Glenn Rossi’s recent Avis car rental had him seeing double. Literally.
He’d prepaid for a vehicle in Vienna, Austria, through Expedia. When he picked up the car, Avis also swiped his credit card. Within a week of returning the vehicle, Rossi, a retired telecommunications consultant who lives in Kelkheim, Germany, saw two charges for 333 euros (about $460) on his MasterCard: one from Expedia and one from Avis.
He’d been billed twice for the same car.
“I sent my contract and payment records to both Expedia and Avis but still have no refund of my double payment,” he says.
Rossi’s experience is common in one respect: Small billing errors happen routinely when you’re on the road — a currency conversion error, a fee added to the final bill or a room charge that belongs to another guest. But in another sense, it isn’t. Double-billings are relatively rare. Fortunately, they’re also relatively easy to fix.
“Relatively” being the operative word.
Nick Hornberger, a Los Angeles attorney and expert on credit card processing, says that a clear-cut case in which a customer is charged twice can be remedied by filing a credit card dispute. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA), you may challenge a billing error with your credit card company, as long as it’s done in writing and within 60 days of the credit card statement. “The card companies can be very aggressive and really go to bat for the consumer,” Hornberger says.
But not always. Sometimes, there are “bad guys” on the other end of the transaction who are trying to squeeze more money out of you, says Hornberger. And the law also has its limits: You can’t invoke the FCBA if you have a problem with the quality of a good or service unless the purchase was made in your home state or within 100 miles of your billing address. Even when it applies, the law doesn’t offer an instant fix. The FCBA gives a creditor up to a month to acknowledge your dispute and up to three months to credit your account, which can seem like half an eternity.
It’s impossible to anticipate a billing error. A MasterCard representative said that the best way to avoid having to pay twice for the same product is to monitor your monthly statements or to check your credit card account online.
“If cardholders identify a purchase they didn’t authorize, they should immediately contact the bank that issued their card and dispute the charge in question,” says MasterCard spokesman Seth Eisen. His company also offers a feature called MasterCard Zero Liability policy, which protects customers like Rossi against unauthorized and fraudulent transactions.
Some restrictions apply, though. An account must be in good standing; a cardholder has to exercise “reasonable care” in safeguarding the card from any unauthorized use, and may not have reported two or more unauthorized events in the past 12 months, according to MasterCard.
You’re somewhat likelier to be hit by a double-billing when you’ve prepaid for a travel product such as a rental car or a hotel stay. That’s what happened to Elaine Barrett when she paid upfront for a package tour that included a hotel stay in Chicago.