June 3, 2020

Who Owes You a Refund? Should You Even Ask?

The policy, though, still rings a bit hollow. Vrbo seems to want consumers to treat all hosts as struggling entrepreneurs. For some, the rental property may be their only source of income — and the company’s policy works reasonably well for them. But many other hosts are making extra money off the second home that they could already afford.

No traveler who is struggling wants to be on the hook for the income stream of someone else who owns a spare property somewhere pretty. If a refund is on offer, don’t feel bad taking it if you can’t make a trip or now don’t think it’s wise. (Airbnb, for what it’s worth, refunded all money to travelers in similar situations.)

Then there are more painful choices.

For some businesses — like summer camps, day care centers and after-school programs — your decision on whether to seek a refund will be crucial. And if you don’t get a refund, you’re taking a risk: If these establishments go under before you’ve used whatever credit they’ve offered you, you’re not going to get a cent unless you line up in bankruptcy court with the other creditors.

A note arrived recently in the inboxes of parents planning to send their children to French Woods Festival of the Performing Arts, a camp in New York’s Catskill Mountains. It said families would receive a nonrefundable credit toward camp in 2021 if the state kept the camp from opening or if it opened late and families couldn’t attend a later session. It also mentioned the possibility that some insurance would kick in and provide partial refunds.

In the normal course of events, many people do not like to hear the word “nonrefundable” when an entity seems to want to hold on to thousands of your dollars and then wait a year to give you the service that you paid for, when you may not want or need it anymore. And how are you supposed to pay for alternative programming or care this summer in the meantime? That was the opinion of the parent who sent the note my way.

When I spoke to Ron Schaefer, the founder of French Woods, he expressed exasperation at first. The camp’s intent, he said, is to give refunds to any family that wants one, once it has funds available. Cash flow is tricky for camps, especially right now, when they’re spending money to prepare for an opening that may not happen.

Mr. Schaefer, who has been at this in one form or another for over 50 years, then answered the question that I hadn’t really wanted to ask: How many refund requests would put French Woods out of business if it didn’t operate at all this summer? He said that if 70 percent or 80 percent of families requested a refund — and some already have — that would probably do it.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/18/your-money/coronavirus-refunds.html

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