/ Travel & Leisure

Legal advice: package holiday operator delays refund

Thousands of holidaymakers have been given the runaround on getting their money back during the pandemic. Here’s how we helped get a member a full refund.

Which? Legal member Brian was one of the thousands of would-be holidaymakers whose plans were interrupted by COVID-19 – his £4,355 Riviera river cruise was cancelled on 15 April due to the pandemic.

Brian promptly wrote to Riviera requesting a full refund but received no reply (Riviera says it never received the letter).

When Brian chased Riviera, it told him it would take up to eight weeks to process a refund and offered him alternatives.

After Brian reminded Riviera of its legal obligations, it offered to refund him within five working days.

Our advice

We told Brian that package holidays are governed by the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018, which says that if a tour operator cancels a holiday due to extraordinary circumstances, it must refund you within 14 days.

Where your package holiday is cancelled, or if it can no longer be provided by the tour operator, it must refund you in full. We advised Brian to put this in writing as a complaint to Riviera to prove his right to a refund.

Riviera’s Paul Green told Which?:

“Once Mr Gratton told us he wanted a refund it was paid in 11 days. Offering a £800 rebooking incentive and a refund credit note didn’t replace or delay the payment”

Cancelled holidays: the law

In light of the pandemic, the body that represents tour operators, ABTA, advised its members to offer credit notes an an alternative to refunds.

We found that many tour operators used this as a way to refuse refunds. We have received complaints about Riviera, as well as many other holiday companies, which refused to comply with their legal obligations.

Have you managed to get a refund for a cancelled holiday during the pandemic? Did the company comply with the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements?

Refund policies

Which? contacted Riviera Travel as we were concerned about its refund policy early on in the pandemic.

From June onwards, the holiday company made a firm commitment to pay a full cash refund to any customer who wanted one.

It also confirmed that anyone who accepted a credit note, thinking there was no other choice, could call and exchange it for the money they were owed.

Riviera Travel has since been named a Which? Recommended Provider (WRP) after its excellent performance in our survey. However, we are continuing to monitor companies and will remove WRP status if any of them backtrack on their promises or give customers the runaround.

Have a legal question of your own?

Which? Legal offers affordable legal advice, over the phone and by email to help you tackle your problem or issue.  

Our team of legal advisers will give you tailored information and advice on your rights and next steps, so you can handle your issue confidently.  

Which? Legal can help on a range of topics, from faulty goods and car purchase issues to landlord and tenancy issues, plus much more.

To find out how we can help you, call Which? Legal on 0117 405 5695 or visit Which? Legal.


The latest misfortune to befall package holiday customers is the refusal to refund holidays impacted by FCO advice not to travel. If the flight is still going (or the hotel is still open) then some travel agents are saying that as the holiday can be provided, they are under no obligation to refund, or to only refund the parts of the package that aren’t able to be provided. This is a breach of Regulation 12(7) of the PTRs 2018. But some banks are also declining to start a chargeback if flights left, for example, as they say there is no breach of contract.

It seems to be the days of the Wild West in April and May have returned. Only the CMA seems to have any clout – the CAA have got their head in the sand, ABTA are a busted flush and have shown they can’t be trusted to do the right thing for consumers, and Trading Standards seem reluctant to make an example of one or two of the more egregious companies. The only way to get your money back from these companies is via County Court, which takes months due to the backlog. What is needed is a Group Litigation action, where the fees, charges and compensation will make these companies really pay attention.

I obtained a CCJ, but courts won’t send bailiffs out because of Covid. The credit card route seems to be the only way to get your money back.

Rae Baines says:
7 August 2020

After wrangling with a coach company for nearly 5 months to be refunded in full for a tour that didn’t take place, I have forwarded all the appropriate information to the Financial Ombudsman. If this doesn’t work I will probably have to take the company to the Small Claims Court.

Mrs S Wallace says:
7 August 2020

I am in the same situation but I requested a refund from my Credit Card company as the goods/services were not provided. The Coach company went into liquidation. I am still waiting for the Credit card co. to refund this money. I submitted the claim on 23 May and all I have has is an acknowledgement. Everybody seems to want to hold on to my money! but I desperately need it myself now. It is grossly unfair and something needs to be done about it. I cannot get an answer by phone or email – just automated replies.

We are due on a Riviera river cruise starting in late September. Riviera have yet to formally admit the cruise is cancelled. Instead they are sending us increasingly frequent emails encouraging us to rebook next year. Their latest ploy was a request to fill in a survey, the wording of which could have been used to imply we had cancelled. This I declined to submit and will continue to sit tight until they announce it has been cancelled, when I will demand a refund.

IGLU CRUISE’S…….We have been waiting 122 day’s for a refund due to a cancelled cruise on Anthem of the Seas due to COVID-19.
Whilst they agree they are legally due to Refund us, this company show’s no sign of doing so. They are making up their own rules. Complaint’s to ABTA CMA and credit card companies are met with ridiculous timeframes for investigation. The most important thing at the moment to maintain people’s belief in the system is to ensure consumers are protected. If they don’t believe this is the case, they won’t spend. What’s to stop any company that doesn’t provide the services you have paid for saying ” we’ll refund you…. sometime”. We desperately need organisations like Which to investigate such companies and shine a light on their dodgy and illegal practices. And question why the bodies set up to protect consumers are sitting on their hands?
Over 300 people on the Facebook Page IGLU Refund Action Group all have similar stories. Please Which…get involved !!!!

I’m on day 116 with Igloo and was promised payment within 90 days. After contacting them 2 weeks ago they couldn’t give me a payment date. They had no information as to when they would have the monies to pay out. I am now totally disheartened with Igloo. It doesn’t seem ( so I’ve heard ) that even threatening them with their legal obligations helps either. When did they finally pay out to yourself ?

Mrs Felicity Boxall says:
12 December 2020

Hello David, Likewise I have been waiting 190 days for my refund from Iglu. Cunard having refunded Iglu within days of their cancellation due COVID. So far a complaint to the CMA, a Solicitors letter and an Online Small Claims request have been met with absolutely no response.

Have you had any luck now?

Tony Philpott says:
8 August 2020

We had a holiday booked through Railbookers but when cancelled they refused us a refund offering only a credit note. This was despite us pointing out we had an ATOL certificate and the Package Holiday Regulations saying they should refund within 14 days. We offered them a longer period to refund us but they would not budge.
We therefore made a Section 75 claim on our Tesco Mastercard and although it took 10 weeks we have received a full refund.

I am working in dreamworldtravel.co.uk travel agency, there are lots of complaints by the customer which is related about refund their amount, we handling through the cooperation of airlines, but what travel agency can do their best if airlines take some time to refund their amount back.

I appreciate you are in a difficult position, but no agent should be withholding customer’s money, when it is against the law! Are you aware of EU Denied Boarding legislation where it is VERY clear that full refunds must be made within 7 days in the event of airline cancellations? Customers are fully entitled to their money. I have been affected by the same scenario, but with a different agent, who has also decided to add cancellation fees into the mix, so apologies if I don’t sound that sympathetic!!!

KIrby says:
7 September 2020

Has anyone had a problem g??etting refund from M&s holiday paid for by M&S credit card

James Ignatius says:
16 October 2020

I booked flights with Dream World Travel. It has now been 6 months since our flight were cancelled. They claim they are waiting for monies to be returned to them from the airline. On 2 seperate occasions they’ve confirmed that they’ve received this but then retracted. I am thinking of pursuing small claims court. Any advice?

Can you claim from your bank? Chargeback or section 75? In the event of airline cancellation you are entitled to a full refund within 7 days. Lookup EU Denied Boarding legislation (EC 261/2004). CMA guidelines are also clear on refunds. Check out their COVID-19 pages. Small claims court is an option, but in my opinion I would only use as a last resort to recover your money.

We have had a nightmare with Dreamworld travel and were refused a chargeback under section 75 claiming force majeure which seems to me to be wrong given DWT have had £1400 of our money back from Emirates any advice would be helpful

I recently had to fight TravelUp for my refund for 3 months (recovering some of the money via a chargeback with my bank). They have illegally been charging cancellation fees since March and some members are still waiting and been doing so for over six months. A facebook group has been setup to help the thousands of others affected, as they initially closed their phone lines and stopped answering emails for nearly 2 months, meanwhile leaving customers stranded around the world, who had to pay their own way home. I know of one lady over £4000 out of pocket to this day!

My advice to anyone experiencing the same is that the EU Denied Boarding legislation is VERY clear that full refunds are expected within 7 days, in the event of airline cancellations. TravelUp have decided they are outside of the law and this doesn’t apply to them. They attempted to change their terms mid pandemic, but this is unlawful and EU/UK law overrides their terms in any case.

CMA guidelines talk about cancellation fees and ‘frustrated’ contracts. This term is used when goods or services have not been received and the sales contract is different from that originally agreed. This terms is effectively covered by the Consumer Rights Act 2015 on unfair terms and sales contracts. While I can’t vouch for your particular circumstances, it’s worth reading your sales contract about refunds.

So, if I can help just one person reading this and who’s experiencing the same issues with TravelUp or other unscrupulous travel agents, or companies is use these laws and just go to your bank and start a chargeback or section 75 claim. In the case of debit cards and chargebacks, you need to lodge a claim within 120 days of departure date, so don’t delay. You need to provide some evidence of cancellation, receipts and at least 1 email showing you’ve attempted to contact the company (although not necessary to engage with or wait for a response) and quote the above laws and leave it your bank.

As a Facebook group, we have been very successful in helping customers win their money back from the banks. This is the only way, as TravelUp have decided to take a minimum £50 per booking, but in some cases £75 per person + 2%. I am aware some customers have had over £600 in fees taken, while others just are not responded to by the company.

TravelUp stated in response to a newspaper article on them last week about their crap service to customers that they’ve posted 46k refunds. At £50 cancellation fee = £2.3m they’ve made out of affected customers. It’s truly disgusting behaviour that Government allow to happen.

Very surprised not to see Villa Plus included in this section if the growing dissatisfaction represented on social media is anything to go by. Our holiday in September/October was a victim of the FCDO’s advice on travel to Zante; for weeks we had no info other than the website as phoning was pointless, emails just got generic replies and even a written complaint went unacknowledged. We have registered complaints with ABTA and Trading Standards and have now resorted to a bank charge-back to recover our money. Even though we feel that we have a cast iron case (we never received any final travel documentation) we still have a nagging worry that they will contest the refund. And still we receive regular emails about 2021 bookings. Are they trying to get deposits to enable them to pay off this year’s refunds? Sounds like some kind of Ponzi scheme to me. Villa Plus are obviously hanging onto money handed over in good faith maybe to alleviate cash flow problems but the lack of service surely will be counter-productive. Covid 19 is not their fault but we will never use them again.

Lorraine says:
6 March 2021

Our cruise with RCI was cancelled, I asked for a refund from our agent IGLU, After much deliberation was told yes can have refund but would take 3/4 MONTHS to credit us .:Absolutely disgusting.

Gill Williams says:
14 April 2021

Sorry to read these concerns I was thinking of booking with Riviera (India) next year but their FAQ’s on Covid refer only to re-booking holiday in the event of Covid preventing travel. When I spoke to an advisor from Riviera, she told me they issue refunds and couldn’t explain why it’s not in the brochure or on the website so I’m nervous………..
This is in contrast to Trailfinders who were excellent, refunded our money for a Vietnam trip in full and without quibble, and quickly.