Is this enough compensation? Crossed wires leads to canceled SeaWorld passes

Annual pass holders are the lifeblood of year-round theme parks. Without these die-hard fans, who often plunk down thousands of dollars for the privilege of visiting the park, Orlando would be a ghost town in September.

So when Hal Flomerfelt had a little problem with his SeaWorld passes, he assumed the park would take care of it right away. After all, both he and his wife had been loyal passholders for nearly a decade.

He assumed wrong.

Flomerfelt and his wife participate in a program called EzPay, a payment plan that allows you “the flexibility to pay for your Passport in monthly installments without adding any additional fees.”

They had been members of the program since its inception, paying $9.95 a month for both passes to be deducted from their checking account using their debit account number.

On 8/13/11 when I received my checking account statement I noticed that the June and July payments had not been taken out of our checking account. I immediately called SeaWorld to find out what was going on.

They told me my passes had been cancelled due to the bank declining payments.

Related: What’s your problem? Shocked by an $800 phone bill.

What happened? Turns out his bank, Wachovia, had been acquired by Wells Fargo and issued a new debit card with a different account number.

He tried to get SeaWorld to reinstate his EzPay, which was grandfathered at the $9.95 rate, but the theme park had other ideas.

My only recourse was to open up a new EzPay with a monthly payment of $18.95 a month. This was double the payment I was paying for many years.

When we initially started our EzPay plan we were guaranteed our payment would not go up as long as we did not cancel.

SeaWorld says the plan I had is no longer available and they can’t reactivate my account. But if my EzPay had not been declined, I would have continued paying the same monthly payment.

I didn’t think this was right, either, so I contacted SeaWorld on his behalf.

The theme park reviewed his file and noted that his EzPay account wasn’t updated with his email address and license, which presumably prevented SeaWorld from contacting him. However, it agreed to reinstate the EzPay program at the new rate and to offer $1.16 per month off the new rate. It refused to revert to the old rate, though.

That response doesn’t make any sense to Flomerfelt.

I do not think this is fair. I asked why they did not contact me when the bank first declined my payment and was told they did not have my email address and it was my responsibility. Yet I have received emails from them touting all the specials I was entitled to with my pass.

My passes were cancelled 7/25/11. I asked to speak to a supervisor and got the same response and was told there was no way they could reactivate my passes at the price I was paying. The system would not allow it.

But if SeaWorld can knock a dollar off his monthly pass rate, then why can’t it reset the rate back to where it was? Can’t the “system” allow that?

Did SeaWorld do enough for this valued customer, or have its managers been spending too much time near the shark tank?

(Photo: eschi pul/Fickr)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Yes, he had an amazing deal. Yes, he probably should have known to revise all his recurring payments (anytime a bank changes your account numbers, they notify you to go back to all the merchants do business with). But considering he’s been a passholder for 10 years, Sea World should’ve done better. While the $9.95 rate might no longer be in their computer system, I’m sure their IT could’ve found a work-around in the name of good customer service. Wonder how long their grandfathered deal was expected to last, though? If you haven’t noticed, everything’s gotten more expensive…

  • Raven_Altosk

    Sounds like Sea World was just looking for an excuse to get the OP off the $9.95 rate. They got their chance, they exploited it, and now they don’t want to do the right thing for this loyal customer.

    I’m wondering, did the OP appear in the park in person to get this resolved or was it done with a phone call or email to a likely outsourced center? Last time I went to Di$ney, I swear I was talking to someone in India reading off a script and faking an American accent.

  • $16635417

    Curious how they claim no valid email address on file yet are able to send details of upcoming promotions. This seems to be a fact that could be explained better by all. What email was associated with his ezpay account and where are the promo notices being sent?

    I love how “IT issues” are always a problem. I recall a problem in a restaurant where a discount on a meal and a discount on a drink could not be combined. I ordered the discounted meal and a full price drink. It turned out that everyone at the table ordered the same drink. The waitress then suggested the table order a pitcher. I specifically asked if we could get the discounted meal with a pitcher because the menu stated a full price drink purchase was required to get the discounted meal. She indicated it would not be a problem. We ended up waiting over 30 minutes for our check because the “system” would not allow it to process the two discounts and even a manager could not overide it. They ended up charging us each for the full price drink anyway.

  • emanon256

    I think the majority of these IT related issues are really either poor training, or lazy people.  I recall staying in a hotel once where the night manager quit and they were not able to print bills.  It was so sad, and also frustrating.  It took 3 days for the day manager to be able to figure out how to get a bill to me.  He kept sending screenshots of a screen showing the balance.  He also put the screen shots under peoples doors. 
    What’s worse is I work with several systems, and have gone to places using the systems I work with.  I always laugh when they tell me they can’t do X or Y because of system limitations, when I know it can do X and Y right out of the box, with no customizations.

  • john4868

    This isn’t crossed wires. He failed to maintain current contact information and payment details with Seaworld that is his responsibility not theirs. He was over two months late in making payments and under the terms of their agreement his account was cancelled.

    Sorry, yesterday we had a fit because a business didn’t live up to their part of an agreement and cancelled a reservation. In this case the OP due to his failure to maintain current information did the same thing. I fail to see a difference.

  • Absherlock

    Sorry, I think SeaWorld did just fine. It wasn’t SeaWorld’s payment setup that changed, it wasn’t SeaWorld that didn’t keep their contact information updated and it wasn’t SeaWorld that had a sweet deal to lose. Be thankful they’re offering anything.

  • BillC

    If they were able to take out $9.95 for June and July they certainly can re-instate the same rate. There must be others who are still receiving that rate. When I ran into the same problem a couple of years ago the bank made a point of calling me to let me know that I had missed updating information with one company.

  • Miz Lil

    You know there are other theme parks in the world, have you ever been to Epcot?  -plus, you can cancel your membership completely-that is how they
    will understand they handled this badly…go there anonymously if you must.
    – how many more times can you see Sea World? L

  • Rachel

    Well SeaWorld could have contacted them if they actually had valid contact info on file. Considering they didn’t, SeaWorld didn’t have a way to contact them short of hiring someone to track them down.

  • Bill

    The pass holder bears some responsiblity for not changing the debit card number.  However, I just had a card number change and in Canada at least, the issuers are able to change the card number automatically.

    However, maybe they should just find a different park to go to.  I note that Sea World, despite being a “non smoking” park, makes close to zero effort enforcing this.  I even saw a guy hiding his cigarette with his hand while visiting with a sea world employee for quite some time, and she was oblivious.

    That, coupled with this issue means that SeaWorld needs to lose business and it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if they went out of business actually.  

  • frostysnowman

    I call shennanigans on Sea World.  They should honor the $9.95 monthly rate, especially if the OP could get updates about new park attractions and special offers but blames incorrect contact information lead to this problem.  It sounds to me like the OP did call them as soon as he realized there was a problem, and that Sea World is looking to get two more people off of a pricing plan they now regret they put out there in the first place.

  • john4868

    @bill I’m a VISA merchant. No updates when a card information changes although they will normally honor it until the exp date. The card holder has to update the info with each merchant (ditto for MC and AMEX).

  • You Don’t Say

    A fine way to take care of their most loyal customers.  Even if the admission was a sweet deal, they were probably spending money in the park on each visit.  Really shows how much the park values them.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I think that promotional matters are handled by one department and financial matters by another and never the twain shall meet.  I looked into a Disneyworld vacation for my son and his family and when I was done looking, had to “unsubscribe” to 4 different departments, despite my having provided my e-mail address only the once.  The church to which I belong has two e-mail addresses for me, since they have compartmentalized who gets what mailings, again despite trying for 2 years to get everyone to use the same one.  With my church, it’s a matter of budget – they can’t afford to use one master database.  With Seaworld though – they sure can afford the one master database.

    This sounds like a series of mistakes made by the OP (not updating his account information with Seaworld, not checking his bank account statement regularly) and by Seaworld (not referring back to a master database to keep contact with a valued customer or even calling or writing). 

    The OP took the initiative to restore relations with Seaworld, so he comes across as the reasonable party in this story.  I think mediation is called for.

  • Christophe

    If they can send e-mails to him with ads about his package specials, I guess they could have contacted him !

  • Mark K

    If they were still in the system and getting billed the $10 per month, there is nothing in that system that would prevent the park from billing the new card to bring the account current.  The only thing I see here is that Sea World simply is trying to get everyone off that plan because it is no longer a money maker for them.

    At $10 a month for both passes, or $120 a year total, even if they only went once per year they were getting a great price considering the park currently charges $80 per person ($160 for 2 people) for a single visit.  If they went more often than that, even better.  Too bad the park dropped them.  
    But, do they only get a bank statement every three months?  Why wasn’t the missing charge noticed in June on the June statement.  I can understand there may have been some confusion with the bank merger, but I would have noticed the missed charge.  Some of the responsibility has to be on the Flomerfelt’s to keep their information current.

    I doubt I would want to go to the exact same place every year, especially an amusement park.  How many times can you see Shamu anyway?  Maybe after 10 years it is time to find somewhere else to go and Sea World gave them the push they needed.

  • Mark K

    Not always.  My AmEx card was replaced due to fraud.  AmEx notified all of my recurring payment merchants and I had to do nothing.  I checked and all of those that I use AmEx for show the new card and expiration.  I even had one that is an annual payment that I haven’t  updated in years and had an old expire date that still worked when the annual charge was done this year (it now has the new card info). 

  • Jenny

    I have a Disney annual pass, and I get emails at the address associated with the passholder account, and emails at another address I gave them once when I took an in park survey. I do not get communications regarding my pass at the second email.

    Also, has the OP not used his new debit card? Was this his only recurring payment? Wells Fargo bought Wachovia in 2008. Maybe his $9.95 Sea World pass wasn’t the most important thing to change over, but also, what are the odds this is the first time he’s has an issue due to the merger after 3 years?

  • Jenny

    This was a debit card, not a credit card.

    Also, that sounds like your credit card company applying the charges to the new account, not the merchants having updated information.

  • Nancy Marine Dickinson

    Frostysnowman took my line because I’m often saying, “I declare shenanigans…”

    The OP brings up the most obvious point – if they can find him to contact him with junk mail in his inbox, why can’t they find him to let him know there was a problem with his payment?

    Like the rest of the world now, what was created by Walt Disney to be a place of enjoyment, love and laughter has now become a place that is all about the benjamins…

  • Andre K.

    Wells Fargo originally indicated to all of the Wachovia customers that all of the account numbers and card numbers would stay the same. Therefore the complainant had no reason to anticipate this would happen.

  • Jim Zakany

    How many months of denied payments should SeaWorld let slide? Three months? A year? Two years?

    I could see them keeping things intact within a billing cycle, but when one missed payment becomes two missed payments it is certainly reasonable and expected for a company to cancel your account.

    The past is the past. Either a SeaWorld pass is worth $17.79/mo to Hal or it’s not.

  • Mel

    “sounds to me like the OP did call them as soon as he realized there was a problem”

    Well yes he did call as soon as he realized but my biggest “wth” here is that it took the OP 2 MONTHS to come to that realization!  That’s 2 missed payments.  With online banking and the ability to see virtually up to the minute what’s going on with an account, there’s really little excuse for that.  I’ve had my debit card “compromised” and replaced twice. Both times there were minor glitches with automatic debits to places like Blockbuster (showing my age here), but I scanned and sent a copy of the letter I received notifying me of the compromise and the subsequent re-issuance and everything was resolved with no fuss. 

    Didn’t the OP get a new card with a new number and think “oh this one is different?” Or did he just …tuck it into his wallet? I simply don’t GET how people just….ignore stuff and assume that somehow the modern technology fairy will take care of everything for them with no action on their part necessary.  

    Bottom line: Seaworld is being kinda douchey, but the OP had a level of responsibility that he didn’t take for 2 months.  Go to a park that smells less………..fishy ;)

  • Absherlock

    They may have been spending money in the park each time they went. 

    Or they may be like me. For less than $200/year, my family of five visits the Philadelphia Zoo monthly. That includes parking, all of the rides and guests. We never buy food or gift shop stuff. According to the website, one day admission ALONE (no parking, rides, etc.) for a family of FOUR is $78. 

    Sometimes the “loyal” customers end up costing more money….

  • cjr001

    Odds are SeaWorld also had a phone number they could have tried as well. And they didn’t.

  • emanon256

    From a business perspective, I would still view you as making money for the zoo.  You come every month and use things that have no per use cost for the business.  You still pay $200 a year.  That’s $200 the zoo would not receive otherwise.  If the zoo was over capacity and had to turn people away to let you in, or had to outsource parking on pay per car basis, then you would be costing them money. Otherwise you are still profitable.  If I ran the zoo, I would be more grateful for your $200 a year, as the family for 4 paying $78 one time.

  • Ndally

    Shame on Sea World.  All the BS aside, this is no way to treat a long time customer.  I’m sure that Flomerfelt and his wife have in the past told 100’s of people how great Sea World was, now they are telling tens of thousands how bad they are!  How can Sea World be so short sighted?  Hopefully Chris will cover this in one of his newspaper columns, may I suggest the Orlando Sentinel.  Possible if Flomerfelt sent a letter to the Chairman of the Sea World Board things would happen

  • Jen

    In Florida, everything just was made official with accounts this summer. The banks did everything in phases, not all at once. It’s odd though; my bank info remained the same after the transition…

  • Absherlock

    Good point. 

    But when we visit in the winter (and we do – it’s a hoot to see the river otters playing in the cold weather!), pretty much all we see are other pass holders. In a situation like that, we’re costing the zoo money because they’re paying employees (not the keepers, who have to be there anyway) for “non-paying” customers.Of course, it’s a different situation for SeaWorld since Orlando doesn’t really have seasons in the same way Philadelphia does. I’m just speaking from my experience.

  • Andi330

    Actually, the notification was that your checking account information would not change, meaning your checking account number, not your debit card. Even then, you were advised that if you had payments automatically withdrawn from your checking account you needed to notify any companies doing an automatic withdrawal that your bank had changed to Wells Fargo (this is for debits directly from the account, not using a credit card). As with any new credit card, you need to verify the credit card number is the same and update the number if necessary. Wachovia (as I recall) always sent debit cards with the same number on them, but not all banks do (some change the last 4 digits every time they send you a new card). Additionally, the expiration date and the CID (on the back) changes every time you get a new card, even if the card number does not, and you have to update that information with anyone doing automatic withdrawals (at least the expiration date, CID depends on the company) or their charges will be declined. 

    If this was the first month that the customer’s payment had been declined, there should be an opportunity for him to change the information and keep his original rate. However, the customer himself didn’t notice he wasn’t charged until August, when he had missed at least 2 payments (and possibly 3, that isn’t made clear). 

    At some point, customers have to take responsibility for their actions. Even if Sea World didn’t contact him (and it seems that Sea World itself says they didn’t because he didn’t keep his contact information up-to-date) he should have noticed sooner that he wasn’t charged, and contacted Sea World to find out what was going on. If he’d called in June when the payment was first missed, instead of waiting until August, when he’d missed at least 2 payments (and possibly a 3rd), then I would say Sea World should reinstate his original charge. But he didn’t even notice there was an issue until 2 months later.

  • RobynJacqueline

    how hard is it to pick up the phone? or send snail mail?

  • Michael K

     it took the OP 2 MONTHS

    It’s very common for banks to issue quarterly statements for accounts with minimal activity.

    Even when statements are monthly, by the time you receive it, some of the transactions are 6 weeks old.

  • Steve R

    More proof that companies don’t care about their loyal customers…they’ll bend over backwards to attract new business, but once they’ve got you, they couldn’t care less.

  • BillC

    Their bank could have contacted them to let them know that someone was trying to take money out of their old account.

  • Alan Kardoff

    I live w/in 75 miles and have since 1999. I had not been there yet. Going alone isn’t too much fun. Relatives go with their families and do not invite me to tag along.   After reading this story, my interest was quickly resolved.  If this is the way Sea World handles its customer…..  Also, seems Sea World did not tell all the whale trainers/handlers about the dangers they were facing. Had the trainer whose hair was caught by Tequilum, a large and dangerous whale–known about his tendencies to act differently, she would have never been so close to him.  

    Thank you Chirs,  I see.  No Sea World for me.

  • Michael K

    Whether current contact information was maintained is actually in dispute.

    under the terms of their agreement

    Which specific term are you referring to that covers this situation?

  • Mark K

    But then there are probably a lot of pass holders who pay the same $200 and never go to the Zoo or only go once a year.  This is where the “profitability” or these passes comes in.

    I was a member of the Zoo in my home town.  Depending on how much you paid annually, you got different levels of access.  The Zoo offered various events you could attend as well that were included in your annual membership and the higher payers got more of these free.  The most fun one was breakfast with the animals where you got to visit various animal enclosures before the park opened in the morning and could snack on the same things the animals were eating (bananas at the monkey house, etc. but prepared and presented separately from the actual animal food).  To get in this for free, you had to be a $1000 donator.  The $200 donator had to pay an exta $20 to go to this.

    Was the membership worth $1000 to get a couple bites of banana?  Probably not, but it really helped support the Zoo operations and provide food for the animals and paychecks for the workers on those slow days when there were no paying customers.

  • Mark K

    The bank could have also automatically put the charge on the new account if they wanted to.

  • jennj99738

    This is what American Express does.  I have had my AMEX account compromised (how I do not know) and have had to change my account number twice.  I have automatic payments and AMEX has always simply allowed the same charges to go through and advised me to update my account number with the business.

    However, with debit cards, I would not expect the same.  I would not want anyone debiting my personal checking account without knowing the correct number.  This is one of the reasons I use only credit cards online and for some other major purchases. 

  • jennj99738

    I hit the “like” button by mistake.  Comparing this to the incident with Tilikum is apples and oranges.  I also disagree as to what the trainer would have done differently.  All of the trainers knew of Tilikum’s previous two incidents (over 20 years).  I’ll leave it at that before we get into a debate on animal husbandry because, as I said, it’s apples and oranges. 

  • Tammy

    I also had all my automatic payments put in jeopardy when a bank LOST everyone’s information and had to reissue new debit cards.

    You may think it is easy to remember to change all the numbers with all possible places and make it all work again. You’d be wrong.

    Sea World had his contact information, or they wouldn’t have kept sending advertisements to him. The minute he was made aware that this is one account he had failed to change the info. with, he would have done it.

    I had a number of companies contact me (including Amazon), and I went and fixed the problem.

    Sea World should have contacted him. If that had failed, then they might have a leg to stand on. Otherwise, I think they are completely in the wrong in this case and have lost a good customer.

  • Tammy

    It is interesting. Without knowing other people and their lives, it is easy to judge. I probably wouldn’t have caught it in only two months. There are simply too many transactions on my accounts for me to bother to notice something that small that I assume is still happening. 

  • Martin

    I have zero doubt Sea World is lying when they say they “can’t” roll back to the original rate (others must still be on it, after all) but the lapsed payments weren’t Sea World’s fault.  If the people had caught it after only missing one payment, I’d have much more sympathy, but it took them two full months to figure it out.  A big oops on their part if this was that important to them. If they’d missed other bills, I doubt anybody would fault the company for charging them penalties. Well, their losing this sweetheart deal was, in effect, a penalty for their letting the deal lapse and missing payments.  All good things come to an end.

  • Grant

    Wow, SeaWorld. What are you thinking?  Screwing a long time customer AND making yourselves look like jerks to thousands of folks who follow this blog. Just…… wow.  :-( 

  • Trevor

    How many scapegoats is this guy going to find to excuse his own error in not keeping his bank accounts in order?  It’s Wells Fargo’s fault for giving him a new account number…it’s Seaworld’s fault for not forgiving him letting the autopay lapse…  None of that is Seaworld’s problem.  He had a killer deal for a decade and would still have it if only it had been important enough to him to keep his account updated.

    There were certainly people caught up in the Wells Fargo deal that managed to keep their Seaworld payments going.  Should Seaworld send them some sort of gift for being on top of things?  Because if they’re expected to forgive the people who were asleep at the wheel, then it’d only be fair to reward those who actually had their act together.

  • emanon256

    If I worked for your zoo I would look at the profitability of staying open over the winter by doing some market analysis.  Probably surveys, number crunching, etc. I would compare the numbers for staying open full time, going to limited hours, or closing and just having the keepers on staff. I would look at how many non-members paid for visits in the winter, what months and times etc. I would use the surveys to see how many season pass members would no longer be season pass members if we closed or had limited hours in the winter.  I would look at the cost of part time and full time staff, training and re-hire related expenses if we lost staff due to limited hours or closing. I would look at gift shop and concession revenue during this period.  I would also look at marketing costs and find out how people came based on various marketing methods.  After that I would be able to make a determination as to whether or not my model was profitable and what I could do to maximize profit.
    I’m not saying your zoo did this, or even collected enough data to be able to do this.  But I would be curious what the finding would be.

  • SallyLu

    I was just reading an article at another site about a family home being foreclosed on when the bank that held their mortgage was sold and their automatically deducted payments were cancelled.  The family claimed that they didn’t notice that the payments had not been deducted from their account.  My first thought was that there is no way I would NOT notice if I had an extra $1000+ in my checking account.  With that being said, I can totally see how I might not notice that a payment of $9.95 didn’t go out. 
    However, I just had to get a new debit card because my old card was “compromised” and the first thing I did was make a list of the auto payments I had to notify, but I’m still worried that I overlooked something.

  • Carver


    Its very reasonable.  I’ve been through several bank mergers. Sometimes the old information is good for a limited time period, Sometimes for a longtime.  M debit card was good for 18 months after my current bank was bought out.  The checking account number remained the same

  • Joe Farrell

    Dude – its Orlando – go to a different theme park.  How many times can you see Shamu splash the tourists?  

    Ignoring that value judgment for a moment, the rules is the rules.  He had 100% complete control over his debit card numbers, checking account information etc etc etc.  He knew the rules and took the risk by not converting to the next numbers. 

    The other side shows incredible marketing stupidity on the part of SeaWorld.  A DECADE long customer – who probably spends another $100 every time he shows up at your door – and you diss the guy and refuse to reinstate his program because of a bank changing his information without any request from him.  Was he dumb in not following up – yet.  Are you being incredibly stupid and risk losing the loyalty of someone who has paid you $2400 plus whatever he spent in the park over the last decade? Tell me you folks are not that stupid. . . . 

    The OP NEEDS to go find another theme park – Universal will gladly take your money and probably match the rate for 24 months if you let them use the story as advertising – Disney certainly will be more money – but don’t they have a $299 annual pass for Florida residents [thats 4 really nice themeparks, free parking, plus the water parks] instead of a jumping man [ok woman] killing whale . . . . You need make these folks lose the $10 a month forever – serves them right. 

  • Tropicalpenpals

    Typical issue in modern business. Mine’s a bit worse than that relating to Santander buying Alliance and Leicester bank in the UK. I left the UK to go to the Philippines (I live here work in the UK) and left a small deposit in my UK bank account. Within 3 months of being in the Philippines I received a notice that Santander had taken over my bank. Shortly afterwards discovering I was now overdrawn in my banking, why? Because Alliance and Leicester had a minimum balance of £500 to gain interest Santander without notification or agreement from myself changed the terms and conditions to a minimum of £500 or they will charge you bank charges daily. No resolution so far but I won’t be paying it either.

  • Lamoreaj221

    I haven’t heard ANYONE say “I declare shenanigans…” since I left Michigan 40 years ago.  Thank you for taking me back cos that isn’t something they say in Florida, EVER.

  • veegee

    AWARE that there is NO AUTOMATIC CANCELLATION of your EZPay payments after
    the annual pass expires ! Apparently, the fine print says that the card
    is automatically renewed even though they do not send you a new one !
    You have to actually remember to call them and cancel at the end of the
    12 months ! Obviously, they are counting on you forgetting to do so ! What a disgustingly cynical way of making money !!


    All of the parks here work exactly the same. If you are on any sort of payment program, it is YOUR responsibility to make sure your payment method is valid. Obviously when his debit card changed, he had to have received a new card. This would tell him that the payments that used to be paid by the old card would have to be updated with the new number. He noted that he saw that the 2 payments had not been made so he SHOULD have contacted Sea World immediately to change his debit card. Sorry but the new rate is what he is ENTITLED to NOT the old one.