Thousands of holidaymakers who booked through online travel agents like Teletext and Lastminute dot com have fought for months to get refunds for trips that were cancelled due to the pandemic – and many are still waiting.
Even the intervention of the regulator, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), has failed to persuade some online travel agents to give customers all of their money back for trips they were unable to deliver.
Lastminute told the CMA it would refund all £7 million that it owed to holidaymakers by the end of January at the latest, but the consumer body Which? says it has failed to honour its commitment.
Which? says Lastminute seems to be refunding customers for their accommodation but some holidaymakers haven’t been refunded for their flights.
And this week the CMA has launched an investigation into another online travel agent, Teletext, after receiving several hundred complaints from customers that they too are still waiting for refunds.
I’ve been waiting since June last year.. my husband has cancer .. £1300 is a lot of money for us we are pensioners – Teletext customer June Blackett
The CMA stressed that its investigation into Teletext is at an early stage and it might not find any wrongdoing, although there are lots of complaints about the online agent on social media.
But Teletext and Lastminute aren’t the only online travel agents who have given customers the run-around during the pandemic.
On the Beach and Loveholidays were forced to leave the travel association ABTA last year after they both refused to refund customers for flights they weren’t able to take due to government travel bans.
ABTA’s rules state that members must refund customers who aren’t able to travel due to government restrictions. On the Beach and Loveholidays argued they shouldn’t have to refund airfares unless airlines refunded them – and some airlines have refused to do so if the flights continue.
So is it risky to book future holidays with Teletext and Lastminute.com?
Many travel companies took months to issue refunds when the pandemic hit last year, online travel agents certainly weren’t the only ones to make customers wait for their money back.
However, most tour operators and high street travel agents have since managed to clear their refunds backlog. The likes of TUI and Jet2holidays are now refunding cancelled holidays within the 14 days required by law.
Meanwhile, online travel agents like Teletext and Lastminute.com appear to still have outstanding refunds from almost a year ago.
Not only that, but some Lastminute.com and Teletext customers say they’re having difficulty getting through to anyone to discuss their refunds.
I have been waiting for £3,336 since March 2020. Teletext Holidays just lie repeatedly and fob you off then hang up on you – customer Catherine Gilpin
But you do have some legal protection when an online travel agent cancels your holiday.
Under the Package Travel Regulations, if you book a package – which is usually a flight and accommodation – you are entitled to a refund within 14 days of the cancellation. This should be paid by the ‘package provider’ – in this case the online travel agent – even if they haven’t been refunded themselves.
If you pay with a credit card you’ll have even more protection since you’ll be able to claim a refund from your card issuer if you don’t get your money back within the legal timeframe.
However, if you don’t want a fight on your hands, I’d suggest you avoid those travel agents like Teletext and Lastminute.com that have performed badly during the pandemic and book with those who have offered good customer service.
Some online travel agents are better than others
There are many other online travel agents you might be tempted to book with, including loveholidays, On the Beach and Travel Republic.
As previously mentioned, loveholidays and On the Beach gave up their ABTA membership last year to avoid refunding customers for flights they couldn’t take.
Travel Republic also let customers down at the start of the pandemic when it shut down its phonelines and didn’t let them know if their holidays were going ahead or not. However, it seems to have improved its customer service since.
However you choose to book your holiday, if you pay with a credit card of someone included in the booking you’ll have more financial protection.