Complaints about online travel agencies: Passengers claiming refunds for cancelled flights left in the dark
Friday, December 4, 2020
Consumers who have booked only airline tickets with so-called OTAs (online travel agencies) are often left in the dark about their passenger rights when it comes to cancellations.
In recent months there have been an increasing number of complaints from travellers who have booked their flights with online travel agencies and are now waiting in vain for a refund for their cancelled flights. Air passenger rights specialist Flight-delayed.co.uk deals with the rights of these consumers on a daily basis and assists them in enforcing their claims. Based on the EU's Passenger Rights Regulation (EC) No 261/2004, passengers have a right to a full refund of their ticket costs in case of flight cancellations. "As a rule, the agency with whom the ticket was booked will take care of the claiming process. However, it has been found that travel agents often leave their customers out in the cold. In general, there is a great deal of uncertainty. The customer does not know where he stands and his legal rights as a passenger are ignored", says Tom van Bokhoven, founder of Flight-delayed.co.uk.
Online travel agencies keep money from airlines to themselves
An analysis of various complaints received daily by Flight-delayed.co.uk from travellers shows that most passengers try to enforce their air passenger rights with the online provider with whom they booked the flight ticket. This can lead to various difficulties, as these agencies often use tricks in order to avoid refund payments to customers. In certain cases, it has happened that the online travel agency has received the refund from the airline but decided to only offer their customer a voucher or simply claim that they have never received the refund. This risk can be avoided by contacting the airline directly. “Regardless of the booking partner, the airline is always responsible for paying the refund within seven days of the cancellation. For this reason, our team at Flight-Delayed.co.uk contacts the legal partner, namely the airline, directly to ensure all refund claims are recognised and paid out to the customer”, explains Tom van Bokhoven of Flight-Delayed.co.uk.
Air passenger rights organisation warns of unnecessary charges
According to information provided by affected passengers, most online travel agencies refer to the airline's booking conditions in order to avoid refund payments in case of flight cancellations or flight schedule changes to a date when the passenger cannot travel for business or other reasons. These terms and conditions differ per agency which makes it difficult for customers to keep an overview of all the different rules. Another problem is that travel agents often charge a refund fee to enforce claims against the airline. However, the legality of this practice is questionable. "To avoid these tricks, passengers should claim the money directly from the airline. They are not allowed to charge any fees for cancellations and are legally obliged to pay the full ticket amount to the passengers concerned", says van Bokhoven.
No state protection in the event of airline insolvency
The lack of legal protection in the event of airline insolvency is another source of uncertainty for passengers. While package holidays are protected by a state guarantee against the insolvency of tour operators, airlines lack this protection completely. Package tours involve at least two travel services, e.g. flight and accommodation, which are booked simultaneously with the same provider. Flight tickets alone are therefore not protected against insolvency. While the EU member states have agreed on a state insolvency insurance for package tour operators, there is no protection for airlines. Passengers who book only their flight tickets via online providers, who are protected against insolvency, are nevertheless left out in the rain in case of an airline insolvency. Legally spoken the airline should have paid the refund within seven days after the cancellation. In reality however, less than 1% of all refund claims are paid out within this legal timeframe, leaving passengers at risk for airline bankruptcies. "It is all the more important that passengers receive their money promptly after cancellation and that policy chaos on the part of online travel agencies is avoided. There must be clarity and certainty for passengers that they can claim their money directly from the airline and that it will be paid out as quickly as possible," says van Bokhoven.
Filing a claim with Flight-delayed.co.uk
In the event of a flight delay, cancellation or overbooking, we will gladly help you to enforce your rights with the airline. Flight-delayed.co.uk works according to the motto "No win, no fee". This means that we only charge a commission of 25% on the enforced amount in case of success - otherwise the service is free of charge for you! With the help of our claim calculator you can find out in just a few minutes, free of charge and without obligation, how much compensation you are entitled to. You are entitled to compensation or a refund for up to three years after the flight: