Charge this: 7 tips for a successful credit card dispute

By | August 16th, 2009

cardWhen Carla DeLuca canceled her room at the W Hotel Union Square in New York a week before her arrival, the hotel decided to ding her for a night’s stay anyway.

Despite assurances from several W employees that the erroneous charge would be reversed, DeLuca, who owns a marketing company in San Francisco, was asked to pay an extra $330 on her next American Express bill.

So DeLuca did what increasing numbers of travelers are doing: she filed a dispute with her charge card company.

“The hotel told American Express that it was my responsibility to pay,” she recalls. But Amex sided with DeLuca, crediting her for the full amount.

“The number of credit card disputes seems to be on the rise,” says Jason Sarracini, the president of Toronto-based TargetVacations.ca, an online travel agency. “Consumers seem to think they can use their cards as bargaining tools.”

But as far as tools go, credit cards are not exactly what you’d call reliable. That’s because disputing a card charge is a more of an art than a science.

For example, Ron Di Costanzo, a retired college professor, didn’t want to pay his $15 luggage fee when his bags were lost after a recent United Airlines flight. “I wrote my credit card company and told it that if I was paying for a bag, it should be there when I arrive,” he says. “I was credited the $15.”


But Angie Zimmerman, who had a similar problem with United, didn’t prevail when she balked at paying her credit card bill. When she had trouble with a seat assignment on a recent United flight, she phoned the airline to fix the problem. A few weeks later, she found an extra charge for travel insurance on her credit card bill. “I never purchased flight insurance,” she says. “I tried to contact United, but it’s impossible to speak to anyone — and if you can, you are speaking with people in India who don’t have command of the English language. Very frustrating!” Still, her credit card company sided with United.

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It’s no secret that in this recession, many travel companies are playing the discount-and-surcharge game. You know, the one where they slash prices and then add hidden fees to make up the difference. It would follow, then, that a lot of unwanted charges are popping up on credit card bills — fees that, if not removed, will end up being contested.

Here’s what you need to know in order to file a successful dispute.

1. Watch your bill
Review your credit card billing statement as soon as you get it online or through the mail. “Compare receipts to charges listed on the statement,” says Catherine Williams, a vice president at Money Management International, a Chicago-based financial advice company. “Should you see any mismatch of information, like a wrong amount or an unknown vendor, you should immediately file a dispute with you creditor.” Remember, while your dispute is under investigation, the amount in question can’t be charged interest or reported as late in payment.