Holiday or flight cancelled? Your refund rights during the pandemic

21 May 2020

We explain how you can get a refund if your holiday or flight has been cancelled because of coronavirus

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If you have a flight, holiday, train trip or event booked that has been cancelled, it can be harder than usual to get a refund in the wake of Covid-19.

The Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) Covid-19 taskforce, which monitors and responds to consumer problems arising from the coronavirus outbreak, has reported a growing number of complaints about cancellations and refunds.

It says that around 80% of complaints it now receives are about refunds and cancellations, with some firms pressuring customers to accept vouchers instead of cash refunds.

In most cases, the CMA says you should expect a full refund if a business has cancelled a contract without providing any of the promised goods or services or if you have to cancel because of lockdown restrictions.

Andrea Coscelli, its chief executive, says: “We are now seeing cancellation issues in their thousands. So far, the CMA has identified weddings, holiday accommodation and childcare as particular areas of concern.

“The current situation is throwing up challenges for everyone, including businesses, but that does not mean that consumers should be deprived of their rights at this difficult time.”

Package holidays and cruises

If you are booked on a package holiday or cruise, you are entitled to a full refund within 14 days of your holiday being cancelled, according to the Package Travel Regulations.

The same rights apply if you have booked a tailor-made trip where you select the different elements such as flight and hotel on the same website. 

Given the financial pressure on travel agents and tour operators, be prepared to wait longer than 14 days for a refund.

With all voyages currently cancelled, P&O Cruises, for example, is offering its UK customers a cash refund but has said it will take up to 60 days for it to be processed.

Tour operators are also offering credit notes, vouchers or the chance to defer bookings until later this year.

Guidance from the CMA says: “Consumers can normally be offered credits, vouchers, rebooking or rescheduling as an alternative to a refund, but they should not be misled or pressured into doing so and a refund should still be an option that is just as clearly and easily available.”

Some tour operators are offering refund credit notes (RCNs) as an alternative to refunds – this is a new initiative set up by Abta, the UK travel association, so holidaymakers have yet to use them.

Abta says that these entitle you to rebook a holiday at a future date or receive a cash refund at the expiry date of the note. You also retain the financial protection that you had with your original booking.

It explains: “If your original booking – for example, a package holiday with flights – came with Atol financial protection, the RCN will still provide this protection. If your original booking came with Abta financial protection – for example, a cruise holiday or other package holiday including rail or coach travel – the RCN will still provide this protection.”

If you accept one, do check that you will be receiving an RCN and not just a voucher where the tour operator makes up the rules, which are likely to be less generous.

For full details of what an RCN should include, visit the Abta website.

Emma Coulthurst, travel expert at holiday price comparison site TravelSupermarket, warns: “If you accept a voucher from an airline or a holiday company, then you are forfeiting your right to a refund at a later date. If the travel company was to go into administration in future, then it is likely to be worthless and you would lose your money. Also, there is no knowing what will happen to flight prices in future.

“My advice would be to either look to rebook and ask the company what incentives they are offering for you to do that. For example, TUI is offering 20% off and Jet2 Holidays is offering up to £100 off future rebookings. Alternatively, request that refund.”

Flight-only tickets

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If you are booked on a flight that is cancelled, you have the right to a full refund from the airline, under EU Regulation 261/2004. You have up to a year to claim your refund, and you should receive it within seven days of claiming.

This covers flights out of a UK airport or if you were flying back to a UK airport with a UK or EU airline.

If your flight is outside the EU or you were due to travel with a non-EU airline, the Civil Aviation Authority’s guidance is that most airlines have a contractual obligation to offer passengers a choice between a later flight or a refund.

RCNs are not valid on flight-only bookings, but many airlines are issuing their own travel vouchers or allowing passengers to rebook for later in the year.

Some airlines are offering incentives to opt for a voucher. For example, Wizzair is offering passengers of cancelled flights a 100% cash refund, or an airline credit valid for two years, worth 120% of the original fare. At the time of writing, easyJet is allowing passengers to rebook at a later date and will not charge extra if the new ticket is more expensive.

Some airlines have faced a barrage of criticism on social media, as passengers have struggled to apply for a refund online, leaving them hanging on the phone.

As well as problems getting through to customer service, some Ryanair passengers have complained about receiving a voucher when they specifically asked for a cash refund. By the end of April, passengers reported being offered a refund – but only if they were prepared to wait up to six months.

Moneywise contacted Ryanair for confirmation of the terms and conditions of its voucher but received no response.

Coulthurst advises: “If you have received a voucher from Ryanair but had actually asked for a refund, you could try contacting the airline via the chat function on its website or by direct messaging the airline on Twitter.

“Make it clear to the airline that you still want the refund and remind them of your legal right to a refund within seven days of cancellation, and also ask them to pay you back without undue delay.”

Refunds via your debit or credit card

If all else fails and a retailer refuses to refund your ticket, then you can contact your bank or credit card provider, asking them to look into your complaint.

If you paid by credit card for any ticket or item worth more than £100 but less than £30,000, you will be protected by Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, which makes the credit card company jointly liable when you have a complaint about an item or an event that is cancelled. Contact your card provider to make a claim.

Major banks also offer a ‘chargeback’ scheme, where they will reverse a transaction on your debit card. Credit card holders who have paid less than £100 for their tickets can also apply. There is no automatic right to money back through chargeback, as this will depend upon each individual case.

Holiday accommodation

Cancellation policies vary between providers. Airbnb says the pandemic comes under its extenuating circumstances policy, so reservations for stays made on or before 14 March 2020, with a check-in date currently up to 15 June 2020, may be cancelled before check-in, and you can opt for a travel credit or cash refund.

If you have booked through a large chain of hotels, then policies vary. For instance, Hilton Hotels says that even ‘non-cancellable’ rooms scheduled for arrival on or before 30 June 2020 can be changed or cancelled at no charge up to 24 hours before the arrival date. Meanwhile, if you have booked a non-refundable ‘saver rate’ with Travelodge, you can cancel or amend your booking and receive a voucher.

When it comes to small, independent hotels, if you have a non-cancellation room you could try to negotiate rescheduling to a later date – remember, these businesses will be struggling now.

If you booked a short-let holiday home, your rights vary according to the company you booked through. You may be offered a price-matched break for a date in 2021 rather than a full refund, depending on your contract. If you think the cancellation terms are unfair, you can contest them or try to get a refund through your bank or credit card provider (see box on page 25 and above).

"Trainline says I am not entitled to a refund”

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Back in January, David Jones bought two Advance train tickets through Trainline, costing £65 in total, for a trip from Hull to London on 26 March – just days after the lockdown – but found information on how to get a refund confusing.

“On its website, Trainline writes that refunds are available and refers you to your online account, but my account says a refund is not available,” says David, who asked Moneywise for help.

When we contacted Trainline, it said that the refund request was not made at least 15 minutes before the original departure date and time.

As our reader was unaware of this, Trainline refunded the £65 as a gesture of goodwill.

Rail and coach refunds

If are not able to use your rail season ticket due to lockdown, you can apply for a refund. All season ticket holders can claim a refund for time unused on their tickets free of administrative charges. However, some rail companies will not offer a refund on season tickets that are valid for less than three months. 

If you bought your season ticket with a company loan through work, you should contact your HR department first.

If you bought Advance rail tickets or flexible tickets before 7am on 23 March for travel any time after this, you are eligible for a refund. But you need to apply more than 15 minutes before the train was due to depart (see box above left).

The two main coach firms also have refund policies in place. National Express has suspended all services until 15 June. You can amend your travel date within the next 12 months or apply for a refund on its website. Megabus has temporarily suspended all services in England and Wales. If your coach trip has been cancelled, it will email you about a refund.

Ticket refunds for events

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With major events such as Wimbledon, Glastonbury and the Edinburgh Festival postponed, along with bookings for theatres, concerts and gigs, thousands of people will be asking for ticket refunds.

In many cases, ticket holders are being given the option of accepting a voucher or tickets for a later date instead of a refund. It is worth thinking about whether you can afford and would be happy to accept one of these options. Many arts and event organisers will be struggling with cashflow as they will have had outlays they cannot recoup. Not requesting a refund could help support them so they are better able to bounce back and put on performances and events at a later date.

If you bought the ticket from an official seller, such as a West End theatre or a ticket seller, such as See Ticket or TicketMaster, then you will be entitled to a refund of the face value of the ticket – though not for any booking fees.

The Society of London Theatre (Solt) on behalf of the leading commercial West End theatre operators and self-regulatory body the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (Star), offers clear guidance about ticket refunds or credit notes.

Solt says: “If you have booked directly with the theatre or show website for an affected performance, they will contact you directly to arrange an exchange for a later date, a credit note/voucher or a refund.

“If you have booked via a ticket agent, they will also be in contact with you directly.”

All performances have been cancelled up until 1 June 2020, and it stresses that the theatre or ticket retailers will be in touch, with refunds processed in date order.

TicketMaster and See Tickets will email you about cancellations but both firms are only responding to online requests, and social media is awash with complaints about how long it is taking to arrange a refund with some ticket holders still waiting after five weeks.

Secondary ticket sellers are also offering refunds or vouchers for events that have been cancelled, though their policies do vary so check their websites. StubHub, for instance, says buyers will be refunded, while sellers will be charged via their credit card. Viagogo is offering either a full refund or a Viagogo voucher valued at 125% of your original ticket. 

FURTHER INFORMATION

Abta:

For package holiday cancellation rules, visit the Abta website.

Civil Aviation Authority:

For flights and package holiday cancellation rules, visit the Civil Aviation Authority website.

Competition and Markets Authority:

If you have been affected by unfair cancellation terms, you can report it to the Competition and Markets Authority.

Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (Star):

If you are being refused a refund, check if the ticket seller is a member of Star, which has its own complaints procedure.

UK Finance:

For details on making chargeback or Section 75 claims, visit the UK Finance website.

REFUND WOES?

If you have a complaint about getting a refund for a cancelled flight, holiday or accommodation as a result of Covid-19 and are struggling to get it resolved,  or have  managed to get a refund and have tips to help other readers do the same, which we can feature on our letters page, we would like to hear your story. Email us at fightback@moneywise.co.uk.

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