BRITISH holiday makes are struggling to get their money back on holidays cancelled because of coronavirus.
And airlines, travel agents and accommodation providers have been trying to convince customers to take alternatives other than cash refunds.
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The Foreign and Commonwealth office has advised against all international travel and the UK has gone into lockdown to prevent the spread of the virus.
As a result, British would-be holidaymakers should be entitled to a full refund on any holidays they have booked whether that's in the UK or internationally.
But travel firms – worried about going bust – have been offering people other options such as vouchers for future flights and accommodation.
There also have been reports of airlines and holiday companies failing to pay money back on time, refusing to repay tax or booking fees, or charging for rearranging.
You don't have to accept these alternatives, and doing so could leave you at risk if the company goes bust.
Here's the three ways that travel companies are trying to wiggle out of paying refunds – and how to make sure you get your money.
Companies offering vouchers instead of cash
Lots of travel companies are offering credit notes instead of cash refunds.
For instance Loveholidays has been slammed for telling customers they can only get voucher credit for their cancelled holidays.
The holiday company said that it would not be processing refunds any time soon.
Meanwhile, Ryanair is asking customers to accept a voucher valid for 12 months.
Customers who don't want credit have been told to join a refund queue and wait until the coronavirus outbreak has passed to get their money back.
And First Choice is giving customers refund credit for the full value of their holiday, and a separate booking incentive of up to 20 per cent.
But if you want a cash refund, you need to call up and cancel.
TUI has also been criticised for not proactively offering refunds, although it has since updated its policy.
Your rights to a cash refund
Legally, if your holiday has been cancelled you are entitled to a cash refund.
If the flights are cancelled, the airline has to give you the cash back within seven days.
If you've booked a package holiday, you are entitled to a refund within 14 days.
The only grey area is if you booked your accommodation or other holiday elements directly.
Martyn James at consumer complaints service Revolver says: "If you have booked directly, your refund rights will depend on the site's Terms and Conditions.
"The Competitions and Markets Authority have said that you should be getting refunds, but this isn't law or legally binding yet."
WHAT TO DO IF YOU CAN'T GET A REFUND
IF your holiday provider or airline won't give you a refund, there are still options available.
- If you booked your holiday before the FCO restrictions were in place and you have travel insurance you should be able to claim.
- If you paid by credit card and the holiday is between £100 and £30,000 you may be able to get the money from your card provider under Section 75 legislation.
- For flights and hotels booked by debit card you may be able to claim a refund via the Chargeback scheme.
What to do if you are offered a credit note
Which? is encouraging holidaymakers to take credit notes if it suits their circumstances, particularly as this might help keep the ailing travel industry alive.
But the consumer group warns that your refund could be at risk if you opt for an alternative to cash and the firm enters administration.
You also need to check your provider's terms and conditions carefully.
British Airways is allowing customers to cancel holidays up until join and get a voucher.
But it has confirmed that this counts as you cancelling not them, so you'll lose your rights to a cash refund.
Revolver's Martyn James says: "If a firm goes bust then usually your vouchers or credit notes die with them. But there's usually a bit of advance notice, which sometimes means you can get in quickly for a refund or use them (where possible) to buy a holiday."
If you get a cash refund, your money is safe, but be aware that firms are struggling to pay customers within the legal time frames, with some having to wait months for their money back.
If you're still waiting, you may also be at risk if the business fails.
James adds: "You will lose out unless they are members of a scheme that might offer refunds in these circumstances. You can apply to join a (long) list of creditors but it's unlikely you'd get much if anything."
Travel companies refusing to pay refunds in full
Some travel firms have been charging huge administration fees or refusing to refund "unrecoverable taxes".
For instance, Flight Centre has been charging Australian customers £150 each for holidays that it has cancelled.
Meanwhile, the Daily Mail found that Crystal Travel charged one customer £980 in taxes when he said he wanted a refund rather than to rebook.
And customers are saying that Travel Trolley, is charging customers up to £75 per booking if they want to be repaid in cash rather than with a credit note, according to the Telegraph.
Your rights to a cash refund
If your holiday is cancelled, you should get a refund for the full amount you paid.
Airlines and package holiday providers legally have to pay you back within seven or 14 days respectively.
If you booked your accommodation directly you may be beholden to the terms and conditions you signed including cancellation fees.
What to do if your refund is being withheld
Some firms may have administration fees and taxes built into their terms and conditions, but the rules say these should not apply if the holiday company is the one that cancels.
Resolver says that if you're not getting a full refund, you should start by complaining to your provider.
If this doesn't work you can escalate your complaint.
Airlines have Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) schemes that deal with disputes so you should check there.
Holiday firms have trade bodies such as the ABTA that mediate with claims.
3) Excessive rebooking costs
While lots of companies are waiving fees for rebooking holidays or rearranging flights, some customers have pointed out that they are being charged more than they should be for the new dates.
This is because even though the fees have been cancelled, the travel companies will still charge you any difference in airfare or room rate.
Sometimes a holiday or flight will be more expensive at peak times, but customers have found that they are being charged a higher rate than if they were booking a new holiday or flight at the same time..
This has left consumers outraged as travel companies try to cash in on the coronavirus crisis.
Which? Travel found that Ryanair is charging rebooking customers between £10 to £80 more than new customers.
A Money Mail investigation found that travellers are facing price rises of up to 40 per cent when they come to rebook.
Your rights if a company is trying to charge you more to rebook
There's nothing that says that a company can't charge you more to book a flight or holiday later in the year.
That said, if your original plans are cancelled you are entitled to a full refund, so you may wish to opt for that option rather than spending more on a holiday.
What to do if you are being overcharged
If you're considering rebooking, check online to see how much you would be charged as a new customer.
Do this in an incognito browser so you get a genuinely new price.
If the travel company tries to charge you more for the same holiday or flight, point out the price they you've found online and ask them why there's a difference.
If they're not prepared to offer the lower price, you should be able to ask for a refund for your cancelled holiday arrangements.
If you think you are being treated unfairly make sure you complain.
You can escalate complaints either through Alternative Dispute Resolution schemes for flights or ABTA for package holidays.
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