Where’s the refund on my overbooked wine tour?

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When Anne Komarinski’s wine tour is overbooked, the website through which she booked it promises a prompt refund. But the money hasn’t showed up yet in her account. What now?

Question: On a recent trip to New Zealand’s South Island, I booked a wine tour through Viator.com, a website that sells tours. My husband and I were contacted by Kevin at Canterbury Wine Tours the day before and informed that the tour was overbooked and that they could not accommodate us.

I immediately contacted support@viator.com to request a refund. I received a response indicating it would take 7 to 10 days. It’s been more than 10 days, and Viator is not responding to my messages.

No New Zealand phone number is provided on its website, and no additional email addresses are listed. Can you help me? — Anne Komarinski, Auckland, New Zealand

Answer: I’m sorry your wine tour was overbooked. That shouldn’t have happened. A tour operator should accept only as many bookings as it can accommodate. When it couldn’t fulfill its contractual obligation, you should have received an immediate refund.

Here’s how I see it: It took seconds for Viator to remove the money from your account. Isn’t it reasonable to expect a refund to be just as expeditious?

Actually, it isn’t. The money can take days, weeks, and in extreme cases, even years to get back to you. The reason? Businesses invest a lot of resources in technology that can take your money in the blink of an eye, but they have no reason to put the same resources into a speedy refund. There are few, if any, benefits to the company in returning your money quickly.

So when Viator says it will refund the money in 7 to 10 days, that’s just an estimated timeline. It might get the money back to you by then. It might not.

Normally, when refunds are delayed, companies claim they sent the money but blame your credit card. (“Did we say two weeks? We meant two credit card billing cycles.”) It doesn’t really matter to you. The money’s still not there.

Bottom line: You have to be patient when it comes to a refund. You don’t have much of a choice.

Viator should have responded to you to let you know that your refund was on the way. Instead, you heard nothing. That’s too bad. You also could have turned to the wine tour for a better idea of when your money might be refunded. But no matter — the silence was unacceptable.

I contacted Viator on your behalf. It claims it already had told you by email that a request for a refund was “in queue” to be processed. A representative confirmed that a full refund for the cost of the tour was being sent to your credit card.

“As you know, the refunds do not appear immediately, but the credit should appear within the next 3 to 7 business days,” she added. “Viator very much appreciates the fact that Mrs. Komarinski chose to make her tour booking with Viator and sincerely apologizes for the inconvenience she has experienced, and has provided an NZD 100 gift certificate for her to use toward a future booking.”

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 our help forum.

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  • Rick Cricow

    We are a small company. We process refunds the exact same way, and with the exact same speed, as a payment. There is no reason for any company to take more time…especially multiple billing cycles.

  • Bill___A

    If they are processing so many refunds that there is a backlog, they aren’t conducting business very well. There’s no excuse for refunds to take a long time. It is necessary to have someone approve them, true, but that’s pretty much the only additional step. Many companies are providing refunds quite quickly now. If United Airlines can even do it, I don’t see any excuses here.

  • AJPeabody

    The only person who handles refunds is out on maternity leave.

  • judyserienagy

    I just love the current excuses for holding on to customers’ money. It’s quite ludicrous. Businesses should be required to process refunds at the same speed they process purchases. But why should they? Nobody forces them, so they don’t. What a commentary on modern ethics.

  • Flyonpa

    One Word… ChargeBack….. No Credit with-in about a week, I open a ChargeBack with my CC Company.

  • RightNow9435

    Assuming it’s within the dispute time limit, give them 7-10 days, then start a credit card dispute

  • Fishplate

    When I return something to a store, the credit is in my account by the time I get home. No reason that this sort of thing has to be any different. 24 hour delay, maximum.

  • Tom McShane

    $100 gift cert. for a future tour? Had the company run out of Confederate money?

  • jim6555

    Then it’s up to management to assign the refund duties to another person. Maternity leave is usually not an unexpected crisis. Another employee should have been trained to take over the refund duties prior to the start of the leave.

  • Lindabator

    which is one reason this process DOES take time – they need to ensure there is no one else putting in for a refund/chargeback

  • Lindabator

    In addition to the refund – so a nice gesture

  • Tom McShane

    I agree that it is a gesture. I would say that it was merely a gesture and that the traveler was being ignored till Elliot stepped in, at which time the company made that gesture.
    If I were kicked off a wine tour, because it was overbooked (??), then ignored I be would be quite hesitant to book a tour if I had the gesture card

  • Skeptic

    Two words: charge back.

  • AJPeabody

    TIC

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    Not really so nice unless the OP trusts viator not to mess up again (and is going on a tour before the credit expires).

  • Tom McShane

    Yah, a basket of fruit would have been a nice gesture. A gift card that only allow use when you spend more $$ with their company is more of a hollow gesture.

  • William_Leeper

    Our cc processing company will “authorize” funds immediately for a purchase, and “settle” the transaction within 7 days. The problem there is that for 1-12 hours, you will see a double charge if you look at your account online.

    The processing company processes refunds the same way, but most banks do not accept “authorizations” for refunds, so it can take the full 7 days to refund to your account. Debit cards can take even longer.

    The reason for this is that if a deposit has already been tendered to the merchant, that money must be withdrawn from the merchant account and rede posited to your account. If it is a refund, you will most likely not be charged interest on the amount. At the same time, an “authorization” cannot be released, so if I process a transaction and refund today, the processing company will not issue you a refund, rather they will simply not “process” the transaction, and your bank policies will apply as to when the authorization will fall off (between 2 and 20 days depending on the bank.)

    The exception to this is American Express which can take anywhere from 20-30 days to do all of this.