As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic rages on, holiday company TUI announced it would be cancelling holidays travelling on or before May 14, 2020, as well as Marella Cruises travelling on or before May 31, 2020. Customers were guaranteed a cash refund or the choice of an alternative holiday, however, the company has since changed its refund policy in a move which travel expert Simon Calder says will make it “harder for customers to claim money back”.
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Following the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) updated travel warning, which changed from advising against all non-essential travel for a period of 30 days to “indefinitely”, TUI pressed ahead with amending its planned holiday itinerary.
Now, as customers rush to claim their refunds, the company is offering “refund credit notes”.
With many travel firms struggling to meet the 14-day refund cited under current travel package regulations, industry bodies have begged the government to reconsider how long they have to offer refunds.
It is likely this refund credit note is simply a method of helping out TUI as it struggles during this unprecedented time.
According to the TUI website, customers have the option of receiving a full refund credit for “the full value of your holiday” plus a separate “booking incentive up to 20 percent”. They add that the refund credit “gives you the flexibility to book your travel in the future”.
They also assure customers can claim their money back if they so choose, but it might not be as simple as waiting for the cash to automatically drop into your bank account.
The TUI website states: “If you’re unable to accept a refund credit you can apply for a refund; however, we’re only able to process a refund for you once you have received your refund credit.”
Customers must then call the TUI helpline to claim their money.
TUI suggest customers could face waits of up to four weeks for their refunds.
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A TUI spokesperson told Express.co.uk: “We’re offering our customers a credit refund to provide them with the flexibility to book their travel in the future.
“Customers with a package holiday booking have the reassurance that their booking is ATOL protected and are also entitled to an extra 20% booking incentive.
“We’re working really hard to help our customers during this unprecedented time and would like to thank them for their continued support and understanding.”
In a video for the Independent online, Mr Calder describes the move as “detrimental to the customer”.
He adds: “If you want your money back you have to wait for the refund credit note which could take four weeks, and then phone to get a refund.
“So, they’re certainly not saying no refunds.. but they are saying well it’s going to be quite tricky and we’d really like you to consider keeping the money with us.”
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Amid the current chaos, those within the travel industry are asking for the government to make changes to the current refund rules in place, to help struggling firms.
ABTA has warned that if airlines and other businesses are forced to cash out refunds to all of their would-be customers, they may be left in a dire state.
The travel trade association is calling on the UK government to rethink the current refund rules to allow companies to dish out credit notes as a “short-term alternative” to cash refunds.
Mark Tanzer, ABTA chief executive, said: “We know the government has a lot to manage with the current crisis, but its failure to make these temporary changes to refund rules defies logic and is leaving the consumer in no-man’s land.
“The rules around 14-day refunds were never designed for the mass cancellation of holidays, which we’re now seeing as a result of government measures to contain the pandemic.
“It’s in nobody’s interests for normally healthy, viable businesses to be pushed into bankruptcy.
“Hundreds of thousands of jobs are at risk and the UK taxpayer will have to foot the bill for customer refunds if there is an industry-wide collapse of travel businesses.
“It’s important to reiterate, this is about supporting businesses through an entirely unforeseeable and short-term cashflow crunch — customers will not lose their right to a refund, and their money is not at risk.”
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