UK consumers have faced a torrent of problems using holiday booking sites during the coronavirus pandemic, according to consumer group Which?
Which? highlighted issues with flight booking sites saying some companies proved “impossible to contact regarding cancellations and refunds during the UK’s lockdown.”
Some flight booking sites were found to have charged extra administration fees to process refunds that would have been free if sought directly from the airline.
Flight booking site Netflights said refunds would “normally” take 45 days to process and that the coronavirus pandemic was making wait times even longer, despite the legal time frame for refunds to be processed by airlines standing at seven days.
Which? research earlier in November found that an estimated £1bn ($1.3bn) in holiday refunds from cancelled travel due to COVID-19 was still to be paid to consumers out of an estimated £8bn worth of package holidays that were cancelled since the pandemic swept the globe.
Refunds for one in five (21%) package holidays where a cash refund was requested was still outstanding at the beginning of October, according to Which?
In October, the Competitions and Markets Authority investigated Virgin Holidays after being alerted that customers were waiting an “unreasonably long time” for refunds. Some customers were told it would take 120 days to get their money back. The travel firm committed to paying £203m to all customers whose package holidays were cancelled due to COVID-19.
Which? said that accommodation booking site Airbnb was the booking site that impressed customers the most during the pandemic.
Despite the huge number of cancellations Airbnb dealt with during the UK’s lockdown, it was still given five stars for customer service by Which? due to its free cancellation filter and “transparent and upfront” refund policies, set by property owners, as well as flexible rebooking and refund options proving “invaluable” during the coronavirus pandemic.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “Booking sites have been seen as a hassle-free way to find the best deal on travel or accommodation when booking a holiday, but our survey highlights serious problems, from dodgy refund policies and unwelcome admin fees, to non-existent customer service.
“This year has shown us that nothing can be guaranteed when it comes to booking a holiday, so it’s more important than ever to ensure the company you’re booking with can be trusted with your money.
“With a couple of notable exceptions, booking sites have let their customers down on this front, so the best way to ensure your money is in safe hands is to book a package, hotel or flight directly, and only with a reputable provider.”
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