With Coronavirus causing havoc to travel plans worldwide, many of us are left wondering if we can claim a refund for a cancelled flight. I’m no exception as I’m currently awaiting a £1300 STA Travel refund, with my money tied up in flights for a cancelled two month trip to Bali.
So what are our rights and is it possible to get this money back?
Note: My experience pursuing a refund from STA Travel is detailed in this post. At the bottom you can find further updates following the collapse of the company in August 2020.
Under EU flight delay rules you’re legally entitled to choose from one of the following for a cancelled flight:
- A full refund
- An alternative flight
However many travel companies and airlines are struggling to stay afloat and are therefore offering credit vouchers instead of refunds.
Should you accept a credit voucher? You may have heard some arguments for accepting credit vouchers and it’s true that many jobs in the travel industry are at stake. Therefore, if you plan on rebooking your holiday in the future (and can afford not to have the money now) you may wish to accept a credit voucher.
But it’s also important to be aware that should the travel company collapse your credit voucher would become worthless. In the current climate there is a very real risk of this happening. It’s a gamble and you need to consider whether it’s one you’re prepared to take. Particularly if there’s a large amount of money at stake.
If you’re keen to get your money back don’t feel guilty about pursuing a refund. You’re legally entitled to it and in any case, you may end up claiming through your travel insurance or credit card company if the airline refuse to pay out.
Don’t want to accept a credit voucher? Here is how to proceed to receive a refund for your cancelled flight.
Step 1: Approach Your Travel Provider and Request a Cancelled Flight Refund
The first step is to contact whomever you booked your flights through. This may be a third party travel agent or you may have booked directly with an airline.
Ask them for a refund for your cancelled flight and state that you don’t wish to accept a credit voucher.
If you don’t receive confirmation that they’ll provide a refund move on to step 2. You can always continue discussions with your travel provider once you’ve logged a claim with your card company.
Step 2: Contact Your Card Company
Whether you paid on a debit or credit card, there are options available for trying to claim your money back through your card company.
For Credit Card Purchases Over £100
Under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act your credit card company has a responsibility for ensuring you receive the product or service you paid for.
This means that even if the company you bought from goes bankrupt, your credit card company are still liable and need to refund you. Purchases between £100 – £30,000 are covered.
It’s therefore always a good idea to use credit cards for big purchases. Though you must make sure to repay in full every month!
It’s important to note that it’s the total value of what you bought that’s important, not the amount you paid on your card. This means that you’re still covered if you paid a small deposit by credit card and the rest of the balance by another method.
Keen to make a claim? The process may vary between banks, so check your bank’s website to find their Section 75 process, or if in doubt call customer services for help.
I am currently going down this route with Santander for my own cancelled flights. You can see more of the process I went through at the bottom of this post here.
Important Note: As I learned, you may not qualify for Section 75 protection if you bought through a third party who were not providing the end service or product. In that instance you may need to turn to the other options below.
For Other Card Purchases
Paid with a debit card? Or for flights £100 or under with a credit card?
If your purchase doesn’t qualify for Section 75 protection it’s worth looking into whether you can request a chargeback.
Chargeback works by asking your card provider to reverse a transaction made on your debit or credit card. In order for them to do this you’ll need to prove to your bank that there’s been a breach of contract. However, it is possible for the retailer to dispute the chargeback and not pay up.
There are no legal rules around chargeback, instead it is part of the Scheme Rules banks subscribe to. Therefore the protection is more limited than through Section 75 and it won’t be possible to claim if the company have gone bankrupt.
Note: Unlike Section 75 where there is no time limit, chargeback claims should be made within 120 days from when the service was expected to be delivered.
Speak to your bank’s customer service team about how to log a chargeback claim. You may find this downloadable template from Which.co.uk useful.
Step 3: Claim on Your Travel Insurance
Once you’ve exhausted all other options it’s time to try claiming on your travel insurance.
Unfortunately, many insurance providers have exemptions that allow them to avoid paying out in the event of a pandemic. It’s worth checking this post for which insurers are paying out under different scenarios. Most insurers will also specify their position on their website.
Although my first flight wasn’t cancelled, I am in a position to claim through my LV Premier insurance policy because the FCO advised against travel to Indonesia after I bought the insurance.
Note: With my LV Premier travel insurance policy I must attempt to claim through my card company before logging a claim, but this may differ across insurers. If in doubt get in touch with your travel insurer early to make them aware of the situation.
My Experience Claiming a Cancelled Flight Refund
I booked my flights with Qatar through STA Travel. Despite Qatar confirming they have provided a refund, STA Travel are not currently willing to pass that money back across to me.
Thankfully I paid for the flights with a Santander credit card and I’m therefore trying to claim through Section 75.
I couldn’t find the Section 75 process on Santander’s website, so phoned up their customer support team. I got through pretty quickly and their first question was whether I had spoken to the flight operator already. They were very understanding that a voucher wasn’t satisfactory and provided details for how to claim under Section 75.
I emailed all of the details below to firstname.lastname@example.org. I also attached my flight confirmation and STA’s e-mail response.
- Credit Card Number:
- Transaction Amount:
- Transaction Date:
- Company Name:
- Booking Number:
- Brief Details:
In the Brief Details section I wrote, “I booked two flights to Indonesia, the outbound flight was due to be on 30th March. Due to government guidance (no non-essential travel, return to the UK of all UK citizens) and Indonesian sanctions (no entry for UK citizens) we are unable to fly. STA Travel have offered us a travel voucher but this is not acceptable hence why I wish to make this claim.”
Santander suggested that the claim can take eight weeks under normal circumstances (and these are not normal times!). I submitted mine on the 24th March and have so far received an automated email saying it has been assigned a claims numbers.
If I don’t have any luck with the card company I will pursue a claim through my travel insurance.
I’ll keep you updated!
August Update on my Cancelled Flight Refund
On the 15th April I received a letter from Santander saying they didn’t believe I had a valid claim.
“Reason for our decision: For the act to apply, there needs to be a direct link between the Debtor (yourself), the Creditor (us) and the Supplier (the merchant). You entered into a contract with STA travel who is not the Supplier. Therefore, there is a break in the chain as no direct link between the Debtor and the Supplier exists, as Qatar Airways is not named on the credit agreement with Santander.”
I’ve therefore turned my attentions back to receiving a refund from STA. Back in April STA issued a travel voucher via e-mail, to which I responded requesting a full refund.
STA’s website now states they are passing on refunds where they receive them and thankfully Qatar confirmed in May that they’d provided a full refund at their end.
Several further e-mails hadn’t got me any further, but last Friday (14th August) I phoned up STA. They apologised and said I should receive a refund within 30-60 days.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it all comes through!
September Update on my Cancelled Flight Refund
Less than a week after my phonecall above to STA, I woke up to the news that STA Travel had collapsed. Therefore all promises of returning my money within 30-60 vanished overnight!
I turned back to Santander and they reconfirmed that due to STA effectively being a third party (not the provider of the flights) my Section 75 claim isn’t valid. I was quite shocked by this as I always thought that credit card protection was valid in this scenario. After doing some further research I spotted that Which do briefly mention this towards the bottom of their Section 75 page. It will certainly make me more cautious of using third parties in future.
With Section 75 cover not available, my options now seemed to be:
- Request a chargeback via Santander (typically this needs to be submitted within 120 days of the date a service should have been provided)
- Contact Qatar themselves for assistance
- Claim via travel insurance
Santander weren’t keen on pursuing a chargeback until we’d spoken to STA Travel. However in the current circumstances there doesn’t seem to be any obvious way to do so! We tried calling the ABTA hotline for advice, but they just repeated the line from their website to contact the flight provider directly.
As Qatar refunded our flights to STA back in May we didn’t think this would be very fruitful, but decided to give it a go. Surprisingly Qatar agreed to try and pursue a chargeback themselves with STA, to try and reclaim the money they refunded. Of all the companies we’ve spoken to up to this point Qatar were by far the most helpful and understanding!
So here’s hoping Qatar are successful in pursuing their chargeback. If not I think it will be time to claim via travel insurance.
I do worry for anyone who bought flights from STA Travel who doesn’t have travel insurance which covers a company collapsing. Thankfully package holidays are covered by ATOL protection, but for flights only there seems to be a big gap in consumer protection given Section 75 is not valid.
I just hope the flight companies themselves can help to get people their money back or at the least provide credit vouchers so consumers don’t lose out.
October Update on my Cancelled Flight Refund
After several months of waiting I’m happy to announce I finally got a refund for my cancelled flights booked with STA Travel! However I only managed to get this through my travel insurance after exhausting all efforts with my Santander Section 75 claim and Qatar.
Further to my September update Qatar said they wouldn’t be able to pursue a chargeback after all. The only option left was therefore to pursue a claim through my travel insurance. I’d been pretty confident for the past six months that I’d get my money back eventually, but as my options started to dwindle I did get nervous that I may end up losing it. I was therefore very relieved that LV approved my claim within 5 days and the money came through shortly after. This seemed exceptionally speedy after the previous slow back and forth with various companies!
In order to claim from LV I had to provide evidence that I’d first tried to recoup the money through my credit card company (Santander). I therefore sent a detailed overview of how I’d tried to recoup the costs along with accompanying e-mail evidence. There were A LOT of e-mails!
I’m extremely thankful that I paid extra for the Premier policy with LV as otherwise I probably wouldn’t have been protected. I got very lucky with this as I only chose the policy because of the enhanced protection it gave for scuba diving!
The main thing I’ve learned from my experience is how limited Section 75 protection can be. I like to think I’m quite clued up on these things and I had no idea that buying through a third party would invalidate a Section 75 claim. Going forwards I’ll make sure to buy flights directly from an airline, rather than using a third party booking agent.
Have you had any success getting a refund for your cancelled flight? Let me know in the comments!