Since the COVID-19 pandemic ground travel to a halt, borders closed and flights were cancelled one by one, travellers across the country have had to cancel or postpone their holidays. The volume of travel refund applications has soared and many travellers are rightly concerned about what has happened to their hard-earned holiday funds.
Here are your top five current travel concerns, answered by our Flight Centre experts:
My flight is cancelled, or I want to cancel, and I want a refund. What can I do?
Airlines each have their own specific terms and conditions for cancellations and refunds. In addition, each flight ticket also has its own terms and conditions depending on the booking class and other factors. For example, some tickets allow for free date changes, while others do not.
During ‘normal’ times, customers accept these terms and conditions when booking and airlines are quite strict in enforcing them. Many tickets are non-refundable and non-transferrable. To further complicate matters, countries have different consumer protection regulations regarding cancellations and refunds.
In ‘normal’ times, if an airline cancels a flight, customers can expect reasonable compensation, such as a credit or refund. If it’s the customer’s decision to cancel, there is no automatic right to a refund.
However, never before has the world of travel seen mass cancellations on this scale, with the entire flight network around the world grounding to a halt.
As such, many travel suppliers have had to change their rebooking and cancellation policies, opting to accommodate customers with a travel voucher or credit for future travel or waiver date change penalties to allow customers to rebook their flight for a later date. Claiming from travel insurance could also be an option.
Should you need to postpone or cancel your travel, your travel expert will liaise on your behalf with the supplier and inform you of the refund options available on your booking.
I could only accept a voucher or credit for future travel but now I can apply for a cash refund. Why has this information changed?
Customers around the world have expressed frustration at having to accept supplier vouchers for future travel instead of cash refunds. Rebooking and cancellation policies, including whether vouchers or refunds are available, are changing daily – sometimes even hourly.
Where refunds are available, it’s important to understand that travel retailers have to wait for these monies to be paid out to them before they can reimburse the customer.
Every situation is different, and customers are advised to check the airline’s or supplier’s website regularly. Customers are also advised to be conscious that priority will be given to customers with upcoming flights. If your flight is only due to depart in December, you are unlikely to get any conclusive feedback now about what to do with your flight as the future of when we will be able to travel, due to government regulations, is still uncertain.
I don’t know whether to take a voucher or a cash refund? Is my money safe?
While travellers are encouraged to postpone their trips instead of canceling them outright, there may be several reasons why a refund or a voucher may be most suitable for you and your specific situation.
Many travel vouchers offered by suppliers currently are valid for up to a year. This will give you time to decide closer to your departure date what you would like to do. Travel vouchers keep your money on credit and ensure you don’t have to pay any cancellation fees to the supplier if the flight has not been cancelled yet. Money is safe provided the supplier is in operation. Travel vouchers can buy you time to “wait and see.”
However, uncertainty around which airline routes will still be operating, what borders will be open and whether it will be safe health wise to travel are valid customer concerns.
There is no blanket one size fits all approach so it’s a case of weighing up the pros and cons of your specific situation and the options available to you.
Why has my travel agent not paid my refund money?
Travel agents are not allowed to hold onto customer’s refund money. Once the refund has been processed by the airline and the airline has paid the agent, the travel agent must refund the customer.
The Flight Centre Travel Group (FCTG) strongly adheres to this policy. In South Africa, from March to June 2020, 1 854 ticket refunds have already been processed and paid to the customer by FCTG South Africa. 16 962 refunds are still pending, most of which are waiting to be approved and processed by global airlines.
Travel agents act on behalf of their customers as an agent in the booking of travel products and services with third party suppliers. The agent makes payment to a third-party supplier to confirm a travel service on behalf of a customer. When the supplier has paid the refund to the agent, the agent must pay it out to the customer.
Why is my refund taking so long to be processed and paid out?
The high volume of applications means that refunds may take months to be processed by the supplier as it often needs to be processed by global airline offices.
For example, the volume of air ticket refunds being processed totals more than 500 000 globally for the Flight Centre Travel Group alone. From March to June 2020, globally the Flight Centre Travel Group (FCTG) has applied for 779 354 air ticket refunds on behalf of their customers, to be paid out when processed and paid by the airline.
“We have never had to deal with such an unprecedented volume of enquiries, flight cancellations and postponements,” says Sue Garrett, General Manager of Marketing and Product at the Flight Centre Travel Group.
“We understand how incredibly frustrating this is for our customers. Unfortunately, we have no control over these timelines but always endeavour to communicate timelines we have received proactively to our customers. We empathise that the supply chain is under immense pressure at this time, so we always advise customers that significant delays can be expected.”