A Lastminute.com customer was forced to wait eight months for a refund after his Lognanair flights from Norwich to Edinburgh were cancelled. Lastminute.com claimed it had ‘made every effort’ to obtain the money owed by the airline, but it needed to be chased several times by Which? before reimbursing the customer.
Jonathan Neville used online travel agent Lastminute.com to book flights from Norwich to Edinburgh with Loganair for a short break with his partner and her daughter in June 2021. However, in July the outgoing flights were rescheduled before being cancelled altogether a couple of weeks later. By March 2022, he was still owed more than £500 until Which? stepped in.
Jonathan told us his emails to Lastminute.com went unanswered. He wrote to the CEO of the company, but to no avail. Jonathan was sent back and forth between Loganair and Lastminute.com as both blamed each other for the hold up. When we asked Loganair about the delay, it claimed that Lastminute.com hadn’t contacted it to activate the refund, despite telling Jonathan it had ‘made every effort to obtain a refund from the airline’.
Loganair told Which? that when flights are booked with it through an online travel agent or third-party agent, those flights are paid for on the agent’s corporate card and therefore the refund has to be sent to that same card. To activate the refund, Loganair said the standard procedure is for the agent to get in contact and request the refund, which according to Loganair never happened in Jonathan’s case. After we contacted Loganair on Jonathan’s behalf, it released the funds back to Lastminute.com.
Once Lastminute.com received the funds for both outgoing and return flights, Lastminute.com initially offered part of the money to Jonathan, stating that the return flights were never cancelled. When we reminded Lastminute.com that Loganair had refunded all of Jonathan’s flights, it sent him the amount he was owed.
Loganair told Which?: ‘We aim to promptly respond and action all enquiries, both from customers directly and third-party booking agents. In this instance, due to the lengthy time change of the flight, the customer was entitled to a full refund. This would normally be processed once the request is received from the third-party booking agent which, in this case, was never received. However, we have since activated the refund now that it has been brought to our attention and it has been sent back to the agent who made the booking. In line with standard airline processes, refunds can only be made to the card used to make the booking.’
Lastminute.com told Which?: ‘Our teams have done a thorough investigation in this case and they have been in contact both with the airline and with the customer to explain the current situation.’
Lastminute.com acknowledged that Jonathan had been waiting a considerable amount of time for his refund in what it called an ‘exceptional circumstance’ and cited disruption from the Covid-19 pandemic as the cause of the delay, before later telling us a ‘human error’ was responsible.
If an airline cancels your flights and the Denied Boarding Regulation applies (this includes flights from a UK based airport), you are legally entitled to either a full refund issued within seven days or a replacement flight. But things can be less straightforward if you book through a third-party agent like Lastminute.com.
Lastminute.com’s policies state that flight-only bookings are bound by the airline’s cancellation and refund policies, and that it will only refund the customer once the airline reimburses them. Jonathan was initially advised by Lastminute.com that this process could take up to two months.
Ultimately, the legal obligation to refund passengers lies with the airline. If you’re having trouble getting a refund, asking the airline to refund directly into your bank account. But if the airline insists that it will only send the refund to the travel agent, make sure you get the refund confirmation in writing for some extra protection.
If you booked a package holiday, the situation is a little different. In this case, the travel agent is wholly responsible under the Package Travel Regulations 2018.