gave Princess Cruises a $200 deposit. The credit was valid for four years from the date of issue and the payment was made on a Capitol One credit card.

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Seven months ago, my wife contacted Princess and asked for a refund. Princess claimed that the refund had to go back on the original credit card. But there was just one problem: We had canceled the Capitol One card.

Princess said the charge would bounce back and that it would issue a check within six to eight weeks. I've phoned Princess repeatedly and spoken with representatives and supervisors. Now the cruise line has reversed itself and wants me to go through Capitol One to get my money. I think Princess should pay me as promised. What do you think?
— Steven Olson, Blaine, Minn.

A: Princess should refund your money the way you want it. And if you'd like your $200 as a check, money order, cash or even gold bullion, then why not?

All right, I'm kidding about the gold bullion, and sending cash through the U.S. mail is a little risky. But my point is that Princess offers several options for paying for your cruise — why give you only one choice for a refund?

Generally speaking, travel companies don't care about speedy refunds. Not as much as they do about taking your money quickly. As a matter of fact, they'd prefer the money to flow in just one direction: theirs. That's why you hear about refunds taking six to eight weeks or two credit card billing cycles — that's often longer than eight weeks — or, in extreme cases, more than a year. Travel companies are just slow to let go.

There are ways of encouraging a company to hurry things up. Rather than phoning Princess, I would have committed your refund request to writing. Here's how to reach the company.

If you know the name of an executive, the naming convention for e-mail addresses is firstinitallastname @ princesscruises.com or just e-mail passengerrelations @ princesscruises.com (no spaces in both instances).

Why e-mail instead of call? Because a call is easy to ignore. A customer service representative may — or may not — take action after you're done talking. A customer service agent might decide to go on a coffee break instead and “forget” you spoke. You may have to explain your situation to an agent a few weeks later. On the other hand, an e-mail must be acknowledged and can be forwarded to the company and tracked.

That's not the only lesson learned for you. A lot of companies, not just Princess, have policies that they refund a purchase directly to the card that was used. So if you're thinking of switching credit cards, you might want to consider how it could affect any pending refunds. Yours isn't my first case of a refund gone wrong, and I'm certain it won't be my last.

I would have also asked your travel agent to intervene on your behalf. Agents are paid a generous commission to book cruises, so they're supposed to help you with issues like long overdue refunds.

I contacted Princess on your behalf. A spokeswoman told me your problem was “quite typical” of what happens when customers close their credit card accounts while still active with expected credits. “Their bank still has the money in a holding account and the return to Princess process may take up to a year,” she explained.

Princess sent you a check for $200 and is working with the bank to reverse the credit back to the cruise line.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at celliott@ngs.org.

© 2008 Christopher Elliott ... Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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