Booking websites and airlines have given advice to consumers, leaving a lot of money out of pocket when trying to get their money back. Our expert tells you where you stand
If you run into a brick wall looking for a refund for a canceled flight booked through a third-party booking site, you’re not alone.
During the pandemic, readers contacted me daily to complain about this, which highlighted the fact that consumers are scrambling due to both the booking site and the airlines flouting the law.
Mary from Wellingbroough is seeking a refund for a flight canceled since March 2020. She booked through a booking site and the airline told her she had to ask them for her refund.
The booking site rejected her request, telling her that she had to make a claim to the airline.
Jacob from Cardiff booked a flight through a booking site.
When the flight was canceled due to Covid, he requested a refund. He was told he could have a voucher to use as a business terms and conditions, provided cash refunds are discretionary.
Francesa d’Ealing was told by a booking site that she would get her refund for a canceled flight when the airline reimbursed them. The airline says it has done it before and has been on the ride for seven months.
The legal situation
Many websites that offer “legal advice” state that you should research the third party booking site, not the airline, because that is who you contracted with.
They are wrong for two reasons.
1) Most of these booking sites act only as an agent – which means their terms will make it clear that you are in fact contracting with the airline.
There are, however, sites where you contract with them.
ii) The law (known as EU261 in the EU and UK261 in the UK has other ideas, and it overrides the contractual position.
The legal position is therefore that passengers are entitled to a cash refund within seven days, regardless of whether they booked directly with an airline or through a third party and this legal obligation to refund lies with the airline.
That’s why it doesn’t matter who your contract is with.
When you book through a third-party booking site, it adds its commission to the cost of the flight. If you make a claim against the airline, you can only claim the amount that the booking site paid to the airline – the commission will need to be claimed on the booking site.
Escalation of your complaint
If the airline subscribes to an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) provider, you can file a complaint with the relevant ADR system. The Civil Aviation Authority has a list of airlines subscribed to one of the two approved schemes (AviationADR and CEDR) on its website.
All airlines are very familiar with their obligation to reimburse passengers for canceled flights, so you will end up getting your money back if you continue to insist and assert your rights.
Know your rights
I often tell readers about the protection offered by Section 75 when you pay for goods or services with your credit card. There is a similar protection if you pay with your debit card, called Chargeback.
When you make a successful chargeback request, your bank withdraws the funds that were previously deposited to the recipient’s (retailer / merchant) bank account and returns them to your account.
Chargeback is not backed by law, but rather is a voluntary program followed by banks and card providers.
Typically, there is a 120-hour deadline from the date of purchase to file a chargeback request. In most cases, this deadline is set in stone.
To make a successful chargeback request, you must be able to demonstrate a breach of contract on the part of the merchant. It means that the goods must be damaged or not meet a description or be of satisfactory quality.
Chargeback can also be used when the goods do not arrive because they have been lost in transit or the merchant goes bankrupt.
Like insurance companies, banks like to say no to claims. If this happens, don’t take no for an answer and ask them to reconsider your request.
If that doesn’t work and you still feel confident about your complaint, the next step is to file a complaint with the Financial Ombudsman Service.