Less than two months ago I booked a trip to Germany for a holiday during the Easter weekend. There was a festival/congress I wanted to go to. The plague wasn’t that big of a deal back then and it looked like it would all blow over by the time my holiday would come around. I also have a travel insurance policy and therefore felt relatively safe making the bookings. At least, so I thought. History has proven me very wrong.
First, the event in Germany got cancelled as it had more than a hundred participants. Then the flights got cancelled and then the hotel booking got cancelled – all due to various lockdown reasons in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
I requested refunds for all my travel bookings and didn’t have much trouble with the event and the hotel refunds. I also got a refund from Stansted Express as I no longer needed to travel to the airport. Only Ryanair was difficult as you may have heard from the media. It seems the company, along with other airlines, is at risk of going bankrupt if it refunds the money it owes to its customers.
My flights got cancelled on the 24th of March and I got an email from Ryanair with instructions on how to apply for a refund. I did that on the very same day. I was notified that it would take up to 20 working days to get a refund. My understanding is that legally they have two weeks to refund a cancelled flight, but given the plague, I thought giving them more time seemed reasonable.
A few days later on the 28th March, I got an email that said
“Due to the high volume of flight cancellations due to COVID 19, we are experiencing an unprecedented high volume of requests. We are currently working through the backlog and ask that you please bear with us. Please do not resubmit your request.”
OK good, it’s being worked on but it will take a little longer, which is reasonable.
9th April I get another email from Ryanair, which states
“As previously advised, our Customer Services Team are experiencing an unprecedented high volume of requests due to the COVID-19 crisis and we are prioritising our most vulnerable customers. This has been compounded by government public health restrictions on non-essential work travel which means we have less staff available to us during this busy time. Please rest assured your refund request is currently in the queue and will be processed. If you have selected new travel dates and would prefer to move your booking, please contact us. We appreciate your patience at this time.”
The please rest assured part sounded good to me and so I continued to wait.
On the 20th April instead of a refund Ryanair sent me a voucher, which I never applied for. The email read:
“Over the past months the spread of the Covid-19 virus has caused many EU governments to impose flight and/or travel bans which grounded over 99% of Ryanair’s flights. We are doing everything we can to support our customers, our people and protect jobs. We are ready to return flying when Covid-19 is defeated, hopefully sooner rather than later.
We regret that these Government travel restrictions have forced the cancellation of your Ryanair flight(s) under booking reference:: [my booking reference].
Please see below details of your travel voucher for [£££.££]GBP, the full value of your unused booking. This amount can be used for the purchase of Ryanair flights and other services at any time over the next 12 months. It is simple to use this voucher when making a booking on the Ryanair website or app.
If you do not wish to accept this voucher option and wish to move your flight or request a refund, please click here to contact us. Please note that as our customer care agents are required to work from home to limit the spread of COVID-19 virus, payment security restrictions prevent us from processing refunds as quickly as we would like to.
We invite you to use your voucher to book your next trip and we look forward to seeing you again on a Ryanair flight in the near future. Passengers who made their bookings using travel agents, or on line travel agencies should contact these companies from where they purchased their tickets to find out more about their options. Our priority always remains the health and well-being of our people and customers.”
Naturally, I was unhappy about receiving the voucher. I followed a link from that last email to see what I can do to request a refund. I found a small blurb which said:
“Can I receive a cash refund instead of voucher?
You can request a cash refund however bear in mind we will place your request in the cash refund queue until the COVID-19 emergency has passed. We highly recommend using the refund voucher as these are readily available and you can book flights on all Ryanair Group airlines in over 200 destinations in Europe and the Middle East.”
I have zero interest in using the voucher as it’s impossible to say when I will be travelling again. Also, the voucher would be worthless if Ryanair goes bust. I would also avoid flying with Ryanair whenever possible. No thank you, I want a refund.
There were no guidelines on how to request the refund on Ryanair’s website but they had a chat function, where I decided to try my luck (there was no phone number to call). That did not work as the chatbot (not even an actual human being) was not very chatty. After receiving no response to my query for more than an hour and I gave up on “chatting” with an algorithm to find a solution to my problem. This is a great example of appalling customer service.
Enter section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.
“Under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, your credit card company is jointly liable if something goes wrong with a product or a service you’ve paid for by credit card. You can potentially claim for any breach of contract or misrepresentation by the company from which you’ve bought your goods.” [according to Which?]
I called my credit card company (Bank of Scotland) and asked what I need to do to lodge a section 75 chargeback claim. They gave me a claims phone number I needed to call – they weren’t that useful as they could’ve just transferred me to the claims number, but I guess they just wanted me off the phone.
I called the claims number, explained my situation and was given an email address to which I needed to send evidence to support my claim. I emailed them all the email correspondence I had (I printed pdfs of each email I had), the flight itinerary and the voucher email that same day (20th April).
A few days later on 23rd April, I got a “temporary” credit applied to my credit card. The bank refunded me the money and said Ryanair has 45 days to dispute this transaction. If they do, the temporary credit might be removed, if they don’t it will become a permanent credit.
I was surprised by how quickly the bank worked. A part of me was sceptical as I thought the section 75 claim wouldn’t work. Normally this claim is used where a company is refusing to make a refund, however, Ryanair never refused – instead, they vaguely said it will happen in the future after the pandemic. However, Ryanair also misrepresented in the refund process – they said my refund was being worked on and then sent me a voucher, not a refund. This is misrepresentation and therefore the section 75 claim should stick. I will let you know if anything changes on this front.
However, for now, things are good as I got all of my holiday bookings refunded. It took about a month, a few emails and a section 75 chargeback claim – but it was worth it.