Charged four times for one vacation. Why won’t American Express fix this?

By | June 15th, 2017

When Connie Cullen books a vacation with her American Express card, the resort charges her. Then it charges her again, and again. And again. Why won’t it fix the error?

Question: I have a problem with American Express that I need your help with. More than a year ago, I booked a vacation in Turks and Caicos. I paid a $400 deposit on my American Express Delta Skymiles card and agreed that the balance of $6,721 would be automatically charged to the same card 15 months later, about a month before the trip.

When the time came for the balance to be paid, I received email alerts from Amex notifying me of two large purchases. I logged into my account and saw that the resort had charged me twice for the balance due on my vacation.

I called the resort, which assured me I had only been charged once. I disagreed, stating I was looking at my credit card account online. I called Amex immediately and asked to dispute the second charge, but a representative told me it was a “pending” charge and couldn’t be disputed until it posted.

The second charge posted a few days later. I called the resort again and asked to speak to someone in accounting. A representative told me not to worry, that they had been notified by the accounting department that a number of accounts had been “charged in error” over the weekend and would be corrected. No further action need be taken on my part, and I did not need to talk to anyone.

Amex gave me an immediate provisional credit for $6,721. But it didn’t stick. Instead, the resort charged me yet again, and Amex reversed its chargeback decision several times. My card has now been charged five times for one vacation and I’ve been refunded only three times.

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I am at my wits’ end. These charge issues have been going on for almost 2 1/2 months. Should I call a lawyer? — Connie Cullen, Eagan, Minn.


Answer: Your resort should have only charged you once, and American Express should have protected you when it didn’t. This is a strange story of accounting gone wrong, which can happen any time. But I’m surprised that Amex let this happen.

You did the right thing, first by contacting the merchant and giving it enough time to respond, and then by reaching out to Amex. The issue should have been resolved after you called the resort.
After reviewing the lengthy correspondence between you, the resort and Amex, it looks like we found the problem: You initiated a dispute, received a credit, and at the same time, your resort refunded the erroneous charge. In response, the resort re-charged you, prompting you to re-initiate the dispute. When the dust settled, you were being charged twice as much as you should have been.
In the end, everyone was confused, but your wallet was significantly lighter.

If Amex can’t help you, maybe the law can. The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) requires banks to take your dispute seriously. It defines your rights as a consumer and provides a path for fixing billing errors like yours. (You can learn more about those rights on the Federal Trade Commission’s page on the FCBA.)

You could have also reached out to an executive at American Express. I list their names, numbers and email addresses on my consumer advocacy site.

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One tip about resolving a dispute. Your notes were so detailed and lengthy that I think it may have made a quick resolution something of a challenge. If you ever have a problem with a company again, try keeping things brief and polite. Summarize your problem at the top of the page so the the representatives know the problem immediately.

I contacted Amex on your behalf, and it refunded the money it had overcharged you.



  • finance_tony

    I’ve had great luck reporting it to the CFPB. Two problems that lingered for months were completely fixed within 18 hours when I filed a CFPB complaint on each.

    https://www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint/

    The attitude that you need to take is that you’re paying for the service of the credit card – and that includes the ability to charge back incorrect charges, quickly and without dispute.

  • Bill___A

    Well done Chris

  • Altosk

    What’s the name of the resort with the “glitchy” accounting practices?

  • LeeAnneClark

    This is an excellent example of why it’s not a good idea to pursue both avenues to get refunded an erroneous charge: if both the merchant and the credit card company credit you, you’ll end up with a double refund…and chaos will inevitably ensue, just as it did here.

    I learned this lesson years ago, when I received a double charge from a jewelry store. I initiated a dispute with my credit card AND contacted the store for a refund. I assumed the merchant and the bank talked to each other, and would work it out between them. NOPE! Both the jewelry store and the bank issued me credits on the same day. It took me weeks to untangle that mess.

    IMO, the best course of action is to try the merchant first, and only if you are unsuccessful with them, dispute it on your card. The problem is that there is a limited time in which you CAN dispute a charge (can’t remember what it is), so you have to make sure you don’t miss that window. And there’s always the possibility the merchant will come through after you’ve disputed it, which will land you right in this same situation.

    Seems like it should be easier, doesn’t it?

  • LeeAnneClark

    I was wondering that too! Not a place I think I want to visit, given its obviously lax billing practices.

  • Lindabator

    Had she not disputed the charges, none of this would have happened — pending charges are normal – but when you dispute them immediately it leads to refunds, chargebacks, etc — avoid the headache by trying a bit of patience

  • Lindabator

    exactly – pneding charges are normal – do NOT pull the trigger immediately and you have a better chance of not falling into this situation. Patience, people!

  • LeeAnneClark

    Yes, that’s an important point to make – these were “pending” charges. We should NEVER dispute a pending charge. They are not actual charges, and you are not responsible for paying them. These are often “pre-authorizations” for a charge that is going to be submitted, but the total amount is not yet known so they request it for greater than it will end up being. But people see that and freak out.

    Or they’re kind of “pre-charges” for something that you may or may not end up owing – for example, I just took a bunch of Uber trips while in San Diego for a weekend, and twice the driver cancelled before he picked us up, and once I cancelled because I got a ride right after I’d requested the Uber. All three charges showed up in my “pending” charges, but never turned into actual charges.

    It’s entirely possible this all would have been worked out between Amex and the vendor if she’d just been patient. The pending charges may never have turned into actual charges.

  • PsyGuy

    No, the LW has a problem with the resort not AMEX (got that in the first line), CC’s are just computers that do what they are told during the POS transaction. A merchant requests an authorization and the processor grants it, it’s how the whole concept works.

  • PsyGuy

    It’s Turks and Caicos, it really doesn’t matter.

  • PsyGuy

    If you don’t follow all avenues though, you could end up losing in the future, because you didn’t exercise due diligence.

    If you try the merchant first with what they were saying (anytime a merchant tells me “don’t worry”, I usually start worrying), you’d end up hear with a ‘Why won’t they refund me for being overcharged case.

    Everything should be easier.

  • PsyGuy

    They do however tie up your available credit line and anyone who used a debit card for this at the end of the month and finding their account nearly dry would be stressing about how to pay their bills (lesson don’t use debit card). In some situations you just have to have access to your credit line.

  • PsyGuy

    The resort could have also just canceled refused its’ subsequent charges as well.

  • Altosk

    For years this site would post names of properties and bad travel agents who were the subject of their cases. Suddenly, that’s not the case any more. I’m losing faith in the site because of that.

  • cscasi

    “After reviewing the lengthy correspondence between you, the resort and Amex, it looks like we found the problem: You initiated a dispute, received a credit, and at the same time, your resort refunded the erroneous charge. In response, the resort re-charged you, prompting you to re-initiate the dispute. When the dust settled, you were being charged twice as much as you should have been.”
    It appears the resort was trying to correct the overcharge, but since she already got a credit for the disputed charge and AMEX informed them of the dispute, it recharged her account. It was a mess, but I can certainly see how it happened. Everything just came together at the same time.
    It just took time for AMEX to get it all sorted out; especially after Chris got in to push a bit.

  • The Original Joe S

    Wouldn’t have to refund to me; I’d simply not pay. Sending them a letter saying why.

  • The Original Joe S

    Here’s a pending response: I ain’t gonna pay this incorrect charge.

  • The Original Joe S

    POS = Piece of shale?

  • PsyGuy

    Point Of Sale

  • PsyGuy

    It’s called a SLAPP = Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Policy.

  • Altosk

    Yeah, I don’t think that’s the case here. Elliott.org has tangled with legal mess before. And, it’s inconsistent…for instance, they won’t name a small-time travel agency that abandoned its travelers, but will name a small-time limo company?

  • PsyGuy

    I don’t have an answer to that, I don’t work for Chris.

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