How to Refund Nearly Every Regrettable Purchase You Ever Make
Here’s what you need to know about returning anything from fake Yeezys to a plane ticket you just paid for—no matter what.
Illustration by Lia Kantrowitz
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Found maggots in your mangos? Realized the Yeezys you paid hundreds of dollars for were fakes? Or maybe that $1 tip you typed into the tablet at the bakery somehow turned into a $100 charge—causing a minor panic attack when you glanced at your credit card bill a few days later.
Yikes. Before you eat the cost (but please not the bug-ridden mangos) and chalk it up to bad luck, take a moment to figure out how to get your money back. In many cases, it’s as simple as speaking up and asking the merchant for a refund.
That’s what Kelly Delehanty did after buying some dried organic mango slices from the bulk bin at a Whole Foods in Kailua, Hawaii in September. When she reached for the bag a few days later, “something caught my eye, so I looked and sure enough there were maggots in the bag,” she said. After calling the store to let them know, she was able to get a full refund of $9.88—no receipt required.
While Whole Foods promptly refunded Delehanty’s money, it’s not always that easy to get your money back. That’s when it’s time to get more creative and use every resource you have—from initiating a credit card dispute to calling out the vendor on social media—to make things right.
Here’s how to get your money back on absolutely anything:
Find out the return policy before you pay
Before you buy anything, ask about the return policy to avoid any unpleasant surprises later. Here are some general guidelines for products and services:
Retailers: Return periods of 15 to 30 days are typical, but many retailers will extend that to up to 60 days during the holidays, including Amazon and TJ Maxx. Other stores—including Bloomingdales, REI, and Zappos—have generous return policies of 365 days all year round, while others have lifetime returns, including Athleta, Bath & Body Works, Costco, CVS, Eddie Bauer, Land’s End, and Osprey, among other brands. The grocery chain Trader Joe’s is famous for taking back just about anything, no questions asked.
Travel: You can get your money back on domestic flights if you cancel within 24 hours after you book the ticket. And you typically have up until three days before a hotel reservation begins to cancel without penalty. You don’t even have to cancel a rental car reservation to avoid getting charged, so long as you didn’t prepay. We’ve returned unused bus tickets as well by returning them within 90 days.
Other: Things get trickier with concert tickets, where you can only get a refund with StubHub for example if your event is cancelled altogether, but you can always try to resell it on your own. And if you love to shop on eBay, you’re in luck too as the company will refund you for items never received or not as described so long as you notify them within 30 days. For anything else, just ask and you may be pleasantly surprised by how much time you have to make returns.
Proof of purchase goes a long way
It’s hard to get your money back if you can’t prove you bought something in the first place. Have the receipt emailed to you, snap a photo of it with your phone or stash paper receipts in an envelope when you get home. If you bought something for someone else, “request a gift receipt to make it easier for the recipient to return the item,” retail expert Trae Bodge says.
Even if you lost the receipt, often you can still make the return. Amazon keeps a record of all your receipts along with your purchases, for example. You can also bring in a copy of your bank or credit card statement as proof of purchase. And as was the case with Delehanty’s maggot-infested mangos, the store was able to verify the purchase when she gave them the date she made it, even without any proof on her end.
Be strategic with in-store returns
When you go to the store to make a return, whether it is a half-eaten jar of Nutella or a shirt that just isn’t the right shade of pink, remain calm and polite no matter how annoyed you may feel. “The employee may have the power to make your return happen [or not] and can be more generous,” Bodge says. “And if they are tired or feeling crabby, your kindness and being polite can take you a long way.”
If you don’t get what you want, ask to speak to a manager who might have more leeway with authorizing returns outside the standard store policy. “Always be nice when asking for the manager,” Bodge says. “If you are getting angry and pounding your fists on the counter, that reaction is going to be relayed to the manager, which isn’t going to help your case.
Your success in returning an item outside the official return policy often comes down to your approach. Try saying, “I know that I'm outside the return window and I'm so sorry about that,” Bodge says. Then add, “I hope that you can still accommodate me." If pressed, calmly explain why you think an exception should be made, whether it’s because the tags are still on the item or it’s defective in some way. Appealing to the seller’s kindness always works better than backing them into a corner with demands.
Use this secret weapon
If the retailer won’t issue the refund, find out out if there is a manufacturer’s warranty. Many manufacturers stand by their products much longer than the standard 30-day return window. For example, if you buy an All-Clad pan at Bed, Bath & Beyond, you have a year to return it to the store. But All-Clad has a lifetime warranty for its cookware, so you can get a replacement pan directly from them.
Warranties are your ace in the hole and are available for all kinds of items you might not expect, from Adidas backpacks to refurbished iPhones. And some of the best warranties of all are for big-ticket items like cars, home appliances, and power tools. So before you give up on getting your money back, always check the warranty.
Get money back for shoddy services too
Your Lyft never showed up but you got billed anyway? Let them know and you could very well get refunded:
Tweeting or posting negative reviews can often rapidly resolve your issue because no company wants a bad public reputation. Complaining on social media works especially well with restaurants that depend on high ratings on sites like Yelp for business. In some cases, the managers will email you directly to resolve the problem and may even offer to refund part or all of your bill.
Get your credit card company involved
If you have more patience to resolve an issue, you can always take it up with your card issuer. The easiest way is to initiate a dispute on the card’s website, but you can also call or send a letter by certified mail within 60 days of making the purchase. Here’s a sample letter template you can use if you choose the snail mail route.
Disputing a debit card charge works similarly. “As long as the customer provides notice within 60 days to dispute the transaction, we can file a dispute directly with the merchant,” says Anand Talwar, a deposits and consumer strategy executive at Ally Bank.
Believe it or not, in some cases you can even get your card issuer to accept an unwanted item, so long as it is in new condition. “If you’ve hung onto something too long and it is past the time you can make a return, call your credit card issuer to see if they’ll take it,” says Matt Schulz, chief industry analyst at CompareCards. “There may be some stipulations and paperwork, but it is worth seeing if the issuer will take the item off your hands.”
Get your money back for credit card late fees
“If you want to have a late fee waived, you often don’t have to do anything more than call up and ask,” Schulz says. “That’s especially true if this is your first time being late in a long time. Your chances of getting the fee waived are likely better if you have good credit and a long track record with that card issuer, but it’s clear that even folks with imperfect credit are getting these fees removed.” Nine out of ten people who ask for late fee waiver on a When it comes to credit cards get one, he added.
“What it comes down to is that the credit card space is so ridiculously competitive that banks have to be willing to work with customers or risk losing them to other offers,” Schulz says. “That means that you have much more power with your credit card issuer than you realize, you just need to be willing to wield it.”
Fight back on bloated medical bills
You can get money back on doctor’s bills too if you play your cards right. To avoid being overcharged, don’t wait until you get the bill. Take notes during or after the appointment on exactly which procedures you had and how long they lasted. When the bill arrives—usually months later—compare your notes to what’s written down and dispute any discrepancies in writing to create a paper trail.
“If your protest is about a doctor’s charge, send a copy to his national specialty society (for example, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons or the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons),” Elisabeth Rosenthal, Editor-in-Chief of Kaiser Health News wrote on Medium. “These societies care about professional reputation and can sanction doctors for outrageous charges.” As long as you speak up, you’ll have a much better chance of getting the results you want.
Resell anything you can’t return
When all else fails, consider reselling items you bought online, whether it’s a concert ticket or a pair of shoes your bought on eBay that didn’t fit quite right:
While you may not get the same amount of money back as you paid for it, you’ll almost certainly get something—and that’s always better than nothing.
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