Month: March 2017

“Dispute Charge” is your friend – use it

“Dispute Charge” is your friend – use it

All of us have probably been cheated out of some money by a merchant at some point or another (if not, consider yourself very very lucky).

The next step is often arguing with them, either in person, over the phone, or online. If you’re lucky (and/or they care more about your repeat business than a small amount of money), maybe you get your money back. But as is sometimes the case with larger, more indifferent corporations, they may just put you through endless customer service loops (and/or just say “No”).

Unfortunately, this is where many people tend to stop the process, cut their losses, and move on. But if you paid for the transaction with a credit card (or even debit card), it doesn’t need to stop here (which is yet another reason to never pay for anything in cash if you don’t have to).

When you make a credit card or debit card transaction, you’re not actually paying the merchant, rather, you’re paying the credit card company, who takes a cut out of the payment, as does the payment organization (Visa/Mastercard/AMEX/Discover), which transfers the money to the bank of the merchant (the processor also takes a cut, as it allows the merchant to accept credit cards).

All major credit card companies will allow you to dispute a charge if you feel that you have unfairly been charged for something. In this case, they will usually ask you a series of questions about why you’re disputing the charge, then temporarily remove the charge from your statement so that you’re not responsible for it, and begin their investigation.

During the investigation, they will reach out to the merchant to get the merchant’s side of the story. If the merchant doesn’t answer within a certain amount of time (usually 2-4) weeks, then you will automatically be ruled in favor of and have the money refunded back to you. More often though, the merchant will respond and it will then be up to the credit card company to decide. During this process, you may receive a call for them asking for additional information and/or further documentation. The more documentation you can provide, the better! Note that before you file a dispute, you must make an attempt to resolve it with the merchant first. If you do not, they will reject it and tell you to first try that.

In the end, you hope the company rules in favor of you, though there have been situations where I have contested the original decision and won.

So far, I have never lost a dispute, but part of that is also being rational about what I dispute and what I don’t dispute. For one, any attempts to try and game the system to get something for free will not only be rejected, but probably hurt your relationship with your credit card company and the merchant (if applicable), reducing the amount of effort they put into future requests. For example, you can’t buy a $1,000 airline ticket then dispute that based on the fact that you didn’t realize how expensive it was. You also can’t dispute a restaurant bill saying that you didn’t like the food.

So what kind of things have I used it for?

-A rental car company added on a charge that wasn’t part of the contract I signed.

-I returned merchandise (within the stated terms) but never received a credit for it.

-The third-party software I use to book work travel added on an extra fee to book my reservation.

-FedEx delivered my package a week later than they said they would (in this case, it’s likely that had I actually gotten through to someone at FedEx they would have handled it internally, but their online dispute system was down and I never got off hold).

-I paid for a tour in advance and then was charged again for certain items once I arrived on the tour.

I think you get the picture.

Inequal advocacy

Unfortunately, your chances of winning the dispute are not only based on the merit of your claim, but also the quality of the disputers at your credit card company. I have by far found American Express to be the best at disputing claims (both for their easy method of filing one online, and their quick resolution, always in my favor). As a result, whenever I’m dealing with a merchant whom I may be suspicious of, I’ll try to pay with an American Express card so that I’m covered in case something happens.

Chase and Citi also allow for online filing of disputes, but tend to be a little slower. Barclaycard unfortunately requires you to call in order to file a dispute, which is super frustrating.

Generally though, as long as your claim has merit, you should come out with your money back; it just may take a little while depending on who’s disputing your claim.

Feel free to post any good dispute stories in the comments!


Travel insurance can be pretty amazing – but that doesn’t mean you have to pay extra for it (or, how I used it for a 2-day all-expense paid vacation)

Travel insurance can be pretty amazing – but that doesn’t mean you have to pay extra for it (or, how I used it for a 2-day all-expense paid vacation)

We’ve probably all been in that situation where we’re about to purchase a flight, and then an error message pops up reminding you that you didn’t select whether you want to add on travel insurance. At that point, you then wonder if it may be worth it to spent just a little bit more to be covered in all sorts of situations if something goes wrong. After all, you don’t want to be wishing you had spent just $20 more when you’re out $5,000 for a big expense, right?

Of course, this is the principle of risk, and how insurance companies make their money. The good news is, you usually don’t need to buy it because some form is likely already included with your credit card.

While I’ve wanted to write about this for quite some time, I only recently felt compelled to do so, when what could have been a disasterous 48-hour flight delay turned into a wonderful two-day vacation at a beach resort with all meals included, thanks to my credit card travel insurance.


This lobster cobb salad that I got during my trip was worth the $20 it cost on the menu, but it tasted even better knowing that it was free.

I recently went to Charleston, South Carolina for a quick weekend trip with my family. Seeing as it was much cheaper to fly nonstop from Boston into Myrtle Beach, rent a car, then drive instead of flying nonstop into Charleston, I opted for the former.

The trip down was relatively uneventful. But when I woke up on Sunday morning, I received an email telling me that my flight back to Boston that evening had been cancelled due to the snowstorm, and to call the airline to figure out my next steps. Unfortunately, this was a once-a-day route (not uncommon for Spirit), and the next day’s flight was completely sold out. I was told that I could either be placed on the Tuesday night flight, or receive a voucher for the cost of the flight.

Knowing that I had excellent travel insurance from booking the trip with my Citi Prestige card (as well as the fact that the few flights operating that day were absurdly expensive since everyone was trying to get home), I opted to be placed on the Tuesday flight (I also had smartly brought my work laptop with me and am able to work remotely, which I realize is not the case for everyone). However, I could have used this benefit to book an earlier flight, but given the chance that that too could be cancelled, as well as the prospect of going back to cold weather, I was not very inclined to do so.

I called Citi to advise them of my situation. They confirmed that it did indeed qualify (as I had paid for the flight with my Citi card and it was delayed more than 5 hours or cancelled), and let me know that I had up to $500 dollars in “immediate expenses” for lodging and food, with a total claim amount allowed up to $3,000, which I did not have to put on the same card.

This is very important. In order to be eligible, you must have paid for a portion of the airfare with the card that you have insurance with, it is not enough to just have the card. You do not have to pay for the actual expenses that you will submit for your claim.

I then proceeded to look up Marriott (my chain of choice for earning points) beachfront hotels in Myrtle Beach, and booked a two-night stay at the Marriott OceanWatch Villas at Grand Dunes for $250. It was aptly named, as I could indeed watch the ocean from my room:16649264_817023895974_8082171755378146430_n

I treated myself to a very nice dinner the first night at an excellent nearby gastropub, dining on duck confit nachos, pork belly, and corn creme brulee (sounds weird, tastes amazing):


Unfortunately things got very crazy with work the next two days so I didn’t have a chance to explore other restaurants, but thankfully the hotel restaurant was quite excellent, as you can see by the picture of the lobster Cobb salad further up.

The aftermath

After I got back, I then called Citi again to move forward with next steps, after which they proceeded to open up a claim for me, and gave me an email address to submit documentation to. I sent in receipts for the hotel stay, the restaurants, the Uber rides to and from the airports, the email notifying me of the cancellation, proof of the statement showing that I paid for the trip with my card, proof of the actual flight cancellation, and proof of my original and rebooked flight. I’m not sure if I needed to quite submit all of this, but several days later, I received an email letting me know I could expect a check in the mail for the amount I claimed.

But what if I don’t have this card?

I intentionally didn’t want to make this a post comparing the different travel insurance cards out there (as quite a lot of them already exist), but rather a firsthand account of why it’s useful to have travel insurance. I would highly encourage you to look at the policies on all your cards, and then use whichever card is most generous to pay for your flights moving forward. While most do not cover flight delays and cancellations like in my case, nearly all cards will cover you for if something happens to you on your trip, or you need to cancel your trip for an unavoidable reason. Again, while I’d encourage you to read up on the benefits of each one, a general rule of thumb is that the higher the annual fee is, the more benefits you’ll receive (after all, credit card companies can’t pay premiums to the insurance companies off interchange fees alone). In my case, the Citi Prestige, which has a $450 annual fee (which is reduced to $350 with a Citigold account and has a $250 airfare credit, essentially becoming $100), is considered to have some of the best coverage around, though you’ll also find similar coverage with the new Chase Sapphire Reserve ($450 fee, $300 travel credit).

Have a question or a good travel insurance-related story to share? Feel free to contact me or post in the comments below.

Unless you’re going somewhere with amazing public transit or walkability, it’s usually cheaper to rent a car on international trips

Unless you’re going somewhere with amazing public transit or walkability, it’s usually cheaper to rent a car on international trips

For some reason, Americans seem to have a strange aversion to renting cars in foreign countries. I am always shocked at how much people shell out for cabs and tours in foreign countries where the roads are just as good as the ones in the US (if not better), the drivers are as good (or better), and they still drive on the same side of the road.

Now, I get that for some people, traveling internationally is supposed to be a leisure activity where you let someone else do all the work and get away from your daily routine, which I could understand somewhat especially for people that drive many miles in traffic every day for their job. But is that really worth hundreds (if not thousands of dollars) more?

A prime example of this would be Iceland, where seemingly everyone you know has either gone recently or plans to go soon (and is a place which I love for its amazing hot springs). While admittedly going in March was before high season, I booked a car rental six weeks in advance for $215 USD for nine days, or roughly $24 per day. We literally drove around the entire island  (probably around 900 miles) and spent $267.51 on gas (and before you say, “It’s not that much cheaper since gas is so expensive in Europe,” remember that not only are the cars more fuel efficient, but the cabs and tours are proportionally more expensive too).

Given that most comparable guided tours are packages that include lodging, it’s impossible to know how much the transportation cost of a similar guided tour would be, but given that many are around $1400/person with lodging, it’s likely that even without lodging, it still far exceeds the $241 per person cost my friend and I spent on transportation.

Now, despite my constant pleadings to people to spend longer in Iceland and drive around the whole country, I realize a nine-day trip may be excessive for some people. Icelandair and WOW have been doing extremely well recently promoting their stopover fares, where someone can fly from the US to somewhere else in Europe and add on a multi-day (or single-day) stop in Iceland for no additional charge. Let’s look at a popular one-day itinerary of Reykjavik, Blue Lagoon, and the Golden Circle. This is roughly a 200 mile trip (including the return) from the airport, so in a rental car for $24/day that gets 40 miles per gallon with gas at $8 per gallon (just a guess), that’s $40 of gas or $64 total.

A tour from Reykjavik is $82 per person, but that doesn’t include the cost of getting to Reykjavik from the airport, which is an extra $39 per person by bus or $117 by cab. And this still doesn’t include the Blue Lagoon. Obviously, the cost savings are not as significant for a solo traveler, but with more people, the cost of the rental car and gas still stay the same; the tour and bus costs (calculated per person) do not.

But even putting cost aside, the other nice thing about renting a car is the “Ooh this looks really cool, let’s pull over!” factor which you can have when in a rental car. The cover photo from this post is from a recent trip I took to Sommarøy, Norway and I was so struck by how beautiful the bridge was that I had to stop. Or when I was driving around Iceland, I was struck by the beauty of all of the ponies on the side of the road:


You lose this aspect if you’re in a big group van where individual requests can’t always be accomodated.

But it doesn’t always make sense

As the title of this post notes, renting a car does not always make sense when traveling internationally. For one, there are certain countries which may restrict renting a car to citizens of that country (for example, China).

And in some, like Japan (where you can rent with an International Driving Permit), it doesn’t make any sense, given the amazing high-speed rail system that runs everywhere (as well as the amazing subways within urban areas).

In other countries with safety issues, it also may make sense to hire a driver in case you run into any sort of trouble. These countries also can sometimes be very unaffordable anyway due to high mandatory insurance costs.

But wait

But contrary to popular belief, one situation that should not deter you from renting a car is being in a country that drives on the other side of the road. There usually is no legal requirement in these countries to be from a country that also drives on the same side, and while it may feel weird at first, you can usually adapt in 15-20 minutes. And you never know what kind of animals you may encounter, as was the case with this baboon I ran into outside of Cape Town, South Africa:


This post took longer than expected to write and while I was originally going to also write about rental car insurance in this post, I think it’s best saved for another post.

But if you have any questions on the above, let me know!

All photos by Mark Ayoub.