December 1, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Column: Getting Olympics tickets refunded shouldn’t be like running a marathon

Mary Olmos had no difficulty obtaining refunds for Lakers games, Los Angeles Philharmonic concerts and other events that were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But getting all her money back for the yet-to-be-held 2020 Tokyo Olympics has been like running a marathon.

And the Upland resident is starting to wonder if she’ll ever reach the finish line.

“It’s infuriating,” Olmos, 51, told me. “It’s not like we’re new to the ticketing game. It’s standard practice to give refunds when something is canceled.”

Except during the worst public-health crisis of our lifetimes.

A number of industries — airlines, cruise ships, hotels, insurers — have demonstrated deep reluctance to give people their money back amid widespread cancellations and changes to consumer behavior.

Rather, many have preferred to keep the cash and offer credits for future bookings or transactions.

Olmos, and apparently a number of other people, are finding that a New Jersey company called CoSport, which is the main U.S. purveyor of Olympics tickets, would prefer to keep 25% of some package deals.

“How can you withhold 25% for something that did not happen?” Olmos asked. “How is that fair?”

No one at CoSport responded to my calls and emails. I left a message on the direct line of the company’s president, Robert Long. He didn’t respond either.

But CoSport customers haven’t been quiet about their frustration regarding refunds, particularly with a rescheduled Olympics this summer still uncertain — and reports this week that foreign visitors could be barred from attending.

I found many anguished and angry posts on Reddit and the website of the Better Business Bureau.

“Is there any chance I’ll ever be able to get a refund?” one Reddit user asked. “I know for a fact I won’t be attending for health concerns and I spent a ton of money on tickets.”

Olmos paid nearly $5,400 in December 2019 so she, her husband and their teenage son could watch the U.S. men’s basketball team play at the Tokyo Olympics.

The purchase included a “hospitality package” that featured meals, beverages and increased access to the venue.

“We only have one kid,” Olmos told me. “It was a splurge.”

Then came COVID and the postponement of the Games. Olmos and her husband decided last year it would be better to call off the trip.

American Airlines promptly refunded the cash and points they used for airfare. American Express, through which they purchased hotel bookings, refunded the full amount of almost $4,000 — “no questions asked,” said Olmos.

CoSport was a different matter.

The company emailed Olmos and other customers last March to say that “CoSport Tokyo 2020 purchases will be honored at the Games in 2021.” The email included no mention of refunds.

In July, the company emailed again to say the Olympics had been tentatively rescheduled for summer of 2021. It said tickets for the event “can be cancelled upon your request if you will not be able to attend the session on the newly scheduled date.”

Olmos submitted her refund request. CoSport acknowledged her decision by email and said a “release form” would follow.

The form was emailed in late August. It gave recipients just a few days to respond. “If not received by this date,” it warned, “refunds will be voided and will not be processed.”

The release form Olmos received stipulated that she agrees to “forever discharge and release CoSport and its affiliates from any and all claims arising out of or in connection with your order.” In other words, you may have difficulty suing.

Three months later, no refund. Olmos asked when her money would be returned. CoSport said by email it appreciated her patience.

January of this year arrived. Olmos once again inquired about her refund. CoSport said it’s being processed.

Last week she received an email saying a refund of $4,018.50 had been issued to her credit card — well below the $5,400 she spent on tickets and the hospitality package.

Olmos called the company and asked a service rep about the discrepancy. The rep said Olmos had been sent the wrong release form last summer and sent her a new one, backdated to August 2020.

Unlike the first release form, this one specified she would receive just 75% of the order value.

It also said that Olmos must abide by “any terms listed in CoSport’s terms and conditions which you agreed to when purchasing the tickets.”

But that’s another curve ball. These are no longer the terms Olmos accepted when she made her purchase in 2019. The most recent update was effective Feb. 17.

The terms now include several options for customers who want to cancel their bookings.

They can agree to a full credit for any future Olympics, such as the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing or the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles.

Or — and this is the very last line of the sea of fine print — customers can cancel their booking “and be refunded 75% of its full value.” (A third alternative involving CoSport reselling unwanted tickets expired in January.)

The cancellation provision is listed as “Special Circumstances due to Tokyo 2020 Postponement,” which did not occur until March 2020.

It’s not clear when this language was inserted, but it certainly wouldn’t have been in the company’s contract when Olmos bought her tickets months before the postponement.

“They moved the goal posts,” she told me.

Olmos isn’t sure what to do. Should she take a reduced amount and agree to never hold CoSport accountable for withholding some of her money? Or should she forgo a partial refund and keep her options open in the event of a possible class-action lawsuit?

A partial refund seems inadequate under the circumstances — ticketholders aren’t responsible for the Olympics being rescheduled. I’m a believer in fighting for what’s right.

That said, CoSport, with its carefully worded release forms, appears ready to battle to keep some of people’s payments. Such legal cases can take years to resolve.

Olmos and other CoSport customers need to decide for themselves how they want to proceed. All I can say is that, if I were in their shoes, I’d probably (reluctantly) take the partial refund and move on with my life.

Is that fair? No, clearly not. But the outcome of any lawsuit would be uncertain, and lawyers would claim a portion — perhaps as much as a third — of any settlement.

Olmos said she isn’t ready to wave a white flag. She said her next move is to see if CoSport will refund the $4,018, as promised, and also provide a credit for a future event to the tune of the $1,400 it isn’t giving back.

That strikes me as a decent compromise. Will CoSport agree?

Based on the available evidence, I see no reason to expect gold-medal behavior from these guys.