Travel customers still waiting months for refunds from airlines, travel agents
Steven Marvell and his wife have been waiting seven months for a refund to plane tickets they bought for a trip in July.
They were due to fly with Qantas from Sydney to London.
When COVID-19 hit Australia though, and the Government restricted international flights, he asked for a refund.
“We had to decide in May if we should accept a credit so we thought we’d do that for the following year,” Mr Marvell told ABC Radio Sydney.
“But then we thought ‘we don’t know when we’ll be able to fly and whether we’ll want to fly’.
“We contacted the travel agent and asked for a refund.”
He still has not seen any of the $10,600 he paid for two premium economy return tickets.
He has also lost $800 on tickets with Scandinavian Airlines and another $800 for a cancelled Airbnb booking in London.
A spokesman from Qantas told ABC Radio Sydney in a statement that they were “working to clear the backlog as quickly we can, but it is unprecedented and we’re really grateful for people’s patience”.
If customers made their bookings through a travel agent or third party, refunds must be processed via those agents, the spokesman outlined.
In June, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) raised concerns with Qantas after the company was issuing travel credits rather than refunds for flights that had been cancelled.
Others still waiting
Mr Marvell is not alone and is among many other travellers still waiting on refunds from airlines or travel agents.
“Still waiting for a Qantas refund. Told 16-week wait, been waiting over 6 months.” — Jo
“Bought four Qantas tickets in February from Flight Centre for $1,800. Got told ‘don’t bother contacting us, you will get paid eventually’.” — Peter
On its website, Flight Centre wrote that due to coronavirus “all suppliers have been inundated with requests leading to long wait times of more than 12 weeks in some instances”.
“I booked return flights to the UK for last June. Nearly $6,000! Flights were booked with Virgin but operated by Singapore Airlines. Virgin have refused to offer a refund even when asked on multiple occasions. They have given me travel credit. As it stands now I have $6,000 in travel credit to use by next July. All we want is a refund.” — Joe
Virgin indicated they are “unable to offer refund or credit for flexible fares” if travel was to occur on or after February 1.
“We have been waiting since March 11 for a refund of about $12,000 from TripADeal for a 6-week holiday in Europe. We received the Emirates refund for flights months ago but have only been given credits for the remainder.” — ABC Radio Sydney listener
TripADeal said they are “working closely with our local and international suppliers” and offer credits and refunds “where possible”.
“We were to fly to India in October. Still haven’t got $12,000 refund from Singapore Airlines.” — Harry and Bronwyn
A spokesman from Singapore Airlines said all refunds requested for flights scheduled to depart between April and November have been processed.
Customers who bought tickets directly from the airline should have received their refunds.
Customers who purchased tickets via travel agents should contact those agents about refunds as Singapore Airlines has refunded money to those travel companies, the spokesman said.
Why is this happening?
The Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) said that under normal circumstances, refunds should be processed within 12 weeks.
In a fact sheet on the AFTA website, it said “in the current environment, there are clearly significant delays on top of this”.
“These delays are not the fault of the travel agent but are due to government imposed restrictions,” AFTA said.
A consumer law expert with consumer advocacy group Choice, Julia Steward, said the travel industry had been hit hard by the pandemic this year.
She said complaints about refunds were up 300 per cent or more.
“I can tell you worse stories of people waiting on tens of thousands of dollars of refunds,” Ms Steward said.
One reason for the delay in refunds was that each ticket had individual terms and conditions.
Despite that, Ms Steward said “everyone should be entitled to a refund”.
In June, the Government directed the ACCC to keep watch over airlines for offering credits where customers were entitled to refunds.
What can you do?
If you think you have been charged an unreasonable cancellation fee or treated unfairly, the first step is to complain to the business and direct them to the ACCC best practice guidelines, Ms Steward advised.
If they do not give a satisfactory answer, you can escalate to a consumer affairs body in your state such as NSW Fair Trading, Access Canberra, or Consumer Affairs Victoria.
If you paid by credit or debit card and you selected credit when you paid, you can ask your bank for a credit card charge back.
Your bank reverses the disputed transaction with the merchant’s bank in accordance with the rules set by Visa, Mastercard, and American Express.
“We don’t always advise it, but people can go get a credit card charge back in particularly situations where they have been treated unfairly or they really need their money back,” Ms Steward said.
Some refund success stories
“In March we cancelled early in the pandemic, business tickets with Qatar [Airways]. It was textbook: they responded quickly and paid as advised. The probable lesson from this, we got in early before the airlines were overwhelmed.” —James
“Booked and paid for flights with Qantas in January for travel in August. Flight was cancelled by Qantas in April. Received refund on November 7.” — Allison
“We paid for our flights with a credit card. Following advice from Martin’s Money Tips we emailed NAB, our Visa credit card provider. We had been trying unsuccessfully for months to get a refund from Flight Centre for our Thai Airways return tickets to London. It did take about three months but NAB managed to get us a full refund through Visa.” — Jean and James