Questions of cash: How can I get a refund for a cancelled flight?


Q. I bought a return ticket to New Zealand through Southall Travel. I was due to fly on Saturday 13 December and return on Tuesday 6 January, flying Virgin to Shanghai, with a return to Auckland with Air China. But in November Southall Travel told me Air China had unexpectedly cancelled all their flights between Auckland and Shanghai. I requested an alternative itinerary, but Southall Travel told me there was none. I tried to speak to Virgin and Air China, but got nowhere as I had booked through a travel agent. Southall Travel told me the only solution was to get a refund from Air China for the £800. I eventually managed to get an alternative flight with Emirates for £1,200, but I still haven't got my money back from Air China. EE, by email.

A. We are fed up with the way airlines and travel agents treat customers whose flights they cancel, but which act with the speed of a snail in making refunds. We have been in contact with your travel agent on a continual basis since November trying to get this resolved. Initially, Southall Travel was unable to process a payment to you because it had not received the refund from Air China. There was then an additional delay – more understandably – because in the meantime the debit card you had paid with had expired and you had moved. The agent therefore needed you to provide proof of your new bank account and address before it could send you the repayment – which it has now done. We believe it is past time that the airline industry cleaned up its act on this. Until it does, we advise readers to pay by credit card and then demand speedy repayment from the card issuers if a flight is cancelled. Perhaps the banks will be more successful than customers have been in getting the airlines to act with appropriate haste.

Q. I bought a flight with Kuwait Airlines through an agent, Asia Travel, in Manila. I had to cancel the booking but I have waited five months for the refund, which has still not arrived. I have complained to Kuwait Airlines, but it says it has not received a refund request from Asia Travel. ML, by email.

A. You made your purchase using your credit card. We approached your card issuer, Abbey, which says it received the refund request on 26 January and – after some mediation by us - processed the refund on 3 February.

Q. I took out a five year capped mortgage four and a half years ago with the Marsden Building Society. I researched the market extensively and chose this product over others, deliberately preferring it to a fixed-rate mortgage so that I would benefit from any fall in interest rates. But I am very unhappy because the rate has never come down. The reality is that this was a fixed-rate mortgage in disguise, which was more expensive than other fixed-rate mortgages. It is not the deal I thought I signed up for! It has a capped rate of 5.49 per cent until 30 June 2009. KA, Middlesex.

A. Rob Pheasey, operations director of the Marsden Building Society, says you misunderstood the product you agreed to, but that the correct information was included in the material supplied to you during the application process. "This very clearly describes how the mortgage would operate, particularly in relation to interest rates," he says. "In July 2004 (the start date of mortgage), the society's standard variable rate (SVR) was 6.49 per cent: the borrower's rate was 5.49 per cent (capped). The society's SVR remained above the level of the cap up to 1 February 2009, when the rate was reduced to 5.49 per cent, the same rate as the borrower's capped rate. The product terms and conditions clearly state that "in the event of the society's SVR falling below the capped rate, your rate will also reduce in line with society rate reductions". The society has provided a clear product disclosure to the customer. The society has reduced its SVR from 7.79 per cent (January 2008) to 5.49 per cent (February 2009). Should the SVR reduce further, the borrower would benefit, prior to the product term end date on 30 June 2009."

Q. In your answer about the "Buy & Fly" credit cards (Questions of Cash, 7 February), you refer to Barclaycard giving 1 per cent cashback on the first £200 spending per month. I can find no mention of this on their site. Could you please publish further details. VL, by email.

A. This is a cashback deal that applies only to a limited number of Barclaycards – those for customers who were previously on Morgan Stanley and Goldfish "Buy & Fly" credit cards and Barclaycard Travel Reward cards. They are not available to new customers. Letters are being sent to those customers eligible for the offer – which is for 1 per cent on the first £200 spending per month and half a per cent for spending above this level.

Q. I have moved home, transferring with me my subscription to Tiscali. But I cannot get them to cancel my combined broadband and TV service at my former address. Tiscali insists on asking me for my date of birth, which I refuse to provide – it is used as a security question by my bank and I am concerned that this reduces my fraud protection. I have never supplied Tiscali with my date of birth, so I don't see how this will help them. When I said this to Tiscali's call centre, I was told I could not close my account without supplying my date of birth. AL, London.

A. Tiscali has now cancelled your account at your former address. It is calculating whether you made an overpayment as a result of the delay in processing the cancellation; if so, it will refund this. When you took out the account at your previous address you did so with the cable company Homechoice, which was subsequently purchased by Tiscali. Tiscali insists that Homechoice required customers' dates of birth to confirm they were permitted to obtain adult TV services – and that it will not open accounts with customers who refuse to supply their date of birth. However, it has told its customer service staff to be more sensitive with clients who do not wish to be asked their date of birth and to be prepared to use alternative security questions.

Questions of Cash cannot give individual advice. But if you have a financial dilemma, we'll do our best to help. Please email us at: questionsofcash@independent.co.uk

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