Agents were asked a series of questions about holidaymakers’ rights when it came to cancellations, but only two of the package holiday providers consistently answered the questions correctly in line with both the law and their own companies’ official policies.
Trailfinders and Tui were the only tour operators to repeatedly assure the customer that they would be refunded in full within 14 days – as is legally required – if the company cancelled their holiday.
This particular consumer right is enshrined in the Package Travel Regulations. However, agents from the other firms questioned did not commit to refunding travellers within the correct timeframe.
A Love Holidays agent said the consumer would not be reimbursed until it had recouped the money from its suppliers; Teletext said customers could expect to wait up to two months for a refund, until it had secured the money from suppliers; and TravelUp said that, while it was refunding customers within 14 days “wherever possible”, that it had to chase suppliers before the money could be returned. The TravelUp agent also said customers would be charged an admin fee of £50 minimum in order to chase up refunds.
Love Holidays and Teletext have both been investigated by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) over the last year for withholding refunds while chasing up airlines for customers’ money.
Brands were also asked whether customers could cancel for a full refund if they would have to quarantine on arrival at their destination.
By law, holidaymakers should be entitled to cancel for a refund or reasonable alternative, as quarantine falls under the remit of an “unavoidable and extraordinary circumstance” that would significantly affect the performance of the package holiday.
However, again only agents from Tui and Trailfinders reassured customers that they could claim a full refund under these circumstances.
The other firms’ agents said consumers may not be able to claim a refund for the flight portion of the holiday if the airline didn’t cancel the service.
This advice directly contravenes the official policies of Loveholidays, On the Beach and TravelUp.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “Holiday companies are quick to offer promises that you can book with confidence this summer, but unfortunately many of them won’t be so quick to refund your money if coronavirus prevents you from travelling – and that’s if they refund you at all.
“Whether you can book with confidence ultimately comes down to who you book with. 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.”
A Love Holidays spokesperson said: “We continue to meet our commitments as agreed with the CMA regarding refunds.
“With regards to international quarantine requirements on arrival at destination, our customer support agents do not handle these concerns because we keep this under constant review and, where applicable, will cancel the holiday in those circumstances. However, if an agent has miscommunicated this approach we will ensure our customer service team receives additional guidance so that it does not happen again.”
A TravelUp representative said the firm’s policies around package holiday refund rights “abide with the current law”.
They added: “Due to the current pandemic TravelUp is operating with a limited number of package holiday specialists and it is possible that some of the calls may have overflowed to our flight only or accommodation only team. During these exceptional circumstances the rules have changed frequently and in some cases here, when put under pressure, the overflow team may have not provided the correct answers about TravelUp’s policies. We welcome the feedback from the Which? investigation and we will undertake a fresh programme of cross training to ensure all of our sales team effectively communicate the latest package holiday refund rules.”
An On The Beach spokesperson said: “In the event of a travel ban or a national lockdown where travel outside of the UK is prohibited and flights are cancelled, we will fully refund customers in cash within 14 days,” adding that: “We welcome any and all feedback that ensures we continue to offer our customers the best possible service and will be revisiting training needs within our team to ensure that the information we provide customers with is always accurate, clear and consistent.”
Teletext declined to comment.
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