Like many people in the UK and abroad, my travel plans have been impacted by coronavirus.
When it all went awry, I thought getting a refund would be relatively easy – but I was wrong.
It feels like I have spent every waking moment trying to reclaim the significant amount of money I had invested in a holiday that disappeared before my eyes.
To put it mildly, I would call myself a ‘frustrated traveller’.
Fortunately, I have found a community of over a thousand people online who have had an equally disastrous experience. The one thing that truly unites us though is the lack of support we have received from the travel company that sold us our flights in the first place: TravelUp.
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When I saw an article from one of their travel agents, Charlotte, talking about how difficult her job has been fielding these calls and detailing the anger she has received from customers, I was baffled. Yes, we’re angry, but we have the right to be.
Out of the thousands of us with complaints about the company, many members of the Facebook group I am part of are still fighting this company for their money, six months on. And this is just the tip of the iceberg – there are certainly people battling independently, unaware of this online community.
On top of that, there will be the customers who have resigned themselves to not getting their money returned, thinking a partial refund – which is what a lot of us have been offered – is the only option.
To think of this is truly heart-breaking and I believe that TravelUp are playing with people’s lives and finances, leaving them in limbo – and I’m not about to let them get away with it.
Mid-pandemic, the company introduced a cancellation fee, retrospectively. Their terms previously said that cancelled flights would be entitled to a full refund, by April they read that they would now give us the money back but with ‘credit/debit card (non-refundable) charges incurred by us at the time of the original booking and a small administration fee’ deducted.
Some customers have been charged as much as £75 per party and 2% of cost, as I have seen from their email communication. On top of that, chargeable fees to customers for debit and credit card transactions were banned in 2018.
All of this has, understandably, created a lot of anger. Especially as not giving a full refund contravenes EU legislation, which states that if your flight is cancelled by an airline you are entitled to your money back by the airline within seven days.
I still struggle to understand why TravelUp fail to understand this.
In May, the company’s CEO Ali Shah said the fee would be reduced to £50, something which – along with the £75 they were trying to charge me before – was not in place at the time I booked my flights.
TravelUp employees have even requested customers confirm that they are no longer pursuing a chargeback – where one wins money back on a disputed purchase, giving full expectation that TravelUp will refund, with no confirmed amount or date.
This flip-flopping has meant that I will never use their services again. And I wouldn’t be surprised if there were thousands more like me.
I have also heard from many different people – some who have only just received refunds from flights in March, while another is pursuing more than £4,000.
The huge variation in responses that my fellow passengers have shared in our Facebook group has left me thinking that their customer service lacks any logic, integrity or training.
This flip-flopping has meant that I will never use their services again
As Charlotte mentions in her piece, TravelUp’s phone lines were down during lockdown – I couldn’t get in touch for two and a half months. There was no provision for being contactable, no options for rebooking and no emergency line available for those left stranded abroad – and people are still without answers.
On our Facebook page, member comments include stories like, ‘If I had waited for them to get back to me, it would have taken me beyond the 120 day chargeback limit’ and, ‘I had to cross the land border into Brazil and pay for a new flight home’.
Customers are not commodities.
In all honesty, I cannot think of one positive experience from my three months spent dealing with the company. It took me ages to be able to communicate with them and I was the one contacting airlines directly about my refund – which is TravelUp’s responsibility for its customers.
Their Trustpilot page is filled with angry people demanding their money back. Not all other travel agents are perfect, of course, but my problem is with this one – and how they are trying to make their agents out to be the wronged party.
I just don’t know how TravelUp can come back from any of this. Chargebacks from banks feel like the only option for us to get our money back, and I’ve heard from plenty of people who say they have won, and not TravelUp.
While it must be hard for people like Charlotte to deal with all these frustrated travellers – I would ask her where is the compassion for all those still waiting for contact and their refunds.
In response to Metro.co.uk’s request for comment, TravelUp said:
Since coronavirus devastated air travel we have made major changes to our business to keep up with the demand for refunds. We moved as many staff as possible across from sales to customer service.
This was not something we were able to do overnight and we apologise to any customers who experienced problems reaching us during the difficult first few weeks of the pandemic.
Since then we have worked hard to launch a new live online refund system and to increase the number of staff dealing with refunds.
So far we have successfully processed over 46,000 refund requests and refunded £40m to customers. Some of these refunds have taken far longer than we would have liked. We are still waiting for some fares to be returned by the airlines.
Given the volume of refunds we are dealing with and the complexity around them, we have also sometimes made mistakes. For that we are also very sorry.
It is important to explain that TravelUp does not hold onto customer fares. We pass those fares straight on to the airlines and we are then at their mercy when awaiting refunds.
It is well documented how slow some airlines have been in issuing refunds. In some cases they have not handed money back at all.
We do process refunds less the cost of any reasonable administrative cost in making such refund and have fixed this at £50 per booking for all coronavirus affected bookings and this has always been stipulated in our terms and conditions.
Pre-covid we were able to waiver that charge. However, we reluctantly felt it necessary to introduce a charge when the volume of refunds became so great.
We believe that the whole system of airline refunds needs reform. We want to see money returned to customers in a timely fashion. That is why TravelUp is leading a campaign for change. We are actively lobbying MPs, the Civil Aviation Authority and the Government.
Our suggestion is that the airline industry moves to a ‘trust account model’. Fares would be held in a secure account until take-off. If, for any reason, a flight does not depart, the fares would be returned immediately.
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