Pricewatch: The long-haul quest for a Ryanair refund

Airline says woman booked through ‘unauthorised agent’ but refund now on way

 

Barely a day has passed since the start of the pandemic that we haven’t heard from readers let down by airlines, online booking platforms, tour operators, travel agents and almost everyone else associated with the travel sector.

Given the scale of the crisis that engulfed international travel almost without warning in early March 2020, upheaval was inevitable but that does not mean it is okay for people to still be getting the runaround now.

One of those people is a reader called Elaine who contacted us recently to see if we had any advice as to what she might do next in her quest to get a long overdue refund from Ryanair.

We say long overdue because the flight in question dates back to March 2020 and was booked through a travel agent, as are many Ryanair flights.

“My travel agent was in touch with them,” Elaine writes. Then late last year the travel agent received an email from the airline to say they “would only deal directly with the clients so I have rang them approximately five times in the past six months as I usually have to hold for long periods of time. Hung up after 22 minutes the other day as I was in work and only rang when I could”, she continues.

“It’s very frustrating and we are owed €900. I am apparently the only one from the travel agents that has not received my refund and I had mine booked well in advance of others,” she says.

She is asking for our help because she does “not want to get a solicitor as that will cost a lot and my daughter has been sick and I am paying €700-€850 a month for private services I cannot get from the HSE”.

Different policy

For quite some time, there have been issues for people who booked Ryanair flights through travel agents. Before Covid-19 hit and grounded almost every airline’s entire fleet for months, Ryanair had a different policy when issuing refunds booked via third parties.

The airline would typically return the money to the travel agent’s account, who would then refund customers directly.

However, in Covid times the airline started refusing to do that and instead it made the case that EU Flight Directive 261, which governs the whole area, said that refunds had to be given directly to customers rather than to third parties.

So then Ryanair started asking those people who had booked subsequently cancelled flights with travel agents for details including ID, proof of address and bank account Bic and Iban numbers.

While it could have returned money to people’s bank accounts with all the details it had, it started instead to send some passengers refund cheques.

These cheques to Irish customers from an Irish-headquartered company were sometimes drawn on German banks, which meant that Irish customers had to pay substantial sums to cash them.

We also heard from a reader called Lisa who was due to fly to Madrid with Ryanair last week. The flights had been rolled over from the summer of 2020 and Lisa had paid more than €400 to change the dates as the flight went ahead last year “and it was my decision not to fly as I was following Government guidelines for non-essential travel. It was either pay it or lose out as Ryanair wanted nothing to do with me and could not help”.

Fast-forward to this year and Government restrictions were still in place. Lisa was due to fly out on July 18th, the day before a loosening of overseas travel was scheduled.

She says that Ryanair told her: “Government restrictions are quote ‘not their problem’ and I need to pay to change flights until next year. If I’m not happy I need to send a complaint to customer service, which I did. No reply from them. I also had online chat. And sent emails. And tried numerous times to call, only to be told, ‘lines busy try later’. They have you every way. So now where do I stand?

“Government make rules not to travel but this is at my cost. They don’t care that I lose my flight money or spend more to change until next year again. To be honest, I’m only out €700, unlike others I’m sure, but it’s the principle. I can’t afford to lose this. It’s so unfair. I’m not going to pay again this year to bring them on another year. I think I’ll just cut my losses but it’s so frustrating and unfair.”

Robust style

We got in touch with Ryanair and the airline helped both our readers, albeit in its typically robust style.

With regard to Elaine, the statement said she had “booked her flights through an unauthorised travel agent, who provided Ryanair with fake customer contact and payment details, making it impossible for Ryanair to refund the customer directly”.

A spokeswoman said that after her “completion of Ryanair’s customer verification form, Ryanair issued a refund cheque directly to her in December 2020, however, the cheque was sent to the address provided by the travel agent at the time of booking. We apologise sincerely for this clerical error. We have now cancelled this cheque and a Ryanair customer service agent has since contacted Elaine directly to organise her refund. This is again clear evidence of the pitfalls and risks customers face when they book through unauthorised travel agents who provide fake customer contact details and with whom Ryanair has no commercial agreements.”

And then there was Lisa. Ryanair said that her July 2020 flights operated as scheduled, “and standard T&Cs applied. Passengers who do not wish to travel on their booked flight can move it to another date, in which case, a flight change fee and the difference in fare may apply. In June 2020, Ryanair introduced a zero-change fee policy in order to provide as much flexibility for our consumers as possible amid Covid-19, however Lisa booked her original flight in January 2020, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, and therefore she was not entitled to a avail of our zero-change fee offer when moving her flight to July 2021”.

Then the spokeswoman said that if Lisa “wishes to move her July flights again, she can contact Ryanair’s customer service and as she already moved her flights once, the change fee will be waived this time”.

Center Parcs booking

Of course, it is not just airlines and their customers who have been impacted by Covid. Things looked very bright for Center Parcs when it opened Longford Forest in the summer of 2019. People loved it and flocked to it and when it has been allowed to open it has had average occupancy of 90 per cent during peak periods.

But not everything has been rosy in the garden and public health restrictions have meant that access to many of the facilities – including the jewel in the crown, the subtropical swimming paradise – has been limited for guests.

A reader called Kay got in touch with more to complain about than limited access to the pool, however. She starts off her mail by describing the customer service she has received as “horrific”.

“I booked an apartment there on April 28th for August 6th,” she says, adding that the description on the website said it was suitable for friends, couples and small families.

“There are three of us – my husband, myself and seven-year-old daughter. A small family in my books.

“On May 9th, I decided to email them about my daughter just in case it was a problem. I got no response to this other than a ticket number promising a reply in 72 hours. Soon after, I received a request to pay my balance. I did this half thinking this was the response and all would be well.”

She says that when it came to the check-in date she “couldn’t add my daughter to the booking or book any activities. I have attempted a web chat and got nowhere. They gave me a number to call which is not accepting calls. The queue is so long that they won’t put anyone on it even at eight in the morning. They are not accepting tweets. I don’t live near the parc. I queried via email again this week. The only response was a ticket number with various links answering any question except for mine. I know now that I should not have booked without speaking with someone, however, it was late at night and I didn’t want to lose it at the time”.

Kay says she is now left “with a very cross seven-year-old. I will probably have to attempt to get a refund which will no doubt be problematic too and very little availability anywhere else. If I had had a response to my query the week after I booked it then at least I could have arranged something else.”

We do know that people have to book their activities in advance to get the best out of Center Parcs , and are sure spaces are at a premium what with the current unpleasantness, but we got in touch with Center Parcs to see if it could help our reader and her little girl out.

They responded with the following statement. “We apologise for any confusion – our apartments are only available for up to two guests (with the exception of under-twos) – and we have contacted this family to offer the option to move to a two-bedroom lodge, to move to a different date or to cancel their booking and receive a full refund.”

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