7 things to consider before accepting vouchers or cancelling your flight or holiday

Thursday 02nd Jul 2020 |

As holidaymakers get ready to take to the skies again, many people who were left grounded due to coronavirus cancellations are still struggling to get a refund for the holiday they never had.

For those affected, this is impacting their chances of booking another holiday or paying for other life essentials such as mortgages and bills.

While acknowledging the financial pressures that holiday companies and airlines have been under, many people have financial concerns of their own. Laws such as EC Regulation 261/2004 and Package Travel Regulations (2018) were put into place to protect people, so why has it been so difficult to get a cash refund?

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Andy Prosser from Badminton, South Gloucestershire, was told three weeks before his flight that it was cancelled. He’s messaged and emailed the operating airlines Opodo and Etihad Airways 41 times in total. When he’s tried to contact them via telephone, he has been disconnected after waiting for an hour to get through or getting through and being hung up on.

In the current climate, not being refunded has caused Andy undue stress. He does not want a flexi ticket as it does not fit in with his life or work holiday entitlement.

Andy said: “I feel disgusted by way I and many others have been treated and let down by these big companies. There’s been zero communication and at first we were told we would get a cash refund only to then receive news of our only option being a flexi ticket.

I have not received service for my money and need the money now for other commitments.”

Although it may not seem it, the law is on your side. If like Andy, you’re one of the many struggling to get your coronavirus cancellation cash back for a flight or package holiday that never went ahead, law firm Bott and Co has put together seven tips to help you seek redress.

Do NOT cancel your flight or holiday

You are only covered by legal regulations if the operating air carrier or tour operator cancels your flight or holiday.

If a flight, package holiday or cruise was cancelled by the travellers and not the airline or tour operator, this would be classed as a cancellation and therefore potentially subject to cancellation charges.

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Passengers who have had their flight cancelled are entitled to a full refund or replacement flight and travellers who have had their holiday packages cancelled would be entitled to a full refund of the package. The right to a refund under the Package Travel Regulations (2018) is not subject to any restriction on reasons for the cancellation. 

Unfortunately, cancellation charges can often be a high percentage, if not all of the cost of the holiday or flight leaving travellers with no reimbursement. 

However, the good news is that the Package Travel Regulation (2018) does state that travellers are able to terminate the package before the start of the holiday, without paying any termination fees in certain extraordinary circumstances.

What if I want to rebook or cancel if I have to self-isolate?

It has been reported that less than half of travel firms will allow holidaymakers to rebook if they have to self-isolate.

Now that people are able to fly again and go on holiday, Bott and Co Solicitor Coby Benson has some advice that may save you losing your money!

He said “passengers are at risk of losing their money in this situation, since there is no law which requires the airline to provide a refund if the flight goes ahead, but the passenger was unable to travel.

The only possible recourse is if:

1) the passenger has insurance which covers those particular circumstances; or

2) the particular airline has amended their terms to allow passengers to receive a refund or rebook, in those circumstances.

Fortunately there are many airlines taking the pragmatic approach of making their terms and conditions more generous in these circumstances so that passengers can book their flights safe in the knowledge that they won’t lose out if they themselves cannot travel due to quarantine restrictions.”

Not successful via telephone? Submit your refund request in writing

If you are not given the option of a refund then the next step should be to telephone customer services or alternately put the request in writing, keeping copies.

For EU flights, the law is clear that the refund must be provided by the airline that was going to operate the flight and not the company that sold the flight (e.g. a travel agent).

In practical terms we’d also suggest that the passenger submits their refund request in writing using the following text:

I understand that my flight [Flight Number] on [Flight Date] has been cancelled and I therefore request a full refund pursuant to Articles 5(1)(a) and 8(1)(a) of EC Regulation No. 261/2004. You are reminded that the refund must be made within seven days by bank transfer or cheque. For the avoidance of doubt, I do not accept a travel voucher.

Paid via credit card? Claim cash back under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act

Customers seeking a refund can action a section 75 claim through their credit card company if they paid on their credit card.

This refers to section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 which provides a purchaser with the right to claim a refund or damages from their credit card provider, rather than the supplier that actually provided the goods or services.

This law applies to purchases between £100 and £30,000 that have been made by credit card. This must be ‘per item’, so if you spent £300 on 6 individual flights that are £50 each then you do not qualify for this protection.

If you use your credit card to make a part payment for a purchase – for instance if you’re paying a deposit now and then the rest later, then the total amount paid is still covered.

The protection gives you the right to claim damages from the credit card company when there has been a breach of contract or misrepresentation by the supplier. This can be particularly handy when the supplier is no longer in business, they’re based abroad or perhaps you just can’t get hold of them – in all these situations you are perfectly entitled to make a claim against the credit card company.

There is no legal requirement to present your claim to the supplier first, however this may be advisable as it can sometimes be the quickest way to get the outcome you want.

If the supplier does not resolve the complaint to your satisfaction then you can bring a claim against the credit card company. This is usually achieved by filling in a specific form or writing to them.

A section 75 claim would not work for transactions made with a debit card. In these instances, some banks have “chargeback” options whereby they can look to reverse the transactions. As this is not a route outlined in law, the rules and timeframes for “chargebacks” are dependent on the bank used.

In these instances, we recommend that travellers contact their bank and see if a chargeback is a viable way to get their money back.

Do not accept vouchers unless you know you’re ABSOLUTELY going to use them

Many Bott and Co clients have been offered vouchers that will expire in six months to a year. Given the current circumstances and apprehension of travelling for some, this is unacceptable.

The law is clear! Flight passengers are entitled to a monetary refund within 7 days if an airline cancels an EU flight, or a free replacement flight at a later date (subject to availability of seats). Both are a choice for the passenger to make, and not the airline.

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For package holidays, there is a right of a full refund. Tour Operators are also able to offer vouchers or an option to change a holiday in the event of a termination.

“Vouchers are only useful to those who have financial stability”

Sam Mohazeri from Caterham, Surrey, had his Qatar Airways flight cancelled due to Covid-19. He has since been told that they can either put him on another flight in the future or issue a voucher however neither option is viable for Sam. His fight for a refund has reached a brick wall.

He said “I do not accept either option they have given me and am entitled to a cash refund. Since I’ve been insisting on a cash refund, they have been ignoring me. I have tried calling them for weeks but they either keep me on hold or don’t answer my calls at all.”

Sam has called the airline 200 times and sent more than a dozen emails but has been ignored. 

“Not having my money back has affected me financially and mentally after I lost my part time job due to the COVID-19 outbreak. I really need my cash back but the airline have been very unfair and unhelpful.

Vouchers could be useful for someone who has financial stability and doesn’t need the cash or is planning a holiday in the future but due to coronavirus I am not in that position.”

Sam has made his stance very clear. He is entitled to a monetary refund within 7 days or a free replacement flight at a later date. He has chosen the refund. 

“Customer care is one thing that clients expect from an airline or any other provider for that matter. Clearly it’s something that Qatar Airways isn’t good at. Due to this experience I would never fly with them again and wouldn’t recommend them to family or friends.

Luckily I found out that Bott and Co were dealing with refund claims and I am optimistic that I will obtain a refund with their help. I am happy to pay the solicitors fees given that I have lost all hope at getting a refund from the airline.”

Issue Court Proceedings yourself

Issuing Court Proceedings should always be a last resort but if an airline or tour operator is refusing to refund money they are legally obliged to return, Bott and Co are of the opinion that legal action is the best way forward.

If the airline does not respond or does not agree then the passenger can either issue court proceedings or use Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). A list of the airlines that have signed up to ADR are available here.

Claiming through ADR is usually free, except if complaining about British Airways, as they use a company called ‘CEDR’, that charge an upfront fee of £25 (Which is repayable if/when CEDR find in favour of the passenger).

Under the Package Travel Regulations (2018) it is outlined that refunds should be processed without undue delay and no later than 14 days after the package has been terminated.

If travellers have not received a refund after this time, we would recommend initiating legal proceedings against the Tour Operator. The first step to do this is to send the Tour Operator a “Letter before Action”.

OR

Seek legal help from qualified solicitors

Tried all of the above and still not received your money back? Bott and Co has made the legal process as simple as possible. Just complete our online form, and we’ll take care of the rest.

We have heard from hundreds of holidaymakers who have been frustrated with the holiday companies’ tactics to delay or avoid paying refunds.

Over the last twenty years, we’ve specialised in “David Vs. Goliath” legal battles against holiday companies and airlines, with a proven track record of success, most notably shaping the law for airline passenger rights to claim for compensation when airlines are at fault for flights that have been delayed or cancelled.

Our No Win No Fee legal services are provided with the added comfort of knowing that you won’t pay a penny if in the unlikely event we’re unsuccessful with your claim. For successful claims, a fee of 25% is deducted from the refund amount recovered.

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