Some travel agents are trying to charge ‘admin’ fees of up to £125 per person to process refunds, while confusing customers with multiple unhelpful options about how to claim.
Passengers with flight-only bookings from an EU airport, or with an EU airline, that have been cancelled as a result of the pandemic are due a refund – under the Denied Boarding Regulation. The airlines should refund them within seven days.
Despite this many passengers due hundreds, and even thousands of pounds, could have been seriously misled by confusing or incorrect information supplied by travel agents about their rights. And others have been charged a fee to claim a refund, with no guarantee of success.
One company – Perfect Holidays – has even tried to charge to refund a package holiday. This is a clear violation of the Package Travel Regulations, which specify travellers are entitled to a full refund.
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Perfect Holidays tries to charge unlawful fee
A customer of Perfect Holidays had his package holiday to Florida on 15 May cancelled. He was told he would have to pay £125 per person – £375 in total – to get a refund. Even then it would take up to eight weeks to arrive.
But according to the Package Travel Regulations, Perfect Holidays is responsible for refunding him in full. They are not allowed to charge him a fee.
Only when we contacted Perfect Holidays did it agree to refund him without a fee. It blamed its initial response on the fact that it had not received a refund from his airline, Virgin Atlantic.
Gotogate email means passengers lose out
Twenty-year-old Rose Nutley saved up and borrowed money from her grandmother for a £787 trip to Japan with her younger sister. But her Air China trip on 22 May had not even been cancelled when she received an email from the travel agent, Gotogate, to say her ‘flights had been affected’ by COVID-19.
It said she needed to reschedule or cancel her tickets – but doing either would have meant she could have lost her right to a full refund when they were eventually cancelled by carrier, Air China.
Even worse, the email gave her just 24-hours to respond. This seems to be an attempt to pressure her into what would have been the wrong decision. At that point she didn’t need to do anything at all. Misleading consumers is prohibited by UK and EU consumer law.
Gotogate’s own terms and conditions state that the customers’ contract is with the airline – and its website makes clear that you do not need to use its services to get a refund at all.
The agent does offer to assist passengers – for a €30 fee and although this is only payable if it’s successful it makes clear that it could take months.
Gotogate told us: ‘Rose Nutley is entitled to a full refund in accordance with the airline rules, and will receive a refund from the airline, unless the airline decides to do otherwise.’
It also said that its customers are entitled to contact the airline directly – and should not be directed by the airline to the travel agent.
It apologised for the email Rose was sent and said it has since changed its communications and removed the 24-hour deadline.
It added: ‘The situation at hand is difficult. A large number of airlines refer consumers to the travel agency for assistance, a conduct that deviates from the EU Regulation 261/2004.’
Kiwi offers ‘instant refund’ – that’s just partial credit
Daniel Pealing booked flights from Liverpool to Ibiza on 7 May for £340 with Kiwi.com, in three separate legs.
The second leg from Madrid to Ibiza with Ryanair was cancelled first, making his trip impossible.
But instead of refunding him his £340, Kiwi emailed him with a confusing list of suggestions for what he could do instead.
These included booking a new flight from Madrid to Ibiza – even though it was only a matter of time before his flight from the UK to Spain was also cancelled.
Or, it suggested, he could pursue a refund from the airlines through Kiwi. But he was warned this might take months. It offered to prioritise his case if he paid €20 – but with no guarantee of success.
Finally it said he could accept ‘Kiwi credits’ towards a future booking.
‘Kiwi is blatantly trying to trick its customers into accepting Kiwi credits by painting it as the best available option,’ Daniel told us.
Kiwi told us: ‘We are not holding any money, we are supporting all our customers to get their refund but are fully dependent on the terms and conditions of the airlines.’
It also said that: ‘Kiwi.com offers assistance with refund applications and it’s up to the traveller to use that option or go directly to the airline(s) involved. Every airline has its own policy, which can be very complicated and time consuming, hence our offering.’
Flysharp and Travel Trolley scraps administration fee
The online travel agents Flysharp and Travel Trolley have scrapped their £75pp administration fee after Which? Travel contacted their owner Southall Travel last week.
We had received a complaint from Christina Woodger and Daniel Cariello who booked British Airways flights to Malaysia with Flysharp – a subsidiary of Southall Travel – one of the biggest independent travel companies in the country.
Flysharp told them they could only have a credit note or else they’d need to pay £75 each to receive the money they were owed for the cancelled flight – more than £1,000.
But when they contacted BA, it said it had refunded the full amount to Flysharp. They went back to Flysharp and it offered to reduce the admin fee by half as a ‘gesture of good will’. But that meant they still had to pay it £75.
They reluctantly accepted this but, after further pressure from Which? Travel, Travel Trolley and Flysharp have since relented and said that consumers do not have to pay an administration fee
It also said that this applies to customers who have already been refunded – so Christina and Daniel should be able to claim their £75 back.
Should I pay an administration fee to get my refund?
If you’ve booked a package holiday – definitely not. Under the Package Holiday Regulations you should never be asked to pay any kind of fee to get a refund if the organiser of your package cancels your trip.
With flight-only booking it’s slightly more complicated. Your contract for the flight is likely to be with the airline – not the agent. If your flight is protected by the EU’s Denied Boarding Regulations the airline cannot charge you an admin fee and must provide you with a full refund.
These regulations do not apply to agents. Some may have terms and conditions that allow them to charge fees for additional services, such as claiming your refund from the airline.
Others may have no such terms and conditions, while some may even be willing to help by mediating between you and the airline for free. So long as those services are provided without charge, you may want to use them. But nobody should be pressured into paying a travel agent a fee for handling a refund.
If your flight-only booking is cancelled, and you don’t want to go through the agent, it’s important to make it clear to the airline that it is responsible.
The law that dictates airlines have to refund passengers for cancelled flights that fall under EU law – EU261 – applies to airlines and not to agents. The airline is ultimately responsible.