Travel firm Loveholidays and Ryanair are locked in dispute over who is responsible for delays in customers getting refunds for cancelled flights.
Loveholidays says it is having to dispute transactions using chargeback because of Ryanair's failure to provide prompt refunds.
But the airline claims that Loveholidays is making the refund process harder than it needs to be.
Chargeback has become increasingly popular among customers of holiday companies and airlines who are fed up of waiting for refunds that have been illegally withheld. It involves contacting the bank card provider to dispute the original transaction.
This is the first time we've heard of it being used by a holiday company against an airline.
Michael O'Leary, CEO of Ryanair, recently blamed online travel agents for the difficulties that customers have had in getting their money back from his airline.
But holiday companies have complained since the start of the pandemic that, while they are obliged by law to refund package holiday customers within 14 days of a cancellation, they are not able to get that money back from some airlines.
Robert Phillips is one customer who belatedly, got a full refund from Loveholidays when the company used chargeback against Ryanair.
After Robert's holiday to Malta was cancelled in May last year, he received a refund for his accommodation within weeks. However, months later he still had not received more than £1,000 he was owed for Ryanair flights.
We contacted Loveholidays and it told us that it had initiated a successful chargeback against Ryanair.
It said: 'In instances such as Mr Phillips', where customers have requested a cancelled flight refund and the money has not been returned to them, we have initiated a chargeback request on their behalf where it is possible for us to do so. This process compels the airline to issue a cash refund to us where one is due, so we can pass it on to customers.'
Robert ultimately received a full refund in mid-October, five months after his cancelled trip.
Ryanair claimed that holiday companies such as Loveholidays use 'fake customer contact details and fake payment details to prevent the airlines communicating directly with or providing refunds to the consumer'.
It said: 'Loveholidays could, at any time, have processed this refund by complying with Ryanair's process for handling OTA (online travel agent) refund claims, but have refused to do so because it requires the OTA to confirm that they have already refunded the consumer, something which Loveholidays clearly did not do in this case.'
Ryanair also told us it was aware that the customer had ultimately been refunded to the card used by Loveholidays, but it did not know whether this was through chargeback.
It does not appear to be the case that Loveholidays gave Ryanair fake contact details for Robert Phillips. He says that he did receive direct emails from the airline encouraging him to accept a voucher. He replied to them insisting that he wanted a full refund.
Loveholidays admits that it does process payments to airlines through its own bank cards, rather than enabling them to refund directly to the customer's card. It says: 'As we offer various payment options to customers, we use our own payment cards to pay for the flights at the time of booking. There is nothing preventing Ryanair from paying cancelled flight refunds back to our cards, as they routinely did prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.'
Legally, Loveholidays is required to refund customers the full amount of a cancelled package holiday within 14 days. It is then its responsibility to pursue the airlines to recover its costs.
Loveholidays told us: 'Airlines have been slow and, in some instances, still totally refuse, to provide cash refunds to customers for cancelled flights within seven days as required by law under Regulation 261/2004. To date, we have not received a single cash refund within seven days of a cancelled flight.'
Loveholidays' success in recovering Robert Phillips' money using a chargeback is an encouraging sign for consumers. We've already heard that many have successfully recovered their money in the same way. According to our recent survey while almost half had already been accepted.
Which? is calling on the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to take action against any companies breaking the law on refunds for cancelled holidays. The government must also outline how it will support the travel industry through the rest of the pandemic. Which? is urging it to introduce a travel guarantee fund to prevent companies that are normally profitable from going under. There should also be a review of passenger protections following the coronavirus outbreak.