When you spend your hard-earned money on a product or service, you expect a certain level of quality — and when that quality falls short of expectations, it's not unreasonable to think you're entitled to a refund. But not every situation qualifies. So when should you stand your ground for your money back, and when should cut your losses? Take a look at these nine times you should demand a refund — ever so politely, of course.
1. Departure Taxes on an Unused Flight
I once booked a European vacation around the holidays that was supposed to stop in London, Dublin, and Paris, but the last leg of the trip was cancelled due to "weather conditions" according to the evil discount airline that shall remain nameless. The airline offered to fly my friends and I to Rome as penance — which was a nice offer in theory, except we couldn't fly on the dates they suggested — so my flight was essentially a loss since the airline wasn't responsible for acts of God, which, in this case, was fog. I was young and dumb and just accepted the decision.
Maybe that wouldn't have happened if I were friendly with Kyle Stewart, travel editor at UPGRD, at the time. He experienced a similar situation, but walked away a little less broke than I did.
"We had found a very cheap flight to and from London, but once we were abroad we had to make a change and book an alternative separate flight home," he says about his one-time travel plans. "Our tickets were non-refundable, but it is unlawful for the carrier to keep revenue they collect for 'taxes' if you do not actually fly the route. The U.K. has a steep departure tax of nearly $250 each on flights leaving the United Kingdom. Because we did not fly those routes but had paid for the taxes, even on a non-refundable ticket we were able to get the departure tax refunded which nearly paid for our alternative transportation home."
2. Anything Unsanitary or Unsavory in Your Food
There are a lot of gross things I can deal with — my friends would love to tell you the story about the time I ate an ancient corn chip off the carpet in high school for a dollar — but as I've evolved out of being an idiot, hair or other yuck in my food isn't one of them. It's hard enough to eat out these days just thinking about the various "things" in my food that I can't see, so you better believe if there's visible, physical evidence of my gag reflex, I'd like my money back, please. And another, fresh meal. I'm willing to give it another go since I understand that accidents happen and I'm usually too hungry to have to start the restaurant search all over again.
3. Items That Break Too Soon
If you've recently purchased an item and it breaks unreasonably soon under normal use — I'd say less than 90 days, for most things — take it back to the store for a replacement or a refund. I tend not to buy the same junk twice in a row, so typically I'd just like my money back so I can avoid this problem a second time. This is a situation where store associates and managers like to give you a hard time — "How do I know how it broke?" — but don't let them beat you. Stay strong and stage a sit-in to get what you're owed if you have to.
4. Groceries That Are Spoiled, Rotten, or Stale
I think this is a situation where Americans as a collective lose tons of money, but one that is considered perfectly valid refund territory. I would be willing to bet than more times than not when the average supermarket shopper realizes they have a spoiled, rotten, or stale item when they're already home, they just throw it out. What's a few bucks, they think. Plus, they'd have to get back in the car, go back to the store, speak to the manager, blahblahblah. All worth it in my book. Food isn't cheap, and this is America; we shouldn't expect anything less than the highest quality food for which we're paying.
5. Goods That Aren't as Advertised
False advertising is against the law for a reason: You can't trick people into thinking they're getting one thing and then sell them something else. This goes for anything: from kids' toys to electronics to power tools. If the item said it was going to perform a certain way and it fell short of that promise, you deserve a refund.
6. Services That Aren't Performed as Promised
It's not just tangible goods that can fall short of expectations; services, like hair and nail salons, auto body shops, and dog grooming facilities can too. I take services that aren't performed as promised seriously because it's an active-engagement situation, and as an entrepreneur myself I recognize the importance of providing the very best service possible — and when that's not possible, apologizing and doing whatever I can to make amends. Good costumer service is key, and I expect you to recognize that without putting up a fight if I'm being perfectly reasonable.
7. Erroneous Charges on Your Bill
Mark my words here: This happens ALL the time. From your cell phone bill to you Internet bill to your doctor's bill, there are sometimes strange charges that shouldn't be there. Most of the time they're mistakes, but I'm also not naïve enough to think that the provider isn't sometimes trying to get one over on you, thinking you won't read the bill closely enough or that the fee they're overcharging is so low you won't waste your time fighting it. Read your bills closely and make sure every charge is accounted for.
8. One-Time Late Fees if You're a Loyal Customer
Just hours before I started writing this post, I called J. Crew to dispute a late fee on my bill. I didn't receive the bill in time as it arrived at my other home, so I missed the payment due date. Because I'm a very loyal customer to J. Crew, and I always pay my bill in full each cycle, I called to kindly request that the late fees be waived for this circumstance. The customer service agent was perfectly willing to do it, and it saved me $50.
9. Hotel Rooms That Aren't Sufficiently Clean
I stayed in a Red Roof Inn once that had not one but two bugs in it (not the bed variety, thank God); a hair on the towel; and no cold water in the sink, only boiling hot. I sent a message through the customer service portal on the hotel's website asking for a refund but my claim was dismissed. I stayed at the same hotel a week later and coincidentally they gave me the exact same room with the exact same issues, just no bugs this time. Again I requested a refund. I got a credit for a free night's stay – which is sort of moot, because why would I go back there after they failed me twice? – but it's better than nothing from a company that obviously doesn't put much stock in customer service.
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