The Debt Panel: 'Why won't a hotel lift a $2,000 block on my credit card?'

An Abu Dhabi reader is seeking advice on how to get a refund for a deposit holding charge made by a hotel in Turkey

Hotels often make mistakes with billing but there are some steps a customer can take. Talib Jariwala / Getty
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I went on a holiday to Turkey last month. The hotel asked for my credit card details to block a certain amount of money to cover my expenses, if any.

The amount blocked was $2,000 as it was a four-star hotel and I stayed there for a fortnight.

Upon check out, the receptionist assured me that the blocked amount would be refunded to my bank account in a week’s time. There were no additional charges that needed to be paid to cover my stay.

However, the hotel has not refunded the amount and it was reflected on my credit card statement in the last billing cycle.

I have tried reaching out to the hotel, but am unable to get through to an employee who speaks English. Emails to their customer care department have also been unanswered.

I tried reaching out to my bank as well, but they asked me to contact the merchant to reverse the charges.

I don’t want to pay this amount as I did not spend it. But if I don’t pay, then I will incur interest for not paying the entire credit card bill. Please help me. KV, Abu Dhabi

Debt panellist 1: Steve Cronin, founder of DeadSimpleSaving.com

This amount is called an “incidentals deposit” and is a standard feature when checking in to a hotel.

When using a credit card, a “hold” is placed on your card for the deposit amount.

This means your card is not charged (even though you may receive an SMS notification that looks like a purchase), but the available balance on your card is reduced accordingly.

It’s much better to use a credit card for hotel deposits, as a debit card will actually take money out of your current account.

In your case, the hotel seems to have billed your card rather than blocking the deposit amount.

Hotels often make mistakes with billing. There are a few steps you can take, but you should also resign yourself to some frustration along the way.

Given $2,000 is not a trivial amount, I would first try to find a Turkish speaker to help you.

There are many in the UAE and they would probably help you for free, or you could even pay them a percentage of the disputed amount.

You may find the hotel isn’t being malicious or incompetent. You may also find that they have removed the hold or reversed the billing, but it hasn’t shown on your credit card account yet.

You should email them in Turkish and also try to call them, as time is of the essence.

If they refuse to co-operate, you can leave the hotel a negative review (in Turkish and English) on various review websites and social media pages, in the hope that the hotel contacts you and they change their mind.

The shops at Yalikavak Marina in Bodrum. Turkey is a popular holiday destination. Wikimedia Commons

You could also report them to the Turkish police, which should get their attention, but would be logistically difficult for you in reality.

There are a number of large companies in the payments chain that can potentially exert more pressure on the hotel than you can.

If you booked the hotel through a booking site or travel agent, you can complain to them — such sites can be quite helpful and usually back the individual over the hotel.

This is more true for international sites than for smaller, single-country ones.

Your card issuer (the bank) will want you to resolve this issue with the merchant first, but if you can prove they are not co-operating (not speaking English is not really evidence of this) then the bank may step in.

You can then claim the transaction is fraudulent and demand a chargeback.

Keep your original receipt for the chargeback and hotel bill on checkout so that you have evidence.

You would submit your initial complaint to your bank within 30 days of the charge date on your card statement, although it helps that you have flagged the problem already.

Debt panellist 2: Carol Glynn, founder of Conscious Finance Coaching

What a frustrating situation to find yourself in.

Having the charge reversed by the hotel is the easiest and fastest way to get your money back.

I would suggest persevering with the hotel. Do you have a Turkish-speaking friend who can translate your emails into Turkish for you?

It would also be helpful to have a Turkish speaker call the hotel on your behalf to explain the situation and request a refund.

Is the hotel part of an international chain? You could also escalate the issue to the hotel's international management team.

Quote
Keep your original receipt for the chargeback and hotel bill on checkout so that you have evidence
Steve Cronin, founder of DeadSimpleSaving.com

If the hotel continues to ignore your request, you may need to raise a police case against the hotel as, unfortunately, the bank's processes tend to consider this a transaction approved by you.

I would suggest contacting your bank again and declaring the transaction as fraudulent and raising a complaint on this basis.

Check the customer service section of your bank's website for guidance on how to do this, relevant links or email addresses.

Keep a detailed record of all attempted communications with the hotel, receipts from your stay and any other relevant information relating to your interactions with the hotel.

If you cannot resolve the issue with either your bank or the hotel, you can raise a case with the UAE Central Bank.

You need to wait 30 calendar days after you raise a formal complaint with your bank before you can raise a case with the central bank.

Debt panellist 3: Felicity Glover, personal finance editor at 'The National'

I am sorry to hear that your holiday has left you with a frustrating financial issue to sort out.

Hotels typically put a “hold” on a guest's credit card to pay for incidentals, such as minibar charges, room service and potential damage to a room.

The time frame for the hold is based on how long you are staying and is usually lifted a day or two after checkout but this can take up to a week or so.

It is important to remember that when the hold is authorised, that money is no longer available to use while you are on holiday, so always ensure that you have included this charge in your spending budget.

From my research into your issue, it is possible that the hotel may be not the problem. Instead, the delay in lifting the hold could originate with the card issuer — in this case, either Visa or MasterCard.

It is worth checking with your bank if this scenario is possible and asking the agent to contact the card issuer to find out if this is the cause of the delay.

The Debt Panel is a weekly column to help readers tackle their debts more effectively. If you have a question for the panel, write to pf@thenational.ae

Updated: October 13, 2022, 5:00 AM
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