Customers have been fighting to get their money back from airlines and holiday companies for over a year after flights were grounded during the coronavirus pandemic.
In some instances, people have paid more than a thousand pounds for flights that simply never took off, while others decided to pull the plug when they realised their long-awaited holiday would actually require them to spend a whole week in quarantine.
The Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) said it has taken significant action in relation to holiday cancellations during the pandemic, including securing refund commitments from LoveHolidays, Lastminute.com, Virgin Holidays, Teletext, and TUI UK. It has also written to more than 100 package holiday firms to remind them of their obligations to comply with consumer protection law, and warned package holiday companies to respect the refund rights of holidaymakers ahead of the summer period.
The CMA is also investigating whether British Airways and Ryanair have broken consumer law by failing to offer refunds for flights customers could not legally take.
You can read more about the problems in accessing some holiday refunds here.
John Parry and his wife booked a return trip with Vueling Airlines to Alicante, flying from Cardiff. The retired couple were able to fly on December 7, 2020 as scheduled but their return flight 10 days later on December 17 was cancelled. They had to wait until April 2021 before they were able to return home to St Fagans in Cardiff four months later than planned.
"We went out to Spain but we got stuck when the flight back was cancelled," said 76-year-old Mr Parry.
"It was cancelled for Covid reasons. I immediately requested a refund but that's never been returned." He claims he received the flight cancellation notice on December 10, just three days into their 10-day trip.
Accommodation wasn't a problem as he was staying at a friend's home. But far more pressing was the fact the couple's European health insurance was set to run out on December 31 at the moment the UK officially left the EU.
In the end, they had to take out private Spanish health insurance, which cost them £2,000 each.
Mr Parry had also booked earlier in the year, flying between Cardiff and Alicante on July 6, 2020. But Vueling also cancelled that flight due to Covid. Mr Parry claims he was offered a refund, which the airline confirmed but never paid.
He said he has tried contacting Vueling to get his refund but to no avail. "You can stay on the phone for hours," he said. "It just sends you round in a big circle for hours. No money has been refunded."
Mr Parry claims he is owed €144 for the July flights and £130 for the December flights.
Claire Scott, from Swansea, booked three flights to Alicante from Cardiff for April 28, 2020 for her and her family. They were due to return a week later. But then the pandemic hit and the country was placed into lockdown. Even though the £550 flights, booked direct with Vueling, never left Cardiff she was still sent their boarding passes by email.
"Our flights departed after lockdown so they were cancelled but I even had an email to download my boarding pass," Ms. Scott said.
"We thought if we turned up at the airport, there was going to be no flights going because everything was in lockdown. And even if the flights had gone, what about coming back? It was all happening so quickly and everything was up in the air."
She said she tried to contact Vueling by phone, email and social media but has not heard back from the company.
As a general rule, if you've paid for a trip and then the travel firm cancels, you should be due a refund
If your flight or holiday goes ahead but you don't want to travel – or can't – what are your rights?
What if the Foreign Office advises against travel?
Between March and July 2020, the Foreign Office warned against all non-essential travel overseas. That blanket warning has now been lifted for some countries, but remains in place for others.
As well as being a useful safety guide, Foreign Office warnings are important in the following scenarios:
The above information is taken from the latest guidance by Money Saving Expert, dated June 2021. Visit the guide for more information on what to do if you can't or don't want to go on holiday because of quarantine requirements, what refunds you are entitled to if everything is closed at your destination or if you have a medical condition that affects your travel plans.
Below is guidance from the Competitions and Market Authority.
What can you do when the airline/company simply refuses to respond to your repeated calls and emails?
If you wish to make a complaint, in the first instance you should contact the business. If you have done this and are still struggling, you can also contact Citizens Advice for help and/or guidance. If you are unhappy with an airline, you can also get in touch with the Civil Aviation Authority. In both circumstances, you could also choose to take your own legal action.
The Competitions and Market Authority is unable to assist with individual complaints.
What are your rights when it comes to flights cancelled by the airline?
If an airline has cancelled a flight, consumers should have a right to a refund under the EU Denied Boarding Regulation (which is now made into UK law). This should be paid within seven days.
Tim Llewelyn booked two flights to Alicante from Cardiff for April 16, 2020 and was due to return two weeks later. In all, his flights, booked directly with Vueling, cost £299. Mr Llewelyn, from Llandaff, Cardiff, said Vueling cancelled both flights due to Covid-19 and at the time offered him a refund or a further booking option.
Mr Llewelyn opted for a refund. He said: "After we booked it, the pandemic hit and they cancelled the flight in March. If the airline cancel the flight, they offer a refund or a voucher and we went for the refund."
However, Mr Llewelyn said after acknowledging his request, Vueling then emailed him and declared that a refund was not due as the cancellation was due to "extraordinary circumstances".
"We are at a loss to see how they can deem this to be the case when other airlines have made refunds for the same circumstances," he added.
Vueling were contacted about the three cases above - John Parry, Claire Scott and Tim Llewelyn - and said: "In case of a cancellation, the customer should receive an email from Vueling to be able to manage either a refund or a date change, free of charge. If this was not the case for a passenger, we offer our sincere apologies and we are at their full disposal to analyse each and give these customers a solution and alternatives."
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Claire Culliford booked a family holiday to Morocco for last October and confirmed the much-anticipated trip in January 2020 before she had even heard of Covid.
She booked her package holiday through Love Holidays, which included the flights, transfers and accommodation for five costing £2,600. The flights, scheduled to leave from London Stansted on October 26, were operated by Ryanair.
"I paid Love Holidays for the package holiday and then we were put into full lockdown [firebreak] by the government so couldn't go," she said.
"Love Holidays cancelled our holiday, refunded us our hotels and transfers but not the flights. We are owed almost £1,000 from Ryanair who refuse to refund them and Love Holidays say they will only return our money once Ryanair refund the flights. I can’t believe that this is legal."
Ms Culliford said the family, who live in Grangetown, Cardiff, had saved up for the week-long trip to Morocco, a country they had never been to before. The hospitality worker had no work during the pandemic and started working for the government track and trace team, chasing up travellers returning from trips.
"We just assumed it would be a safe way to book a trip," she said about Love Holidays. "But now I don't have much hope."
A spokesperson for Ryanair said: "Ms Culliford’s flights operated as normal. As stated on Ryanair’s T&Cs, which are accepted by the customer at the time of booking, Ryanair flights are non-refundable."
Love Holidays was contacted for comment.
Chris Mort paid more than £1,150 for flights to Malaga for himself and his family, departing on August 1, 2020. He booked his Vueling flights through Opodo and he was the one who cancelled his trip after seeing how things were panning out.
"We'd gone into lockdown and the government was advising us not to travel," Mr Mort esaid. "Spain was in lockdown. I didn't want to take my family to a hotel where we would've been stuck."
Mr Mort cancelled the flights on June 17, 2020 via the portal on the Opodo app on his phone, which he said he'd used before without any trouble. Because it was 45 days before departure he was able to cancel and get his money back, he claimed.
"I got a notification to say they [Opodo] were prioritising my request," Mr Mort, who lives in Baglan, Port Talbot, said. "Then heard nothing until September 17. For the first three months I wasn't bothered, but six months later, I got concerned."
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The villa he had booked for himself, his wife, their two children and his mother-in-law agreed to fully refund his money. "They were brilliant," he said. But getting hold of Opodo and Vueling was less straightforward, spending 45 minutes on hold each time he called and being passing around in circles.
Eventfully he was told by Vueling that because the flight did actually fly as scheduled, he wasn't entitled to a refund. He'd been classed as a 'no-show' by the airline.
A spokesperson for Opodo confirmed that the Vueling flights took off as scheduled and at the time of departure it was possible to travel between the UK and Spain. They said: "The customer voluntarily cancelled his flights with Vueling. As per the terms and conditions of the fare Mr Mort booked, a refund in the event of a voluntary cancellation is not given by the airline. As an intermediary Opodo passes on the airline policy in relation to cancellations and amendments, customers should always check the airline’s fare terms and conditions when booking or amending flights.
"Opodo has however, been working on behalf of their customers to secure refunds from airlines. Opodo has reached out to Vueling on behalf of the customer and the airline has agreed, contrary to its policy, to provide flight credit for the full value of the ticket."