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Updated: 7 May 2020

Airlines pass the buck to travel agents to avoid paying refunds

Customers who booked BA, Malaysia and SAS flights via an online travel agent are passed from pillar to post
Cancelled flights

Airlines - including BA and SAS - are giving customers who booked flight-only tickets through third parties the runaround on refunds.

By law, customers must be refunded within seven days if their flight with an EU carrier, or departing from an EU airport, is cancelled, according to the Denied Boarding Regulation.

This regulation applies to the airline, not the online travel agent (OTA). And ultimately the airline is responsible for providing that refund, whether or not the customer booked directly or via an agent.

Yet Which? Travel has heard from customers who have been repeatedly fobbed off by airlines who insist that they can't help customers who booked via an OTA. One customer, who is £510 out of pocket, has been passed back and forth from airline to travel agent for seven weeks.

The confusion has left many consumers not knowing where to turn next.

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BA fobs off customers

Tanika Tucker booked a one-way flight from Brussels to London through online agent Kiwi.

When it was cancelled, Kiwi gave Tanika several refund options, but was told that the only way she could get all her money back was to chase the airline directly herself. Kiwi said it would no longer deal with her booking if she selected this option.

She contacted BA on Twitter but was told repeatedly by the airline that she had to deal with Kiwi. It said she could not choose who refunded her booking.

After Tanika reiterated Kiwi would no longer deal with her, BA asked for her flight details. But she has still not received a refund of the £86 she paid for the flight.

BA told Which? it will not be refunding Tanika directly and she must go back to Kiwi, again. It said: 'As standard industry practice, customers who have booked through a travel agent should contact them directly for help with their booking.'

Heathrow airport cancelled flights

Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) passes the buck to Gotogate

Colin Alexander is stuck in a stalemate situation between his airline, SAS, and the OTA, Gotogate.

When his flights to Dusseldorf were cancelled, Gotogate said it would apply for a refund for Colin from SAS. Later, Gotogate informed him the airline was not offering refunds and to contact SAS for a voucher instead, something Colin knew he didn't have to accept.

After seven weeks of being passed back and forth, SAS has told Colin it will refund via Gotogate, but Gotogate will not issue a refund without this in writing. Colin is still owed £510.

Malaysia Airlines (MA) says agreement is with Lycafly

Sophie Oliver booked return flights from London Heathrow to Kuala Lumpur with MA, through OTA, Lycafly. The flights cost £1,148 in total.

After MA cancelled the flights, Lycafly first told Sophie she'd be refunded, but later offered a voucher or flight change instead. She was told to contact MA directly if she was unhappy, but they referred her back to the OTA.

Under the EU regulation, MA owes Sophie a refund for her outbound flights.

Malaysia Airlines told Which?: 'We are fully compliant to regulations across various jurisdictions. For travel agent bookings, all customers must refer to their travel agents to process their ticket changesu2026 as customers that book through travel agents usually have differing terms and conditions.'

However, since Which? contacted Malaysia Airlines, it has fully refunded Sophie for the flights.

Who is responsible for the final refund transaction?
Flight refunds

The legal obligation to refund passengers ultimately lies with the airline.

Airlines and agents may have their own agreements as to who physically provides the refund, but if the flight is protected by the Denied Boarding Regulation, the airline must cough up.

If you're being given the runaround, Which? advises that you cut out the agent and ask your airline to refund directly into your bank account.

If the airline confirms that it will refund, but insists that it will only pay your travel agent, make sure you get the refund confirmation in writing.

If you are being offered a voucher from your agent, it is likely your airline is refusing a refund. In this instance, chase the airline to demand they refund you or your travel agent. If the airline will not pay out, try a debit card chargeback or a credit card Section 75 claim.

This is only the case in flight-only bookings. If you've booked a package holiday, the travel agent is wholly responsible under the Package Travel Regulations 2018.