The UK’s 20 biggest travel operators and airlines are “openly breaking the law” by delaying refunds for cancelled trips or removing customers’ refund rights altogether, according to new research by Which?.
The consumer champion said it has received thousands of complaints and requests for help from people struggling to secure a refund for their cancelled travel.
It claims that some airlines and package travel providers are “refusing” to provide refunds, which is “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.
As part of its research, Which? contacted 10 of the UK’s biggest holiday companies, to establish if they were offering customers cash refunds for cancelled travel plans, and if so, under what circumstances.
It found that none of the UK’s 10 biggest holiday companies are currently offering full refunds “within the legal time frame”, with some refusing to provide refunds altogether and instead offering customers the choice of rebooking or accepting a voucher or credit note.
Up to £7bn in payments made by UK customers could be owed for cancelled trips, according to the travel industry’s own estimates.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “We have been inundated with messages from desperate travellers, some who are thousands of pounds out of pocket as a result of cancellations and have no idea if or when they’ll see their money again.
“We do not want to see the industry suffer further as a result of this outbreak, but it cannot be on consumers to prop up airlines and travel firms, especially when so many will be in difficult financial situations of their own.”
He added: “The government must urgently set out how it will support travel firms and airlines to ensure they can meet their legal obligations to refund customers for cancelled travel plans – and avoid permanent damage to trust and confidence in the travel industry.”