The boss of an online travel agency has condemned travel firms and airlines for offering vouchers instead of cash refunds for cancelled holidays.
Simon Cooper, founder and chief executive of On The Beach, said the issuing of vouchers is “a travesty” as consumers face being ripped off when they re-book once the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic is over.
A number of travel companies and airlines are offering vouchers which can be exchanged for an alternative booking at a later date.
In an interview with the PA news agency, Cooper described this as “a bad idea for everyone concerned”.
Tour operators issuing vouchers will be in “no better cash position” in the coming months, he explained.
“The temptation then surely has to be that as an operator, you’re simply going to manipulate the price of your holidays.
“The only way that you can avoid bankruptcy is to massively increase the prices you charge to recoup the losses.
“The audience you’re dealing with is a captive audience. They can’t go anywhere else.”
UK consumers are meant to be protected by laws stating that cancellations should lead to refunds within seven days for flights and 14 days for package holidays.
Cooper said On The Beach is offering cash refunds rather than vouchers, but it has been unable to return much of the money which went towards flights as many airlines are not handing it back promptly.
Airlines owe the company tens of millions of pounds for flights cancelled in the past few weeks, which it would then pass on to customers, he said.
He described the behaviour of carriers as “an absolute joke” and stated “the laws are not currently being applied”.
Cooper has been lobbying organisations such as the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) – which regulates UK airlines – to enforce refund rules.
“It doesn’t surprise me that they didn’t do much in the first week or two, but we’re five weeks in now,” he said.
“On a three-times-per-week basis, I phone or I email the top regulators and say, ‘I cannot understand how you can sit on your hands any longer’.”
He added: “In an environment where it’s a choice between protecting the end consumer or protecting an insolvent travel operator, I know which one I’d be choosing.”
The CAA said in a statement it “understands the acute impact that coronavirus is having on the industry, as well as those with upcoming travel plans”.
Its website advises passengers they “are entitled to a refund” if their flight is cancelled, adding that they “may wish to open a complaint with the airline” if it is refusing to pay out.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has advised against all but essential international travel since 17 March, while domestic holidays are not allowed due to the Government’s lockdown orders issued six days later.
We need your help ...
The coronavirus pandemic is changing our world, fast. And we will do all we can to keep bringing you news and analysis throughout. But we are worried about maintaining enough income to pay our staff and minimal overheads.
Now, more than ever, we need a vibrant, independent media that holds the government to account and calls it out when it puts vested economic interests above human lives. We need a media that shows solidarity with the people most affected by the crisis – and one that can help to build a world based on collaboration and compassion.
We have been fighting against an establishment that is trying to shut us down. And like most independent media, we don’t have the deep pockets of investors to call on to bail us out.
Can you help by chipping in a few pounds each month?