Fyre Festival taught us many things. Among them: always bring your own snacks, be wary of events marketed with a combination of Bahamian pigs and influencer supermodels, and—perhaps most usefully—always book with a credit card.
Credit cards often get a bad rap because they are associated with profligate spending that can quickly get people into debt. That certainly can be true. But when used prudently—that means using it to pay for things you’d already be buying and paying it off in full each month before you’re charged interest—they have myriad benefits over debit cards. A lesser-known of these is helping you get money back when things go awry.
As first noted by The Points Guy, Fyre Festival attendees who booked their nightmare getaway on credit rather than debit are in a much better position for getting their money back. While the Fyre website still has an application form to request a refund, refunds have reportedly not happened. At least one attendee, in an AMA on Reddit, reported success with their credit card company. That’s because credit card holders are generally entitled to a refund for products or services that were faulty, damaged, not as advertised, or never came to pass. (If you’ve watched either one of two documentaries about Fyre, you know the festival could qualify as all four.)
This privilege is due to consumer protection laws as well as a slew of perks that credit card companies use to market their cards. In the US, the Fair Credit Billing Act entitles you to dispute charges if you have a justifiable complaint about their poor quality—as well as evidence to support it. Furthermore, card perks like purchase protection, returns protection, and price protection are often offered by higher-end cards (often those with an annual fee) to lure customers. Other countries have similar laws—the UK’s protects you up to £30,000—but given Americans’ affinity for plastic, the perks offered by US cards tend to be more robust.
Generally, to make a claim you need to first attempt a refund with the merchant who sold you the bill of goods. When that fails, you can go forth with the card company. Ted Rossman, an industry analyst from creditcards.com, told Quartz that you should be prepared to make your case.
“Certainly some cards are going to be more generous than others,” he said. “You should expect some back and forth in the case of when you call up… you’re gonna have to dig up the receipt, send proof of the damage. They don’t [always] make it as easy as they could or should.”
But ultimately, he said, with persistence and knowing what perks your card entitles you to, you are far more likely to see your money again booking on credit.
The same applies for all kinds of travel bookings. Airlines, for better or for worse, ”only stop flying when cash runs out.” That means that ones with imperiled financial futures don’t always stop taking bookings even when it seems prudent to do so. In October of last year, the low-cost carrier Primera filed for bankruptcy. Passengers were left with booked flights they had paid for that were simply not going to fly. As Quartz noted at the time, virtually the only recourse they had was to appeal to their credit card companies or travel insurance.
So who is actually footing the bill of Fyre’s fraud? Rossman said it varies by case, but that the most important thing is it’s not the consumer’s problem. “Card companies will generally try to get the merchant to make good on this, then if they can’t, the card issuer itself will eat this—it’s kind of a customer retention strategy.”