Ridiculous or not? Oops, I forgot to check my credit card statement

It happens all the time.

I get a plea for help from someone like Eugene Teow, who appeared to have been scammed on a recent trip to Australia. In his case, it looked as if Hertz had indiscriminately sucked $3,857 from his bank account for damaging a rental car — money to which it wasn’t entitled.

But then, when I ask the company about the overcharge, it turns out that the only problem was that the customer had failed to check his credit card statement. Because if he hadn’t, he’d know the money — or at least most of it — had been returned.

Reviewing your credit card statement is the first step anyone must take when they’re looking for a refund. Because some of the time, they’ll find the money has been quietly put back into their account without notification.

When I asked Hertz about Teow’s case, it didn’t dispute the facts of his case. When he’d returned his rental, Teow reported a small dent on his back bumper.

“The staff at the counter asked us to transfer an amount of $3,857 for the insurance claim, saying everything would be done in at most two weeks,” he says.

Two weeks later, he heard nothing. He called and emailed, but Hertz didn’t respond. Finally, one month after his rental, he contacted me to see if I could find his money. I asked Hertz, and it said the refund had been processed, minus a $125 fee for the repair. (Teow says it deducted more, but agrees that most of the money has been returned.)

Sure, Hertz might have made his life easier by telling him most of his $3,857 had been refunded. But he should have also done his due diligence.

This isn’t unusual.

A few weeks ago, Carol Pulido came to me with a problem she had with Hotels.com. She’d pre-paid for a hotel in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, which didn’t quite work out the way she thought it would.

“They said they were overbooked and no longer had any suites, but they could give us two rooms,” she says. “I wasn’t very happy with the arrangement because we wanted to keep our party together. But we went along with it.”

Finally, a manager said they didn’t have room at all, and offered to refund her money. She spent the night elsewhere at her own expense.

Neither Hotels.com nor the property offered her a refund, she says. A dispute with her credit card went the hotel’s way. So she contacted me.

I contacted Hotels.com, and it initially ignored me. (Turns out my contact had left the company.) I blogged about Hotels.com pocketing her money. Still, no response from the company. So I tried reaching out to the company again.

When I finally reached someone, I got a different story from the company. Hotels.com said it had refunded Pulido’s money months ago. Had she checked her statement, she would have seen a credit for the full amount of the room.


I should have asked Pulido to check her statement before putting Hotels.com in my crosshairs, of course. You live and learn.

How hard is it to review your credit card statement every month? Not hard at all. How many times would it have stopped travelers (and, uh, me) from pointing an accusatory finger at a travel company? Too many.

Makes me wonder if forgetting to do your due diligence before lodging a formal complaint is becoming a problem among travelers.

“Shoot first, ask questions later” may work on the battlefield, but not when it comes to fixing travel grievances.

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 chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Elmo Clarity

    One thing that I have found with refunds to credit cards is that they can be pre-dated (?) to an earlier time so they don’t always show up on the statement in the right order.  I recently had a problem where a company was suppose to refund some money but didn’t.  They originally said it would take up to two weeks.  When the money still wasn’t there after two weeks, I contacted and they apologized saying it slipped through the cracks and would be refunded immediately.  Several days later when I still didn’t see the refund, I contacted them again and they said they had refunded the money.  I double checked the statement look back further and found the refund dated two weeks earlier!  It never showed up in the daily activity report.  So check back several weeks when looking for that refund.

  • Brian

    Same thing happened to me. My refund from Air Canada was dated before I even bought the original, last minute tickets. Can anyone explain this?

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I’m curious as to what the reasoning is behind the “no” votes.  Anyone care to expound?

  • Willymy

    It make personal finance sense to check your credit card statement before, during and after they come. That’s what online access is for. You never know when you will find an erroneous charge. happened to me while staying with family away from home for two weeks. Nipped the fraud in the bud.

  • othermike27

    I’m a yes vote, but here’s a guess: some of this blog’s readers would list “righteous indignation” as a favorite hobby. They are predisposed to think the worst about any company hiccup where a little guy seems to come out on the short end.  The bigger the company, the badder it is.

    I’m not defending companies – they deserve plenty of criticism, as Chris often documents (which I think is mostly thoughtless bureaucratic response rather than deliberately bad).

  • Jeremy P

    I voted no simply to be contrary, because I think this poll question is purposely slanted to get a particular response.    The large number of Yes votes is actually odd for this site – the site tends to favor consumers over travel companies and so do its commentors.  But look how many people voted yes… an answer that is against the consumer!  It’s mainly because the question is deliberately slanted based on the content of the preceeding story.  For all you know, 998 of 1000 complainers are doing due diligence, and Chris chose to report on the 2 that didn’t.  There’s hardly enough data to determine whether “too many” people are being lazy.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I have to admit, I smiled when I read your first sentence.  I figure that there’s an angle or situation I haven’t considered and would like to hear that side of things.

  • emanon256

    I would prefer, “Should travelers do their due diligence before complaining?” as the question.

  • MikeZ

    The fact that so many questions are always raised in nearly every story is why I voted yes. For example, the story yesterday I think about the person who was supposed to have flown first class. the people here brought up all sorts of points and questions about his story and why he may have only gotten a small refund.

  • Mike B

    There is a transaction date and a posting date. Rarely will a transaction post the same day. Credits take longer for some reason to actually post. With smaller vendors who don’t run batches daily it may take 2-5 days to post.

  • Mike B

    That 2-5 days is for purchases also.

  • http://twitter.com/travelingiraffe Crissy

    I voted no because we don’t see many of those stories here.  2 instances of that is not evidence that it’s occuring too often.  People makes mistakes and as someone else said sometimes they get posted weirdly making them a little harder to find.  Should people do their due dilligence? yes, but as humans they make mistakes too. 

    But maybe Chris’s first question to someone should be to have them check their credit card statements.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1556838763 Nancy Marine Dickinson

    Too often, people rely on “someone else” to do the heavy work for them and they don’t bother to put their own effort into their problems.

    Like a bank statement, a credit card statement should be checked every month, not just when there’s a problem.  And we wonder why there’s a credit crisis in this country…

  • Michael K

    I didn’t vote (I have no idea what % of travelers are doing such due diligence) but I would like to point out that I don’t think any merchant should either credit or debit your plastic without a separate written receipt or explanation.  (E-mail is fine as long it was provided recently by the customer, e.g. as part of the relevant transaction(s))

  • http://www.dmuth.org/ Douglas Muth

    There’s a reason why professional accountants reconcile every statement they receive.

    For private individuals, I recommend the program Moneydance.  I use it to do all of my financials every month, and it’s a great way to make sure everything posted to my credit card in a timely manner.

  • Michael K

    I once had a complaint about not receiving compensation to which I was entitled to for a cancelled ticket.

    After getting nowhere with online and phone queries, I sent written correspondence with signature confirmation and cc’d the DOT.  A couple of months later, I received a response stating that I should double check my credit card statement because I had already been issued a credit.

    There was indeed a credit at that point but they didn’t acknowledge that the credit was issued over a month after the date of my letter (and a few months after my initial queries) 

  • Sadie Cee

    This may be just a bit off-topic, but is certainly in the realm of due diligence.  How many times have we observed people doing these things?

    *When paying by credit card, signing the statement without even glancing at the charge(s).
    *Getting money from the ATM, removing the paper record from the machine and without even a glance, crumpling and throwing it on the floor.  The money isn’t counted either.
    *Receiving change from a cashier and pocketing it without even a glance, much less counting it.  I have forgetten the statistics, but I do recall that the chance of being shortchanged is higher than we would imagine.  (The other day I received a Russian coin in my change which I returned.)

    No one is perfect and we all make mistakes.  I’ve left my debit card behind in the ATM. The card was soon swallowed by said machine.  (It is possible that I was too busy counting the money.)  I have also left my door keys in the mailbox and the mailbox open.  Again, thankfully they were still there when I returned. 

  • David

    Both are at fault here.  I think customers expect IMMEDIATE action and, when they don’t get it, are too quick to assume the worst.  But then, most of us assume the worst based on past experience.

    One solution is to deal only with reputable companies.  I’ve found AMEX to be more responsive than Visa or M/C, so I use AMEX.  I mean, if you fly  Spirit Airlines, you get what you deserve — which is nothing.  The customer needs to take some control by avoiding shonky companies.

  • Alan Kardoff

    Chris, I partly agree with this claim.  On the other, a large number of customers are over-charged and they never complain, even when it is pointed out that they can demand refunds for bogus overcharges. This includes a dear friend who didn’t complain, despite my advice and yours.
    She ‘didn’t want to make waves,’ or didn’t mind the overcharge.

  • Michelle B.

    I had the opposite experience recently. On my last credit card statement I noticed a credit from a cruise we took back in May. Confused and curious I contacted my travel agent (I only used TA’s for cruises), and she explained that it was an overcharge of some port fees.

    It is extremely rare to see a story of a travel business doing the right thing on their own volition. Kudos to  Disney Cruise Lines!

  • http://www.facebook.com/sunk818 sunk818

    If the company has a way to notify a customer by e-mail, then that would prevent a lot of issues. Most of the shipping carriers (UPS, FedEx, DHL, USPS) all offer some sort of package in-transit updates via e-mail and some through a text message. So, why not have a customer relations management (CRM) system that updates the CUSTOMER of updates to their case via e-mail, phone, or SMS?

  • Mark K

    The difference with AmEx and Visa/MC is you are actually dealing with the credit card company with AmEx.  Visa/MC is issued by the individual bank you pay each month and you deal with the bank, never directly with Visa/MC.   Depending on that bank you get better or worse service. Unfortunately for Visa/MC most people don’t know that.

  • Kimber8888

    How substantial does your card balance have to be to not notice a $3700 adjustment?

  • Mark K

    Yes, anyone expedcting a credit should be extra sure they have verified the credit has not appeared before yelling about how bad a company is.  You can even call your credit card bank and they can tell you if a credit has appeared if you can’t take the time to look for it on your statement.

    I started using money management software many years ago because  I used to have trobule tracking how much I was spending (throwing away is more accurate) each month.  Now I know in most cases the day any activity occurs on any of my credit cards or other accounts.  Even if you don’t use software to track your balances, you should look every time you receive a statement to see what your balance is and if it matches what you expect the balance to be.  When looking for credits, they are easy to find because most statements separate the credits into a distinct section.  It should be very easy to notice when credits appear.

  • Trevor

    It’s possible the credit was issued in between bills. Chris says it came a month after the original complaint, but if it were issued after a statement had been sent, the person wouldn’t know that until the next month’s statement was received. (Obviously, unless they check their statement online or call the card company.)

  • emanon256

    I’m surprised no one has pointed out how crazy it was that they charged him $3,857 and said they would refund the difference after the repair.

  • Jason G

     That’s like asking “should people stop being stupid?” Of course they should. But asking whether they do or don’t is more relevant.

  • flutiefan

    EXACT same thing happened to me recently!

  • emanon256

    :) Good point.

  • http://www.ashortjourney.com yatra

    Always better to check your credit car statement.
    Travel makes simple if you carry currency cards

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_LOCND3JAJL4PGYWJBHUT3HWAZM web/gadget guru

    It’s easier to throw a tantrum than it is to check the facts. The problem is that in today’s media infused world, people get their information from 30 second, talking-head sound-bites. As a result, they only get the information that was regurgitated from whatever biased news source they choose to listen to. There are no in depth  reporting anymore unless it’s about Snooky’s latest hair style, or what lost cause failed to make it on Dancing with America’s got Talent, Idol!
    People do not take the time or make the effort to find out for them selves what is going on in today’s world, and this attitude spills over into their own lives…Thus, they don’t perform Due Diligence because they are too busy watching reality programming to realize their own lives are going to crap!

  • http://www.travelplanner.com.sg Holiday planners

    I always checked my credit card statement before travel, and some cash for back-up..