Martyn James, of the consumer complaints website Resolver, said: “It is outrageous that the people who have chosen to help airlines by accepting vouchers are now being told that they cannot redeem them for vouchers. money if they can’t or can’t use them. ”
He said: “There is a real sense of anger about the behavior of some airlines, given the customer service issues and the ignorance of the refund rules that took place when the lockdown began. If the industry is to get us back on planes, it has to be fair. ”
British Airways was among a number of airlines to remove the refund option from its website in March, persuading passengers to apply for vouchers instead.
Initially, they could not be redeemed online and passengers were directed to a phone line that was often cut due to demand. The airline then began issuing vouchers online and now allows customers to convert up to three vouchers into one mega voucher. This can be redeemed through the website, but only after applicants call the busy helpline to acquire it.
However, none of his vouchers are valid for extras such as reserved seats or checked baggage. They cannot be transferred to other passengers and cannot be used to pay the balance of previously booked trips.
A BA client writing on the MoneySavingExpert website said she spent nearly two hours on the site and the company’s phone line trying to book a canceled break.
She said she had almost £ 100 left after exchanging her voucher, but had to pay £ 40 separately to reserve seats on her new flight, while the unpaid balance was put on a new voucher.
Another BA customer, Christine Grieve, said the website refused to accept her promo code when she tried to book replacement flights. She was ordered to call a number that was never answered and ultimately paid the bill herself.
BA sent him a new voucher which can be used online after the Guardian contacted, but said it could not be applied retrospectively and should be used for a future booking.
EasyJet has also removed the refund option from its website and insists that consumers use the vouchers through the same channel they used to request them. This means that vouchers requested over the phone can only be used over the phone and only one voucher can be used for each booking.
One customer, Peter Bunbury, was assured the process was “hassle-free” when he accepted a voucher instead of a refund. “Now I find that I have to phone customer services to arrange the flights and I wasted an hour trying in vain to pass,” he said.
Another, Georgia Beattie, struggled to redeem her voucher on the easyJet website and saw the price of the flight double to £ 120.
She spent four hours trying to access customer services and eventually paid the rate herself. Since then, she has not been able to get her voucher refunded.
On its website, BA has a long section on the ins and outs of using vouchers, including details on what they can and cannot be used for.
He explains that some of the vouchers are to be used over the phone and warns customers, “Call volumes are extremely high at the moment due to the unprecedented circumstances, so please consider us if it takes us a while to help you. to book. ”
Customers who booked through travel agents also encountered issues. Clare Morris attempted to use a voucher worth £ 448 to purchase tickets through online agent Mytrip.com after flights with Polish carrier Lot were canceled.
She found flights costing £ 311 and tried to change reservations but was told she couldn’t buy them with her voucher. After calling the agency she received £ 636 for the tickets.
“I had been told that a voucher was my only option,” she said. “The flights I want to book are £ 137 less than the original fare and every time I question the supplement the call center agents hang up on me. ”
The terms and conditions of his voucher state that it must be redeemed within three months for departing flights by the end of the year and that it cannot be used to pay for incidental products such as seats. reserved and checked baggage.
Mytrip told The Guardian that according to airline rules, vouchers can only be used in the same booking class they originally purchased for or in a higher booking class.
“As such, when the customer found cheaper tickets, in a lower booking class, for the same trip, we couldn’t honor them,” he said.
“Travel agencies like us are obligated to follow airline pricing rules in accordance with the contract.”
He said his agent erred in refusing a refund. Morris disputed that the flights were in a lower class, but has now been reimbursed the original fare.
Another vacationer, Stephen Colgan, has been told by his travel agent, Voliamo, that he would have to accept a voucher when his flights to the United States were canceled in April.
His Voliamo account was credited with £ 1,811 which he recently tried to use to make a new booking.
However, when he tried to buy tickets he was told he would have to pay an additional £ 466 even though the new fares were cheaper than the original fare. Voliamo did not respond to a request for comment.
According to the Association of British Travel Agents (Abta), customers have the right to exchange a voucher for a refund if it does not cover the cost of a new booking.
“If customers booked through a third-party agent, the agent may choose to charge a fee in addition to the original rate, but this must be specified at the time of booking,” said Abta spokesperson Sean Tipton .
“Agents shouldn’t charge an additional fee on top of the new airfare when customers use a voucher to book a replacement flight with their original airline. Customers always have the right to go directly to the airline for a refund, even if they have been booked by a third party. “