Ryanair now pays refunds for disrupted flights into a 'Wallet' - a move that Which? believes, once again, makes things more difficult for customers legally due cash back
The airline is telling customers to first confirm if they wish to receive a refund, and if so Ryanair will place the money into an online 'Ryanair Wallet'. Customers will then need to get in touch a second time to ask to withdraw the cash they're due.
The new scheme, which applies to all disrupted flights from November 2021 adds another stage to the process of getting an actual cash refund - something Which? believes will unnecessarily complicate things for customers who want cash reimbursements for cancelled flights.
Wallets are attached to customers' Ryanair accounts. We approached Ryanair customer service advisors to ask about their policy for those who don't have accounts and checked out as a guest, and they told us that in this instance Ryanair would email a voucher automatically for cancelled flights, and tells customers to 'refuse' the voucher if they want to be refunded in cash instead.
Ryanair's new scheme may break the law on airline refunds and compensation. It stipulates that airlines are legally bound to directly refund customers for cancelled flights within seven days, and are required to ask and gain customers' signed agreement if they are offering a voucher (or 'other services') as an alternative. Refunds placed by Ryanair in the Wallet are comparable to vouchers, because they too act as a 'credit' to be spent in future on Ryanair bookings and products.
Not only does Ryanair fail to give passengers a choice as to whether their refunds are issued into the wallet, it also fails to clearly warn them about its updated refund method during the booking process.
Which? has asked the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) - the regulator responsible for enforcing the rules and keeping airlines in check - to investigate Ryanair's conduct.
But, in the meantime, there are steps you can take to protect your funds and get your cash back.
Any traveller whose flight is cancelled by their airline is entitled to re-routing or full reimbursement within seven days. One of the options for that refund should always be cash, such as via a bank transfer.
It's better to choose cash refunds wherever possible, because vouchers and credit notes mean you have to rebook with the same airline, rather than being able to shop around. You'll also likely lose all your money if the business goes bust.
Ryanair did at least tell us that Wallet funds u201care not subject to expiration dates, spending limits, or any other restrictionsu201d. That's better than some other carriers that have set expiration dates on vouchers passengers choose to accept.
The Ryanair website does, however, stipulate some limitations. It states that customers are only allowed to use the balance of four refunds in the Wallet to book a new flight. That means if you've accumulated five or more smaller refunds, you're limited to the way you can spend those funds.
Which? has repeatedly reported on Ryanair's potentially misleading approach to providing refunds to its customers after disruption. In April 2020 we reported that Ryanair customers were complaining of being sent unsolicited vouchers - even though they had already specified that they wanted a cash refund. In the same month Which? research found that Ryanair, along with other large airlines - a requirement under EU law.
And in June 2020, Ryanair sent those with cancelled flights an email which seemed to offer a choice between a voucher or a cash refund. But clicking on the led to a page headlined: 'Everything you need to know about using your voucher'. There was no link for requesting the refund.
We recommend withdrawing the balance of your wallet into a bank account, rather than leaving it to spend at a later date. Visit the Ryanair Wallet help pages and follow the instructions for accessing your Wallet, and then click the 'Withdraw Refund' button.
Which? has repeatedly called on the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), to take action against airlines that are not providing refunds, or are significantly delaying paying out.
A spokesperson for the UK Civil Aviation Authority said:
u201cThe Civil Aviation Authority has been clear that consumers owed a refund should only accept airline credit or vouchers where it is in their interest to do so and that it is important that consumers are given a clear option to request a cash refund without unnecessary barriers. We regularly monitor the approaches that airlines take to complying with their obligations and review any evidence provided to us about how they meet their obligations.u201d
Ryanair told us:
u201cCustomers are clearly informed in our Refund Hub that refunds are issued via the Wallet [...] The Wallet provides customers with complete control over their refunds, by giving them immediate access to their Wallet balance (for use on future bookings) and the ability to withdraw their refund in cash in just one click. All passengers' rights and entitlements under consumer protection law continue to be fully respected.u201d