Nearly too late on canceled shows, then ...

Consuming Interests

May 15, 2007|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,Sun Columnist

Sit tight. That's the advice Rick Wiles said he got when Baltimore-based Baci Management Inc. began canceling shows scheduled at the Lyric Opera House last year, leaving the 47-year-old city resident holding a season's worth of unusable tickets that cost $351.25.

It started with Casablanca vanishing in a fog in October, then On Golden Pond washing out in November.

At the time, Baci promised to replace both shows with Sweet Charity tickets at the Warner Theatre in Washington. So Wiles patiently waited.

But when Aida bit the dust in December and Sweet Charity was a no-show in February, Wiles knew the jig was up. He started calling Baci, which sold him the 2006-2007 season tickets, to get his money back.

It was too late.

Of all the theater production companies in all the towns to do business with, Wiles chose one that decided to file for bankruptcy in March. Again, Wiles was told to "sit tight" and maybe-possibly-if he's lucky he might be able to get some money back once the case winds its way through bankruptcy court in about a year.

"I sort of wrote it off," Wiles said. "I paid for six shows, I didn't get to see any of them. I just figured I'm never going to see that money again."

It's hard to say when it comes to bankruptcy filings. Wiles could wait some more and take his chances as a claimant as Baci is liquidated. There's no guarantee that you'll get all or even any of your money back by filing a claim. Any assets are used to pay back a long line of other creditors, too.

But there might be hope for hundreds of subscribers in this case.

Wiles, smart consumer that he is, used a credit card to purchase the tickets back in February 2006. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, consumers have the right to dispute charges on a credit-card bill for various reasons, including those relating to unauthorized charges, goods and services you didn't accept or weren't delivered as agreed, and mathematical errors, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Now under normal circumstances, consumers have 60 days to write their credit-card company to notify them of a dispute after receiving the billing statement that lists the charge in question.

But in the case of Baci subscribers, who paid ahead for shows that were supposed to take place at a later date, many credit-card companies might make an exception for the unusual circumstances. It's worth a try. You won't know for sure unless you call the toll-free number on the back of your card.

I got Wiles in touch with Chase Card Services, which issued his Visa.

We explained his situation in detail - the canceled shows, the broken promises of substitute shows, the bankruptcy filing and all his efforts to get his money back. (Wiles called Baci several times and wrote a letter without success.)

Wiles kept a paper trail of important details, such as: when he bought the tickets. the exact amount of the tickets; the exact dates of the shows; when Baci canceled the shows; the substitute shows that Baci promised him that were also canceled. Chase wanted all those details to process his dispute.

Within a week, Chase notified Wiles that it was crediting the $351.25 back to his Visa while the dispute was being investigated.

"They said they have to contact Baci and give them 45 days to respond," Wiles said. "If there is no response from Baci, Chase said it becomes a permanent credit on my account. They're sending me a letter to explain all the details. That's kind of cool. ... It didn't even occur to me to take this up with the credit-card company."

Chase Card Services spokesman Paul Hartwick urged other subscribers to call if they're having similar problems.

"We're quite proud of our dispute-by-phone process," Hartwick said. "We do everything we can to make sure the person gets the product they were supposed to get or we remove the charge. It can depend on the specific details, but ultimately, we want to do the right thing by the customer."

If you're fortunate enough to have a premium card that offers some sort of event ticket protection plan - gold, platinum and Centurion cardholders at American Express have this benefit, for example - you won't have to file a dispute. In most cases, the benefit is insurance that you'll get your money back if something goes wrong.

Calls to the other credit-card companies found similar responses.

MasterCard spokeswoman Barbara Coleman suggested that cardholders contact the bank that issued the card. Issuing banks are responsible for setting annual percentage rates, setting annual fees, reward programs and managing relationships between consumers and merchants.

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