Thousands of travellers have been complaining about how hard it is to get a refund for a cancelled flight or holiday.
While the travel industry is under huge pressure, many holidaymakers are frustrated by how hard it is to get through to customer services once their flight or holiday has been cancelled.
TC booked a holiday to Ajman in the United Arab Emirates over Easter with Virgin Holidays but was advised on 27 March that it had been cancelled due to the pandemic.
He was offered a voucher but phoned up Virgin Holidays to ask for a refund of more than £7,000. He contacted Fight for your Rights on 28 May when he still had no idea if or when he would get a refund.
He had only received an automated email saying that Virgin “was committed to getting your refund but we can’t confirm what the timescale will be right now”.
What was more worrying was that he has another family holiday booked with Virgin Holidays this summer, which cost £19,729. This trip has also been cancelled – so it is a huge sum he is owed.
When I contacted the tour operator, it apologised for the delays but advised that refunds would take up to a maximum of 120 days and that “it was fully committed to paying every single refund in full”.
A Virgin Holidays spokesperson said: “Virgin Holidays understands the difficulties that the Covid-19 crisis poses to our customers with upcoming travel plans, and we are offering as much flexibility as possible for those whose trips are affected.
“To provide immediate peace of mind for customers whose holidays will no longer be going ahead, we are automatically providing a voucher for the value of their trip, redeemable up until 31 March 2021, which they can use to rebook a holiday, departing before 31 December 2021.”
But it went on to say: “We would reassure all Virgin Holidays customers that if they have requested a refund, it will be repaid in full, and the work to process refunds is our priority.
“Payments are being prioritised based on how long the customer has been waiting for their refund, and the payment will be processed within an absolute maximum of 120 days. We are making every effort to reduce this timeframe wherever possible.”
TC is resigned to waiting for his refund for his second trip – which he should receive in September.
He says: “When my holiday was cancelled back in March, I was very supportive of Virgin as I recognised this was a very challenging time for travel companies.
“But it is fair to say that all the goodwill I had towards Virgin, which had been built up over 20 years of travel, has sadly disappeared over the past three months. I feel during this challenging time they have totally abandoned their customers and I will use other travel companies for any future holiday plans.”
Outcome: £7,000 refunded
Catch-22 over Expedia refund for cancelled Virgin flight
It is not just TC who is having to wait for a refund from the Virgin Group.
JM booked a return flight to Tel Aviv on 19 January 2020 through travel site Expedia, paying £458 to fly on 11 April with Virgin Atlantic.
He says: “When my flight with Virgin Atlantic was cancelled due to Covid-19, I got through to Expedia’s automated service and was told I would get a refund.
“On the day of my flight, I tried again and got the same message.”
In early May, he called Expedia again and was told that Virgin was giving all its customers flight vouchers, which would need to be spent by the end of January 2021.
When JM said he wanted a refund, he was told to email Virgin’s refund department.
He then received an automated response telling him to contact his agent – Expedia.
JM says: “I feel that I’ve been pushed from pillar to post. I’ve received no official communication from Expedia to say I will be getting a voucher or refund.”
As JM booked his flight with Expedia, his contract was with the travel site and it was responsible for arranging a refund.
Once Moneywise got involved, Expedia was quick to confirm that JM will be refunded – though it will take several weeks.
A spokesperson for Expedia says: “Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Our customer care team has confirmed that a refund has been processed by Virgin Atlantic and will be credited to the customer in eight to 12 weeks.”
JM says: “I felt that I was left in the lurch by both Expedia and Virgin Atlantic. There was a lot of holding on the line to get through to someone with no clear resolution, but Moneywise fought my case and was brilliant.”
Outcome: Virgin to refund £485
Airbnb won’t refund fees for cancelled booking
Another reader, AJ, also had problems with a refund from Airbnb due to Covid-19 after booking a week’s accommodation for early July as part of a holiday to the Dominican Republic.
When British Airways cancelled his flight, his Airbnb host agreed to refund his rental costs right away. However, when he asked Airbnb for a refund of its £330 service fee, it was less accommodating. It said that its Covid-19 policy only applied until the end of June.
Once Moneywise got in touch, Airbnb said that AJ’s booking was not covered under its extenuating circumstances policy but, as the host had agreed to offer a refund, it would refund its service fee as a goodwill gesture.
A spokesperson for Airbnb says: “Our handling of this case did not meet our usual high standards and the guest has been refunded in full.”
Meanwhile, AJ says that he now views Airbnb in a less than positive light.
“I am pleased Airbnb reacted so fast after you contacted them. Our emails and letters were certainly being ignored,” he says. “This experience has left a bad taste for us. Other places we booked on this trip – hotels and a resort – were quick to help us once we explained the situation. They didn’t even ask for proof of the flight cancellation.”
Outcome: Airbnb pays £330 goodwill gesture