Latest travel updates on refunds and vouchers: Travel agents and tour operators to give government-protected credit notes instead of refunds.
With extraordinary times, come extraordinary measures. The standard policies that have applied for years with regard to cancellations and refunds are no longer being used in the travel industry. Some argue that airlines and travel companies are breaking the law, and while this may be somewhat true, there is no doubt that some of the laws and regulations, such as EU 261, were not designed to be used in these times.
The Irish Travel Agents Association along with various travel agencies have been lobbying to change the current policies, to make them more adaptable to our current circumstances. On May 8th the Irish government backed a new refund credit note that can be used by travel agents and tour operators to give to customers instead of a refund – note this is not applicable to airlines.
These credit notes will be guaranteed by the state in the event that the travel agent or tour operator ceases trading. It will be issued with a future redeemable date (6 months at present), and on that date it can be exchanged for its cash, or can be used to book another holiday. According to Shane Ross, ‘ the refund credit note aims to strike a balance between preventing sector-wide bankruptcy (with associated immediate job losses) and consumer rights.’
I have been inundated with questions from many people who have had their holidays cancelled, or have future holidays booked and are unsure of their rights or what they should do. I have outlined my most common questions below, hopefully your own situation is among them – if not, let me know by commenting under the post and I will endeavour to get an answer for you.
I am booked to fly with Ryanair but received no correspondence from them, and I am not sure if my flight is operating.
Ryanair have announced that they are grounding most of their fleet in May and June. With the exception of a few flights which are still confirmed as operating until 20th June (see here), it is likely that most of their flights will be cancelled.
Ryanair will contact you by email outlining your options, which will mention changing your flight, or offering a voucher, rather than applying for a refund. You won’t have to pay a change fee, but you will pay the difference in airfare, if there is one. Once your flight has been cancelled, you can apply for a refund or voucher – but you need to wait until closer to the departure date to see if your flight is cancelled – this may not happen until seven days prior to departure.
I have been offered a voucher from Ryanair but want a refund – what can I do?
Ryanair are now asking you to accept vouchers instead of refunds – even if you have applied for a refund already. These emails are being sent individually so if you have not received it yet, it should come in due course. They have stated that they will not be processing refunds until after the Covid-19 emergency has passed.
They recommend you take their voucher, which is valid for a year from issue date and can be exchanged for cash after a year if unused during that time. However, if you still want to apply for a refund, you can do this by using this link – bear in mind this may take months to process. If you are having difficulty applying via the link (many are), you can message them on Facebook – I have been told my customers that they are engaging this way now.
If you are not happy with this arrangement you make a complaint to the Commission of Aviation regulation and they will take up the case with Ryanair on your behalf. You will need to prove that you applied for a refund and are being offered a voucher instead. Listen to our exclusive interview with Air Passenger Rights Manager Sarah Fischer, she tells us how to get a refund if your flight is cancelled.
Latest statement from Ryanair, 6th May 2020
- The processing time for cash refunds is taking far longer than normal as we are processing over 1,000 times the normal volume of cancellations. We also have 75% fewer staff available to process refunds due to social distancing restrictions.
- Ryanair is offering vouchers and free moves as these are automated and give customers an immediate alternative. Unfortunately, cash refunds cannot be automated. Customers who choose a voucher, but don’t redeem it within 12 months may still apply for and obtain a refund after this 12 month period.
- Customers who choose not to accept a free move or voucher will receive their refund in due course, once this crisis has passed. Over the coming weeks and months, we will be working hard to process refund requests as quickly as we can.
- We sincerely apologise for these unavoidable refund delays which are due to the unprecedented volume of Govt. imposed flight cancellations and we sincerely thank customers for their patience.
I am due to fly with Aer Lingus in May or June, can I get a refund?
If your flight is cancelled you can accept a voucher for 110% off the full cost of your fare, or apply for a refund using this form. You may not find this link on your email asking you to avail of the voucher, but if your flight has been cancelled, you can apply for a refund in this way.
Note in many cases the flight will not be cancelled until seven days prior to departure. Once you accept the voucher, you cannot then apply for the refund. If you want a refund you will need to wait until closer to your departure date, see if the flight is cancelled and apply for a refund at that stage.
How long is my Aer Lingus Voucher valid for and are there any Ts&Cs I should be aware of?
The good news is that Aer Lingus vouchers are valid for five years, and can be spread out to for use on multiple trips. You will get the full value of your flight ticket, including seat selection, priority boarding etc, plus an additional 10% bonus. At present they are only waiving change fees on bookings up to 30th September, and offering vouchers to customers who are due to travel before 30th June – this may be extended. However, once you accept the voucher, you cannot subsequently apply for a refund if your flight is cancelled at a later date. Note: vouchers are given to the lead passenger on the booking but do not have to be used solely by the lead passenger.
I am due to fly with in May or June and my flight is still operating.
Aer Lingus are still operating flights to some European and UK airports, as well as Boston, Chicago and New York. Ryanair have listed flights that are still operating (see here) until 20th June. Many other airlines are also operating limited schedules.
If you are booked on one of these flights, your only option is to change dates, accept a voucher if offered, or claim through your travel insurance. Note travel insurance will only reimburse you if you have government advisory or travel disruption cover included in your policy. You will also need to prove that no refund is available from your airline / hotel.
I have booked a FLIGHT via a travel agency and they are not engaging with me.
EU regulation 261 specifically states that any flight contract is between the passenger and the airline. You do not need to go via your travel agent to request a refund. You can contact your airline directly, and if they will not engage with you, or will not offer you a refund, you can make a complaint to the Commission of Aviation regulation, and they will take up the case on your behalf. Note: You will need to prove that you have tried to seek a refund from your airline and they are refusing to deal with you. Note EU-261 only applies to the flight contract, not hotel costs, transfers etc.
I am booked to travel with TUI in June and and have not received any correspondence from them.
TUI have cancelled all holidays up to and including 11th June – personally I see this being extended by another month, at least. They will allow you to change your holiday, or any holiday departing before 31st of July free of charge. They have asked that customers do not contact them unless it is urgent and have stated that they will be in touch with you to discuss your options. You can choose to change to later in 2020 or 2021 but the difference in fare / holiday will apply. You can alternatively apply for refund if your holiday is cancelled.
I am travelling June or July and want to cancel.
The current government advice is against non-essential travel, with 14 day self isolation required when you return into Ireland. While I assume this advice will be amended in July, I can not understand how we are ‘allowed’ travel abroad, yet not travel within Ireland until the 20th of July. This is something that we urgently need clarification on from government.
However, as it stands currently (21st May), if you do you wish to travel, but the flights are operating, you are not entitled to a refund. You should be able to change your travel dates, but if you cancel because you do not want to fly, that is seen as your own personal decision.
If the government advice is still in place against non-essential travel, then you may be able to claim on your travel insurance. You will need to have had a policy taken out with travel disruption cover or government advice, before the advice came into effect.
I am due to travel in July or August and am unsure whether to pay the balance of my holiday.
Despite most booking conditions stating that balances are due 10 weeks before departure, few travel companies are adhering to this rule. Most tour operators and travel agencies have adapted flexible policies and few are actively chasing balance payments. I have not heard of any bookings being cancelled due to lack of payment…
However, if you do not pay your balance by the due date, you are technically breaking your contract. It is important to keep in close contact with your agent, advise them of your position and try to wait to see if the flights are cancelled closer to the departure time.
For more information on passenger rights visit Flightrights.ie