Q: Many of my agency's clients are still waiting for Covid-related refunds from airlines, cruise lines, resorts, tour operators, wholesalers, consolidators and other suppliers that required payment in advance of travel. The clients are entitled to the refunds, but it is obvious that suppliers are ignoring their legal obligations or trying to delay in order to hold onto their cash. Clients are asking me for help. What advice do you have for me, and what advice do you have for my clients?
A: I have written this Legal Briefs column so that you can send it to clients to point them in the right direction.
First, your client should realize that repeatedly calling the supplier is almost always an exasperating waste of time. After waiting interminably through "Your call is important to us" and "Due to higher-than-normal call volumes," it is usually useless to deal with customer service people who read from scripts and then don't follow up.
Second, in lieu of calling, your client needs to create a paper trail. My advice is to write a business letter and send it by overnight courier to the supplier's customer service chief. Your client can find an excellent list of such contacts here.
Although it is very expensive to use Federal Express or UPS, you are more likely to get attention than if you send an email or a mailed letter.
Your client's letter should be succinct and limited to a few hundred words. It should follow this outline: a) what you are seeking (i.e., a refund of $X), b) the relevant facts, c) any relevant documentation and d) a deadline by which you will initiate a chargeback or file a lawsuit.
Third, if the refund is due from an airline, your client should file a complaint with the DOT using the online form found here. Then, send a copy to the airline.
Unfortunately, there is no other government agency that can order other kinds of suppliers to make refunds.
Fourth, if there is no response by the deadline in your letter, which unfortunately happens all too often, then your client should contact his credit card company to initiate a chargeback. Since the trip was certainly paid for more than 60 days ago, the credit card company is not legally required to provide the refund, but this route seems to have the greatest chance of success, as long as your client can show that he first attempted to resolve the claim directly with the supplier.
Fifth, if the credit card company declines a chargeback, the next step is for your client to file a small-claims lawsuit. To sue an out-of-state travel supplier, you need to show that you properly served the supplier with process, and your client may need to consult a local attorney for help.
If your client unreasonably takes the position that your agency is responsible for the refund, you can point out that the law does not make agents liable for breaches of contract by their principals.