Pretoria - If there is any good news about the demise of budget airline 1time, it’s that those who paid for their now useless tickets using credit cards can expect to be refunded by their banks.
The bad news is that the process takes a little time. In the meantime, they have to find the money to pay for tickets on other airlines.
Chargeback is a consumer protection offered by credit card companies worldwide. In essence, if you pay for something with your credit card and the goods or service are not adequately completed or never received, your bank can do a chargeback from the bank that collected the payment.
Shortly after the announcement last Friday that 1time was to be liquidated, two banks – Absa and Standard – proactively announced that they would process refund applications for those passengers who had paid for their tickets by card, and a 1time spokesman responded to media queries by advising affected passengers to seek chargebacks from their banks.
Interestingly, when Nationwide airline was liquidated back in 2008, neither the airline nor the banks said a word about chargeback.
At that time, consumer awareness about this handy credit card perk was just about zero, and many bank staffers appeared to be in the dark, too.
At the time, Consumer Watch spread the chargeback word, and many ticket-holders were refunded in full as a result.
When Velvet Sky grounded its flights earlier this year, the stakeholders issued no public statements about chargeback either.
Consumer Watch mounted chargeback awareness drive number two. This time, with 1time’s end, it’s different. Everyone’s talking chargeback. About time.
Well, everyone but the voice recording on 1time’s Joburg landline, which no one has bothered to deactivate, at least not at the time of writing.
“We have fantastic news!” the woman chirps, “1time has just been voted the best low-cost airline in Africa by the World Travel Awards! 1time really is Number 1!”
For those who paid cash or via EFT for their unused tickets – some just hours before the liquidation was announced – the grim reality is that they are unlikely to get much of a refund.
They go to the bottom of the list of 1time’s creditors and the best they can hope for is a few cents in the rand, after the liquidators have done their job.
The timing is particularly bad, as many of the victims had tickets for the festive season – having booked early, on a budget airline, in order to pay as little as possible.
They are now forced to pay far higher fares on alternative airlines.
Of course, chargeback doesn’t just apply to collapsed airlines.
You can apply for it any time you have used your card to pay for goods or a service you either didn’t receive at all, or only in part.
A few months ago, Eleanor Scott of Durban contacted me about a horrific experience she’d had with a UK travel agency in June.
The self-catering apartment the agency booked Scott and her teenage son into was nothing like that advertised on its website.
The kitchen was filthy and understocked, the only thing to sit on in the entire apartment was a solitary stool, and the bedroom was a makeshift mezzanine level with two mattresses so close to the ceiling they had to crawl over to them. Sitting up in “bed” was impossible.
Consumer Watch has taken up that case with the local authority in question, but in the meantime, advised Scott how to go about claiming chargeback, given that the travel agency had refused to refund her.
I suggested that she was entitled to ask for at least half of the R5 032 she’d spent on the accommodation, most of which was whipped from her credit card without her authorisation, in the midst of the dispute over the state of the apartment.
Scott duly submitted her claim, along with photographic evidence and a letter from the borough’s trading standards enforcement officer, who had inspected the unit and backed up Scott’s complaint.
She was given a bit of a run-around by FNB, but she stood her ground and ended up being refunded in full.
Ironically, she’s about to apply for chargeback yet again, as she holds a 1time Durban-Johannesburg return ticket and has been forced to re-book on British Airways.
At least she’s no stranger to the process.
The key to a successful chargeback is having the hard evidence to back up your claim.
Receipts, correspondence between yourself and the supplier, photographs – even a recording done with your cellphone: all help make your case.
How to apply for chargeback:
A cardholder has 120 days from the date of travel as reflected on the ticket, to dispute and request chargeback via Absa for services not rendered. Should the dispute be found to be justified, the supplier of the service is debited and the cardholders account is credited. Charge-back rights apply where the service has not been delivered as contracted, whether the merchant has been liquidated or not. To claim chargeback via Absa: Call 0861 462 273, visit a branch, or e-mail disputes@ absa.co.za.
Nedbank clients have just 30 days to raise a chargeback dispute. In the case of an airline collapse, that would be 30 days from the date of the scheduled flight, or “from when the cardholder was first made aware that the service would not be provided”. In other words, from the date a liquidation is announced.
To claim chargeback from Nedbank, call the bank’s call centre – 0860 555 111.
A dispute form will be provided, and you’ll be asked to provide the standard documentation.
FNB clients have 180 days from the transaction date, or the expected delivery date, to apply for a chargeback.
If an airline goes into liquidation, the chargebacks start once the liquidation has been confirmed with the airline’s bank. Affected FNB customers should call 087 575 1111 to get the necessary form which needs to be completed and then e-mailed or faxed back.