Oh, the plans we had – concerts, staycations, city breaks, exercise classes, Irish college, package holidays, post-Leaving Cert bashes – but then along came Covid-19. If the virus has put your plans in limbo, can you at least get your money back?
If you have booked a package holiday, you have much stronger protections than other holidaymakers. Under consumer protection law, a package holiday is “a pre-arranged holiday sold at an inclusive price, in one transaction”. It must include an overnight stay and at least two of the following: transport, accommodation, car hire, or a tourist activity like golf or hill walking.
If your package holiday takes place before May 29th, and you wish to cancel (due to Covid-19), you get your money back, with no fees, through whomever you booked.
For package holidays that include a flight or accommodation, or a sporting or cultural event, if either part is cancelled before May 29th due to Covid-19, you are also entitled to a full refund.
Those with package holiday bookings for later in the summer have a few options, says Doireann Sweeney of Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC). “We are hearing from a lot of families that have paid a deposit and now the provider is looking for the rest of the money. The holiday could be in August and they are in the dilemma of, ‘Should I proceed and give them the money or should I cancel?’’
The first option is to hold out and see if the Department of Foreign Affairs updates its travel advisory to prohibit travel at the time of your holiday. “That gives you the legal basis to cancel and get a refund. The alternative is to cancel yourself, but you will have to pay a cancellation fee.”
If your flight is cancelled, the airline must offer you a choice between rescheduling or a refund to be given within seven days. However, Covid-19 appears to have put that system under strain with many airlines currently offering vouchers for future flights rather than cash refunds.
Passengers can still insist on a cash refund but it appears they are being told that they will have to wait until the crisis passes before that can be processed. This runs counter to the European consumer protection rules and it remains to be seen if the authorities will hold the line.
If your flight is to the US, where travellers are banned from entering, but your airline has not cancelled the flight, check out the "conditions of carriage" of your booking. If you are not entitled to a refund, you may at least be able to get the taxes and charges back. If the airline is proving difficult, the Aviation Regulator website flightrights.ie can help.
If Covid-19 has put you right off a holiday altogether and you decide not to fly, you may lose your money if the flight has not been cancelled. But it might still be worth contacting your airline with some offering a voucher or credit note.
EU city break
If you have booked a hotel in the EU and you can't now travel, can you get our money back? If there are no restrictions imposed at the location or in the country of destination, and the accommodation provider is still prepared to perform their side of the contract, securing a refund may be challenging, according to European Consumer Centre Ireland (ECCI). It advises Irish consumers about their rights and can liaise directly with an EU trader on your behalf.
If you have booked through a booking engine such as booking.com, hotels.com or trivago.com, review your booking information around refunds or rescheduling. There are cases where the hotel, Airbnb host or other accommodation provider may offer to refund the costs without penalties, as a goodwill gesture.
“In other cases, providers will offer an accommodation credit or a voucher to be used at a later date. In all other cases, the relevant terms and conditions accepted at the time of booking are applicable,” the centre says.
Consumers are advised to get in touch with the accommodation provider directly to check options. Travel insurance, if you have it, may cover no-refund situations.
If you have a complaint about a European business that you have tried to resolve to no avail, the ECCI can assist through eccireland.ie
Many will have purchased tickets for gigs now not going ahead. But what happens if the ticket seller reschedules to a later date that doesn’t suit you? First up, don’t take it for granted that you have to accept the rescheduled date. Check the terms and conditions either on the ticket or the seller’s website.
“Contact the company. It may need to be an email at the moment because helplines are slammed,” says Sweeney. “Some businesses are more than happy to provide a refund. It is down to the terms and conditions and to negotiation.”
Specific queries put to Ticketmaster got the response to check their website. Sections 11 and 12 of the "purchase policy" section says that if an event is cancelled and not rescheduled, you will be refunded the sale price and service charges. There is no refund of the order-processing fee, however, if the tickets have already been delivered to you.
If an event is rescheduled to a later date, consumers can get a refund but must “notify Ticketmaster within the specified deadline that you are unable to attend the rescheduled event”. Failure to do so means no refund. Again, the order-processing fee will not be refunded if tickets have been delivered.
So if you are entitled to a refund, check the timeframe by which your request has to be received or if you have to return the tickets to the point of purchase in a particular way. If you think the ticket seller is not acting fairly, you can make a complaint to them. If your issue is not resolved, you can take legal action through the Small Claims Court.
Irish college was never just about getting a cúlpa focail in the bag for the orals. Teens got an education in all sorts of things while parents got a welcome three-week break. So what happens if you’ve paid a deposit for Samhraidh 2020?
"No decision has been made yet about the cancellation of courses, we have to wait for official word from the Department of Health, " says a spokesperson for Concos, a representative body for the majority of Irish colleges.
Trainee teachers unable to attend Easter courses due to Covid 19 restrictions were given refunds. The next student courses are in June. “We are hoping [the Department] can give us some direction soon, but it’s not looking great at the moment,” says Concos. “Each college is individual, but we would be hearing that students would be paid back deposits, but doing so may decimate the industry.”
Classes and camps
If your kids were signed up to classes or camps that didn’t or won’t take place, what can you do? “You have signed up to a contract but they are not able to provide the service so you shouldn’t have to pay for something you didn’t get,” says Doireann Sweeney. But you need to check out the terms and conditions of what you signed.
Depending on the cancellation terms, the provider may not be legally bound to refund the money. If a refund is not possible, a voucher valid for 12 months might be acceptable. If it is a small provider or a community business, some compromise will be appreciated. “It’s back to how hard you can push things and what they are prepared to do.”
If you pay for gym membership but the gym can’t operate, again you are not getting a service you paid for. Depending on the terms and conditions, the options may be a membership pause where a direct debit is stopped or isn’t collected or extra free months are added at the end of the year.
“If you haven’t heard from them, drop them an email and ask what the position is,” says Sweeney. Big chains such as Ben Dunne, David Lloyd and Westwood have all confirmed that membership fees would be suspended until they were in a position to reopen.
The work commute for many is now to the kitchen table.
With most of us told to stay at home, those with an annual or monthly commuter ticket are paying for transport they can't use. Some tax-free tickets cost up to €954 year. The good news is that Irish Rail is working with the National Transport Authority and other operators to find a solution. "Hold on to your tickets," says Irish Rail spokesman Barry Kenny, "we will advise what the arrangements will be."
While no decisions are made yet, options might include a three-month extension for annual ticket holders or a refund for monthly ticket holders.