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Events canceled due to coronavirus: How to get your money back

Months into the pandemic, many consumers are still waiting on refunds for events that have been canceled or are in limbo

Summary

COVID-19 has forced the cancellation of a number of upcoming events. You stand the highest chance of getting a refund if you paid for your tickets or booked travel with a credit card, though that might lead to consequences from the ticket seller. Here are some tips.

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The spread of COVID-19 has forced the cancellation of a tremendous number of upcoming events.

This encompasses everything from major sports to music festivals to business conferences and Broadway shows. In these unprecedented times, how is a ticket holder supposed to get his or her money back?

Many major sellers are promising automatic refunds for canceled events – including Ticketmaster and Telecharge. You should wait a billing cycle or two, and if you still haven’t seen the charges reversed on whichever card you used, I recommend contacting the ticket seller at that point.

If you paid with cash, I expect you’ll need to deal with the box office directly (or wherever else you bought the tickets).

StubHub made a controversial change to its policy and is not currently giving actual money back for events canceled due to COVID-19. Instead, it’s offering a future ticket credit worth 120% of the purchase price. Many customers are upset, and multiple class action lawsuits are pending.

See related: Credit card issuers offer cardholders relief amid coronavirus fears

Coronavirus effect: Postponed vs. canceled event

There’s a big distinction, however, between a postponed and a canceled event. If the event has been rescheduled and not completely called off, then you probably won’t get an automatic refund. Instead, your ticket will be valid for the new date, if and when there is one.

For months, thousands of NBA, NHL and MLB games scheduled for the spring fell into this category. They didn’t happen as planned, but for a long time, there was hope they would be rescheduled.

Recently, the NBA and NHL announced that their 2019-2020 regular seasons will not resume, which should have released a flood of refunds. Both leagues are hoping to complete their playoffs at some point, likely at centralized venues without fans in attendance.

Major League Baseball is also hoping to start back up soon without fans. Refunds are being handled by the individual teams, and the policies vary.

The Boston Red Sox, for example, are being very generous. They are letting all 2020 ticket holders choose between a cash refund or a future ticket credit. Other teams, like the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees, are only providing relief for games scheduled through May and June, respectively. And the Dodgers and Yankees are both making it easier to receive future credits than monetary refunds.

There’s also a potential domino effect that extends well beyond the event ticket. Festivals such as South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, and Coachella in Southern California are good examples because many ticket holders also bought flights to get them to the event and lodging to house them throughout their stay. Airlines and hotels have generally been forgiving, but Airbnb initially refused many refund requests.

It seems like that changed with respect to Coachella; it fit Airbnb’s extenuating circumstances policy after a public health emergency was declared in that part of Southern California.

But many prospective South by Southwest attendees didn’t appear to get Airbnb refunds. This is a classic instance in which I’d advise polite but persistent action. Try asking the Airbnb host, Airbnb itself and then your card issuer for a refund.

For what it’s worth, SXSW also refused to issue ticket refunds after its cancellation, instead deferring admission to one of the next three years with a 50% discount in one of the other two years. Coachella initially postponed its event until October and offered refunds for ticket holders who were unable or unwilling to attend on the new dates.

That’s a generous policy that Live Nation, Ticketmaster’s parent company, also adopted after numerous complaints. It helps when there’s a new date on the calendar, but not when the event’s fate is undecided. Coachella later decided to scrap its 2020 event entirely and is now offering a refund or ticket exchange for 2021.

How to get a refund if you paid with a credit card

This is a good reminder, for current and future reference, that credit cards usually have more generous fraud and dispute resolution protections than debit cards.

Part of that is because credit card charges are really the bank’s money – a line of credit – until you pay them back. Whereas with a debit card, it’s your money taken directly from your checking account. So pick your metaphor with a debit card (it’s hard to get that toothpaste back into the tube, the horse back into the barn … you get the idea).

Normally, the best advice with a billing problem is to start with the merchant and file a dispute with your credit or debit card issuer if you’re still not satisfied. With event tickets, however, you should know that StubHub and Ticketmaster can ban you from their platforms if you file a chargeback. If you can afford to wait until the event organizer makes a decision, you’re better off waiting than filing a chargeback.

In May I wrote about a hockey fan who got a cash refund from his credit card company rather than StubHub’s site credit, but that got him kicked off the site. He felt it was a trade-off worth making, but others might disagree.

See related: ‘COVID surcharges’ are spreading, and consumers aren’t happy

What to do if you encounter long wait times

People are reporting long wait times when they try to call ticket sellers, airlines and credit card companies. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Determine if you even need to resolve this right now. If you can wait a few days or weeks, the problem may take care of itself (the refund may be processed automatically, the postponement procedure may become clearer, etc.). Or at least the wait time to speak with someone will hopefully be shorter in the not-so-distant future.
  2. If you require an immediate response, try other channels in addition to the phone. If the company you’re trying to reach has an online chat function, try that. Same for email, Twitter, Facebook and so on.
  3. You can get really creative by trying to find an international customer service phone number. No guarantees this will work, but especially with airlines, it can. Foreign-language reps typically speak English and can assist you, potentially after a much shorter hold time.

Have a question about credit cards? Email me at ted.rossman@creditcards.com and I’d be happy to help.

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The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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