/ Travel & Leisure

Maintaining trust in travel: our 10-point plan

Widespread cancellations of flights and holidays have left many people helpless, and in some cases stranded. We’re launching a 10-point plan to maintain consumer trust.

We’ve heard from hundreds of people who have been refused a refund for a cancelled flight or holiday, and in some cases people are being denied access to hundreds and thousands of pounds at a time when their finances are already under strain.

In fact, our latest research found that 20 of the UK’s biggest travel operators and airlines are openly breaking the law by delaying refunds for cancelled trips or removing customers’ refund rights altogether.

Some airlines and package travel providers are refusing to provide refunds, in a breach of their legal obligations to their customers, while others are providing vouchers or credit notes – which may prove to be worthless if holiday firms run into financial trouble.

Stranded overseas

Worryingly, passengers remain stranded overseas with no choice but to spend hundreds of pounds to return home.

Unfortunately in some instances, even these flights have been cancelled, leaving people even more out of pocket and struggling to get a refund for the additional flight.

To add to the confusion, many people still have no guarantee of when they will next be able to travel or whether they will be covered by their travel insurance policy if they do, making re-booking incredibly difficult.

Read all the latest COVID-19 news and advice on our dedicated hub

That is why we’re calling on the government to take urgent action to support the travel industry and make sure passengers aren’t left out of pocket for cancelled flights or holidays.

While we recognise the immense pressure that industry is under, it is vital now more than ever that people can count on their consumer rights and that trust and confidence in the travel sector is not permanently damaged as a result.

Our 10-point plan

As part of our plan, which you can read in full here, we’re calling for:

The right to a refund to be protected: All consumers who are currently eligible to receive a refund must be offered a cash refund when their flight or holiday is cancelled.

Credit notes to be protected and optional: A credit note/voucher may be offered as an alternative but not sole option when a flight or holiday is cancelled. These vouchers must also be time-limited, with a full refund provided at the end of the term, with terms and conditions clearly and proactively communicated. All credit notes/vouchers must be insolvency protected.

Action when airlines fail to refund customers: Airlines must be supported throughout the outbreak and effectively held to account when failing to offer and issue refunds for cancelled flights.

Flexibility for companies struggling to manage during this crisis: The statutory 14-day refund period for package holidays should be temporarily extended to a maximum of one month.

There is a clear need for the government to urgently set out how it will support travel firms and airlines to ensure they can meet their legal obligations.

While we do not want to see the industry suffer further as a result of this outbreak, it clearly cannot be on consumers to prop up airlines and travel firms, especially when so many will be in difficult financial situations of their own.

Have you had a flight or holiday cancelled? What was your experience like?

Do you think the government should step in to make sure money for cancelled flights and holidays is refunded?

Comments
Larissa Howarth says:
22 April 2020

I had 2 sets of flights cancelled on a return trip from Australia by Singapore Airlines and then Etihad. Both flight booked through Flight Center. Flight center advises that they can’t give a date for refund from SA but have applied for one on my behalf and have quoted 12 weeks for a refund from Etihad. Total amount is over £3500 which I desperately need. This can’t be right.

It’s not. Call your credit card provider.

I like the Which? Ten Point Plan. It seems to pick up most of the points that have arisen here in Which? Conversation. I don’t quite know why but I seem to have taken a closer interest in this consumer topic recently and have certainly found the travel trade to be a can or worms and badly in need of a good sort out. Let’s hope this will start that process.

There are a number of other aspects that while not deserving of an entry in the 10-point plan should certainly be explored to improve the working of the market and the protection of consumers [the text in italics is my explanation for my recommendation and not a quote from the plan document] –

a. Travel documents should be simpler, clearer and better presented so that consumers can see their full rights and obligations and also the contractual obligations on the providers – including, in the case of packages, the obligations on providers of the separate elements. Many people have struggled to understand their contractual position and entitlements because the paperwork was badly written and presented or couched in evasive language.

b. It must be made much clearer that ABTA [the Association of British Travel Agents] exists primarily to protect travel agents, not consumers. Also, ABTA can only regulate its own members so bookings with foreign companies or on-line-only operators might be more risky if things go wrong. Some people who have challenged the ‘no refunds’ policies have been informed that “this follows ABTA guidance”. But such guidance has no legal force. The ABTA mark benefits from close association with the ATOL monogram in the public’s perception as an official body and the two abbreviations are frequently found linked together in the meaningless phrase “ABTA/ATOL protected”.

c. On first engagement, travel agents should provide an explanatory document setting out what they will and will not do on behalf of their clients, how they get remunerated for the service they provide, and what their responsibilities are when they put together flights and accommodation packages [many of which are not brochure holidays but advertised as “last minute offers” or “manager’s specials” at cheap fares]. It should be made clear that the travel agent is acting on behalf of the customer, especially when things go wrong. Some travellers have complained that when a company failed to provide a refund for a cancelled holiday their agent sided with the operator and didn’t honour the legal position or refused to challenge the operator in order to obtain the refund. Some agents are reported to have also also fallen back on the “take it up with your insurance company” line rather than act for their client. It would seem that numerous travel agency staff are either unaware of the legal position surrounding their business [or have been instructed to conceal it], are ignorant of the implications of an insurance claim [possible repudiation because of lack of cover, loss of no claims advantage or hike in premium on future policies, deduction of an excess from any claim, and the principle of insurance as a last resort], and don’t understand s.75 of CCA 1974 and think it is an automatic compensation tool.

d. There needs to be formal clarification of the term “non-refundable” in contracts for travel , accommodation and event tickets. It should be made clear that it only applies in the circumstance where the customer cancels the booking in which case any deposit or pre-payment is forfeited. If the operator or provider cancels the booking – irrespective of whether or not it was for reasons outside their control – any statutory or contractual refunds should be paid by that party. Companies have been using “non-refundable” as a comprehensive exclusion. Providers and travel agents should make the meaning of the term clear in their brochures and booking agreements. If they intend it to mean or include a cancellation by the provider or operator this should be explicitly pointed out and the customer be cautioned accordingly.

e. With regard to the holiday homes and cottages business, it should be made clear in magazines and newspapers that advertise them, and in the brochures and other literature of providers, that there is no regulation of the market beyond basic consumer rights. The hire agreement should also make clear what holidaymakers could be liable for in the event that the booking has to be cancelled either for reasons outside the provider’s control or at the customer’s request. Agents for the holiday hire business should make their clients aware of the law on frustrated contracts.

I wish the Ten Point Plan well and I am glad that Which? has drawn attention to the commercial implications and consequences for operators if refund claims are denied or postponed without justification. Which? does not endorse any relief from the legal obligations except for some temporary time-limited relaxation in the compliance period but urges the CAA to supervise the implementation of the relevant regulations more effectively. The loss of the Air Travel Organisers Licence would be the ultimate sanction.

The Ten Point Plan document also mentions the potential financial implications for consumers of introducing additional protections in terms of reduced or higher cost insurance cover, and a rise in the cost of holidays and travel generally.

My one and only criticism of the Ten Point Plan is the difficulty in reading parts of it. Using white text on a dark blue background [page 2] makes it a struggle for many people [and also soaks up a tank full of blue ink when printing] but using a dark background for black text makes it nigh on impossible to read [all the text in italics in boxes on pages 6-10].

Which? is usually very good at making documents inclusive and accessible so this is disappointing. I would hope the on-line version can be modified even if any printed copies have to remain as they are.

It doesn’t pay to ask politicians to understand things they can’t read – it only serves as an excuse not to deal with it properly.

Rich says:
22 April 2020

We are currently having an argument with Britney Ferries. Although they have offered us a credit note, it’s not really applicable to us as we have no wish to travel to France next year. They are currently arguing that this is a difficult time for them and they are meeting their legal obligations??

Rich – Have Brittany Ferries cancelled the crossing or did you? If you cancelled out of necessity [since the government has banned all non-essential travel] it will depend on what it says in your contract or whether you can invoke the the Law Reform (Frustrated Contracts) Act 1943. This releases both parties from the contract: the ferry company don’t have to take you somewhere and you don’t have to pay them. They cannot provide an acceptable substitute so have to give you back all you have paid.

The company might be unaware of this law because the present circumstances are unprecedented since the second world war, but I think it should apply in your case and you could cite in the formal claim you should now make in writing.

Angela Alper says:
22 April 2020

The system needs to change and the time is now. The public have now lost confidence in the government and the so called protection we are told we have when clearly we have not. The travel companies will want our future custom but the public will not want theirs after all this debacle.

I agree with you Angela. The travel trade has profited handsomely from the boom in ever more elaborate holidays over recent decades [including during the recent period of austerity when massive cruise ships were rolling down the slipways at weekly intervals] but have not seen it as important to make adequate financial provision in reserves for times when things go wrong. And it is “when” not “if” because there is a continuous stream of events worldwide that have disrupted the travel and holiday business from earthquakes and tsunamis to volcanic ash clouds, terrorist outrages, commercial collapses, and financial meltdown.

I must agree that the government could have done more to compel the travel industry to fulfil its legal obligations to customers. While I would not go so far as to say it has misled travellers about the protection available to them – in fact silence has been its watchword – there does not seem to have been any activity from the CAA [the airline regulator] or the Department for Transport [or the BEIS for that matter] on ensuring consumers get hassle free-access to their entitlements.

Trying to get a refund for a holiday cancelled by Secret Escapes. They don’t respond to any communication and have just sent out generic emails saying I will get a credit note and then an automated email credit note. Unacceptable.

Sarah – You don’t have to accept the unacceptable. Send the company a formal letter claiming a full refund. Depending on what sort of holiday it was there are plenty of examples of the redress mechanisms available in the Which? Conversation articles shown in the “Coronavirus: Read our latest advice” topic in the banner at the top of this page [look for the panel “Coronavirus outbreak Q&A: advice for travellers”] .

Elizabeth Laird says:
22 April 2020

Sarah, I experienced huge problems last year with Secret escapes and swore never to book through them again, I now understand there situation a little better as the holiday I had booked was not through them it was through a third party and they are just the broker hence their reluctance to work with me. In the end I found a number to call them but again you only reach a team who work remotely and can not give you the answers you require. I’d try and find out who your holiday is actually booked through and call/email them. Good luck

John Gresham says:
22 April 2020

Rather than wasting time dealing with an unresponsive company, you can (if you paid at least £100 of the cost of the holiday with a credit card) immediately make a ‘Section 75 Claim’ for a full refund to your credit card company, which is jointly liable.

Efe ikhiwi says:
22 April 2020

I got email from virgin altantic airline that my flight which is due to dep 1st of june 2020 has been cancelled. I sent email to them for my full refund. Have not hear from them

Richard Hogg says:
22 April 2020

British Airways issued me with a voucher which they say cannot be changed. This was accidentally applied for on their website which I thought was directing me to a refund. It is well documented by others this was (intentionally) misleading. Nonetheless I tried to call them straight away to reverse this (as is your right for a cooling off period within 24 hours of any purchase). Again as well publicised phones were not answered. Eventually I got through some days after and was told I could not do anything and no way will I be given cash. I informed them I have 6 other business flights booked and if they didn’t reverse this (this was a personal flight totalling nearly £2k) then instead of accepting vouchers for those (which I was happy to do) then I would request cash since I was aware of the process now (totalling about £10k). Again they refused to move. So instead of being able to issue £10k of vouchers and paying me £2k in cash they will have to pay me £10k in cash and issue £2k in vouchers. Where is the logic in that? They have no idea of my personal finances and its is not right they seem to choose what to pay back and when. I have no interest in saving the airline with my money…why should anyone ? Thus I have now issued them with a statutory demand via the court system which its free to do. They cannot refute this so it will be interesting ro see how they reply to it. If there don’t I can apply to make them bankrupt in the courts. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/demand-immediate-payment-of-a-debt-from-a-limited-company-form-sd1

John Gresham says:
22 April 2020

Bankrupting BA may make us all feel good, but it may not get us (unsecured creditors) our money back!

Easyjet is simply sitting on passengers’ money in order to keep as much cash as it can. The company is uncontactable by phone, one simply receives a recorded message saying how busy it is and call back later, whilst the Twitter pages after weeks of trying sent me a request to direct message the company with details it already had.
I did this and have heard nothing. It is now over four weeks since my wife received notice that she would receive a refund within seven days for our two return flights. Instead we have, like so many other people, been ignored.
I have another return flight booked with the company next month to Mallorca that is almost certain to be cancelled and so my wife and I will be owed two lots of expenditure that we stand no chance of getting. Why should the government bail Easyjet out for keeping our money?

As I have mentioned before, there is a callous outlook within the travel industry that non-essential travel is a form of discretionary expenditure and therefore unimportant . It is argued that if you had had the holiday you would no longer have the money, and not much to show for it either, plus you might have spent even more on associated activities, so when and how you get recompense is also at their discretion.

It is annoying that there has been no attempt by the CAA or the government to enact sanctions for withholding travellers’ money, and it is indeed galling that easyJet [and there are others taxi-ing towards the runway] are getting a publicly-funded loan of £600,000,000 [I quote it in full to show how much legroom it requires].

We booked 2 holidays with Voyage Privé. Italy in April, paid in full, refuse to respond to requests for refund, stating “they’re sorry WE want to cancel”. They urge you to click on the cancel button, when you’re faced with massive cancellation fees. They are now insisting they only offer credit vouchers which has been applied to our on line account with them. I’ve applied to our credit card provider for a refund, but you can’t get hold of them due to claim volumes. We apparently have to pay Voyage Privé for the balance of our trip to China by August and are extremely reluctant to do so, but if we don’t, we are apparently in breach of contract and will lose our £1k deposit!
Absolutely disgusted with their refusal to engage with us and their non negotiable stance on refunds. I appreciate these are difficult times, but customers should not be expected to financially prop up travel Companies when they’re struggling themselves. They aren’t doing themselves any favours, since we, and I’m sure many others, won’t forget how they were dealt with when this is all over! I’m actually thinking of going back to our ‘old school’ village travel agent!

I had a fully paid holiday booked through Saga Holidays for the end of April , beginning of May. This holiday has been cancelled and although Saga have gave me a written option of a voucher or full refund, they have not contacted me yet by phone to ask me what I want to do. They say in their letter to me, someone from their dedicated team will phone me, been waiting a couple of weeks now, no call. If you go onto the Saga website and manage your booking , you can ask for a voucher, but cannot ask for a full refund ? Why this is, I do not know, but to me it is them making it harder for me to ask for my money back. They supplied a 0800 phone number, but as all their staff are working from home now and on a reduced number of hours, it is impossible to call them. Stinks, it is my money and will not be booking anymore holidays if I lose the cash. Enough punters do that and holiday companies will go bust !

George – Why not send Saga a formal letter claiming a full refund? That will at least provide hard evidence of your claim and its date if that becomes a material issue.

Linda Abbott says:
22 April 2020

I have just e-mailed BA for the 6th time about obtaining a refund for flights they cancelled. They previously told me to go onto Manage my booking and claim via that portal. When you click to get a refund you get a voucher. I didn’t try it but presumably if I had clicked get a voucher, I would also have got a voucher. Next problem, I was booked in 2 hotels in France, The Mercure in Marseilles and the Mercure in Avignon. Marseilles e-mailed me a few weeks ago cancelling my reservation and refunded me within 3 days. Avignon, have e-mailed my 3 times, I have rung Mercure hotels 3 times and I am fighting with them, the hotel wants to give me a voucher, Accor Hotels, who own Mercure Hotels, told me to call them nearer the time if I heard nothing back from the hotel. I rang them,, now they are saying I can only have a voucher. I have contacted American Express with whom I booked.

We get exactly the same treatment from Destination 2. They have issued an e-credit note, which if not used can be cashed in at the end of this year. The travel insurers have issued half of the cost of the one-trip premium stating that I have cancelled, as per their t&c’s. I didn’t cancel, and have demanded a full refund. They haven’t replied so far. We also paid to reserve our seats on a total of all 4 Emirates flights. I can’t even contact them.

I have booked a cruise via Blue Water Holidays with Emerald Cruisers
Emerald Cruisers have advised I can have a “voucher” for the full amount plus 10% as a goodwills gesture which I do not want
If we want a refund they say “If you have not used the voucher by 31/12/2022 (yes 2022) you can get a refund
I have emailed Blue Water Holidays , copied to Emerald Waterways requesting a full refund
Blue Water Holidays say they have passed it to Emerald Cruisers for there consideration
I want a refund so that , if we want to we can book a similar cruise by paying a deposit and have the rest of our refund in our account and not in Emerald Cruisers account

I have had two flights cancelled from my April holiday. One Ryan Air one Jet Two. I am still waiting for refunds. Ryan Air is the worst they keep trying to push me off with a voucher, which I do not want.
Then I’m told I have to wait till the Pandemic is over, before I get my money back.
Totally and utterly DISGUSTING
I couldn’t keep them waiting for the money, when I booked my flight.

Contact your card issuer. They will process a refund – if it’s a credit card, they have to by law.

George says:
29 April 2020

Hi ,I have tried 4 times with credit card supplier they won’t listen their excuse this is a package holiday backed by ABTA it’s their responsibility

Had a 3 week trip to Australia planned end March to visit my son with a self made package using STA Travel, Expedia, AirBNB and TigerAir. Expedia have been great and refunded all monies bar one which was non-refundable for which they gave us a credit voucher. AirBNB similarly good all monies returned. TigerAir (low budget Australian carrier owned by Virgin Australia) have provided credit vouchers. But by far the biggest chunk left outstanding is with STA Travel though for our flights (which we rebooked in February to avoid Hong Kong at additional cost) with a value around £1750 which STA insist they can only provide a credit voucher for even though we were unable to travel and Etihad cancelled the flight. My son who was on a 2 year working holiday had to return to the UK as there was no employment and ended up having to pay Qatar £1500 one-way to get home, but only after booking 3 previous flights via Thailand, Singapore and USA with all cancelled and no refunds yet received for any of them. It not only needs the UK law tightening up, but the whole global position needs a shake up too. STA have openly quoted an ABTA advisory as their reason for not providing refunds so as someone mentioned earlier ABTA put the Travel Agents needs above those of their customers.

https://www.abta.com/news/coronavirus-outbreak

https://customercare.statravel.com/hc/en-us/articles/360006712658

MacFan – The law could hardly be tighter, but the airlines have got it over a barrel. If customers demand refunds within the mandated timescales the companies will collapse. Governments cannot face up to that consequence so are reluctant to enforce the law. In the Which? 10-point plan there is a recommendation for a temporary extension of the timescale for refunds but Which? remains adamant that customers must have them if that is their wish and it calls on the government and the CAA to hold the airlines to account.

ste says:
22 April 2020

I am thankful that for once out of my own forgetfulness and putting it off I didn’t book any family holidays this year, the plan was centre parks, then a holiday with the family to the Lanzarote then over to Portugal with my mate for a stag do then over to south of Spain again the with family… hadn’t booked a thing and this hit! The thing is even when this is over I will not be booking anything with the way all of the airlines and holiday companies have treated everyone. I truly hope everyone else avoid them too allowing those that have treated everyone like dirt to go bust! then hopefully with a lot of reform out of the ashes decent firms that will abide by the law will start up…. well we all can but hope!

I had a holiday to Sardinia booked for May 30th for me and my partner. Was told in an email I need to take a voucher worth the cost of everything but my flight. Was told the flight company will reimburse them and they will pay me cash. So why can’t they do that with the rest? I took the voucher as was told I would lose everything otherwise. What can I do? Can’t get in touch with loveholidays. They have shut their phone lines and are doing online chat. Yesterday I spent 3 hours waiting for someone and got fed up. What do I do?

Kerri-Ann – I think you need to send loveholidays – as the package tour organiser – a formal letter of claim for a full refund and ask them that very question. You are entitled to a refund for everything within the package and should continue to press for one. Love holidays? Not any more!

Tina Weller says:
22 April 2020

My Ryan Air flights were cancelled and I have (as have many others) been offered vouchers despite requesting a refund. The joke is you have to contact them to get a refund when the Covid 19 Issues are over! You cannot get through to Ryan Air via phone or chat and they do not respond to social media messages. Incredibly poor form and disappointing!!