Online travel agents are continuing to mislead customers over their right to a refund when their holidays are hit by COVID restrictions, according to Which?
The consumer champion carried out a mystery shopping exercise with TUI, Trailfinders and four OTAs to find out if customers making new bookings will be refunded if lockdowns or quarantine prevent them from travelling.
It spoke to three agents each from On the Beach, loveholidays, Teletext Holidays and TravelUp as well from Trailfinders and TUI and says only TUI and Trailfinders gave answers ‘in line with the law’ and in line with the company’s official policy.
Agents at loveholidays, On the Beach, Teletext and TravelUp either suggested that they were willing to break the law over refunds or gave misleading information about how the customers’ holidays would or wouldn’t be protected, says Which?
Which? asked the OTAs:
- If they will refund customers if the Government bans international travel before they depart;
- If they will refund both their flight and accommodation if the holiday is cancelled by the provider, and
- If customers can cancel with a full refund if they have to quarantine on arrival at their destination
When asked about the Government banning travel before departure, loveholidays, On the Beach and Teletext were all ‘inconsistent’ in their responses, says Which?
While On the Beach’s official line is that it will refund customers in the event of a travel ban, two of its agents told Which? otherwise.
Teletext agents gave mixed responses and when Which? approached the company for clarification it refused to comment.
Loveholidays told Which? that customers will only receive a full refund if their airline cancels their flight. A spokesperson said that, in these circumstances, customers aren’t automatically entitled to a refund under the Package Travel Regulations (PTRs).
When asked if the OTAs will refund both flights and accommodation together if the holiday is cancelled by the provider, agents for loveholidays, On the Beach, Teletext and TravelUp said customers will have to wait for refunds from suppliers, even though the PTRs state refunds should be paid within 14 days.
The Competition and Markets Authority announced last week that it is preparing to take legal action against Teletext, which has taken months to refund customers.
In addition, TravelUp charges customers £50 to chase suppliers for their money.
Agents imply companies will break the law on refunds
When asked if customers will be refunded for their holidays if they’re forced to quarantine on arriving in their destination, agents for loveholidays, On the Beach, TravelUp and Teletext said they will only receive a full refund if the airline cancels their flight, which is a breach of the Package Travel Regulations.
However, loveholidays, On the Beach and TravelUp later confirmed to Which? that they will fully refund any clients who are told they will be obliged to quarantine on arriving in their destination.
On the Beach told Which?: “As individual countries amend their rules and regulations in regards to mandatory quarantine we will support our customers as much as possible with the most up to date information and any possible amendments to their holiday.
“Should a mandatory quarantine period be imposed upon arrival in a foreign country, we will look to offer our customer an alternative destination package or provide a cash refund within 14 days.”
Loveholidays said that, where applicable, it will cancel the holiday in these circumstances. “However, if an agent has mis-communicated this approach we will ensure our customer service team receives additional guidance so that it does not happen again,” it added.
TravelUp told Which? that during the pandemic it is operating with a limited number of package holiday specialists so some calls may have overflowed to its flight only or accommodation only team who ‘may not have not provided the correct answers about TravelUp’s policies’
“We will undertake a fresh programme of cross training to ensure all of our sales team effectively communicate the latest package holiday refund rules,” added TravelUp.
Bad ATOL advice
Which? also says three Teletext agents incorrectly told the Which? mystery that their holidays were fully protected by ATOL even if the flights and hotels were booked one week apart.
“In this situation, while the flight might be covered by ATOL if booked through a tour operator, the hotel and transfer would not be,” said Which?
Which? Travel Editor Rory Boland said:“Many of the companies that broke the law last year have suggested they may do so again, so regulators must be ready to take strong action against any operators found to be misleading their customers or breaking the law.”