Claiming ticket refunds or making a date change on flight tickets usually attracts an additional cost, depending on the booking conditions. As the Covid-19 pandemic spreads, countries close their borders and airlines cancel flights, travellers are struggling to change flights or claim refunds. Some airlines are offering full refunds, but most are offering changes of flights with fee waivers. A few experiences related recently to Economy Traveller, show some startling contrasts in your chances of getting your money back. We look at a few of these experiences and suggest how you can avoid losing your money.
Claiming ticket refunds
Malaysia Airlines is offering travellers the option of cancelling or rebooking their flights with change fee waivers. This is dependent on the date of booking and flight status. These conditions have been updated since Malaysia’s Movement Control Order (MCO) which went into effect on 18th March 2020.
Prior to this date, Cancellation of tickets for a full refund was based on the destination. These were mostly those in China, which was in lockdown. This writer was able to cancel two return tickets Kuala Lumpur/Beijing over the phone on 12th March. The wait was long, but the representative processed the request professionally, warning that the refund may take 30-60 days. In fact, payment was made to the credit card used for booking within two weeks.
With the expanded list of border closures, other travel restrictions and expanding flight cancellations, the process has been further modified. Travellers have a number of choices, including rebooking (change of date) with fee waivers.
- Cancellations are allowed for bookings where boarding is denied.
- If you are a Malaysian Citizen, you are unable to leave Malaysia from 18th March until the Order is lifted.
- This situation allows you to cancel your booking
- Travellers should call the phone numbers listed on the page
- use the Assistance Request due to COVID-19 Outbreak form at the bottom of the page.
Changing the Date
Qantas is another airline offering a free waiver for change of dates. As with other airlines allowing changes of travel dates, there are some conditions. These include restrictions on the length of postponement and the addition of any fare difference. All the information and a link are on the Qantas Home Page. Or you can go directly to the Manage Booking page to Change or Cancel your flights. Please note that not all options may be available for your booking, depending on the conditions.
A member of our team had a booking for a Qantas flight that was cancelled. A direct cancellation was not available so he asked for a travel credit.
….. I had a credit created for my direct booking with Qantas. I just clicked through to it and at the bottom of the page I just clicked the button to convert it to a refund. Couldn’t be easier.
Using an agent
If you use a local walk-in travel agent, you should be able to cancel or change your flight easily. However, these services are now also offered online. A local agent can be useful if you are not comfortable using a computer or plan to join a tour. Ask around to get a reputable provider if you have not used an agent previously.
However, even if you normally book online, direct with an airline, this is sometimes not possible for complex routings. The alternative to making multiple ‘point to point’ bookings with different airlines, is usually to use an agent. This is where it can get tricky. If you have an online agent you trust, or has been recommended, you may be comfortable making the booking.
If not, another option is to use a flight booking aggregator. This is a specialised search site that will searches for fares across multiple websites and shows you the results in one place. The results may include a mix of airlines and online booking agents.
Why use an aggregator?
- Useful for complex routes where there are no direct flights available
- Good deals available
- Comparison between different airlines
- Different or more efficient routing may be suggest
- One-stop shop
We used Skyscanner, which we’ve used before to look for flights between Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Christchurch, New Zealand. They showed some good deals and we clicked through to see the booking choices, as Skyscanner is not a booking agent.
The Online booking agent experience
A reader shared their experience using this method to book the route above, as there are no longer any direct flights between Kuala Lumpur and Christchurch.
Because they were unfamiliar with all the agents listed and all were significantly cheaper than the airline, they selected the first and cheapest option. This is not unusual for those who do not travel often. Even the most experienced travellers get caught at times.
What to do before you make your choice:
- Check the reviews of the agents listed
- BudgetAir, Mytrip and GotoGate all fared vary badly in reviews.
- They all received fewer than 1.5 stars.
- Mayflower fared better, with 3-4
- BudgetAir, Mytrip and GotoGate all fared vary badly in reviews.
- Do they have a local representative?
- Only Mayflower actually has a local office that you can visit in Malaysia
- Read the booking conditions before you click to accept.
What went wrong
The Malaysian Government declared the Movement Control Order on 17th March 2020. One provision prohibited Malaysian citizens from leaving the country from 12.00am 18th March, until the end of the MCO. The passengers immediately checked the BudgetAir website to see how they could cancel their flights on 26th March and noted the cancellation fee of up to MYR500 and agent fee of MYR 225 per passenger. Before they called the next morning, they checked again and found the fee had been changed to MYR2250 pp. When they finally managed to connect with the agent, the altered administration fee was confirmed. They were told to cancel the flights with the airline themselves and then the refund would automatically be processed by the agent. However, the booking number provided by the agent was not accepted by the airline, who told them only the agent could do the cancellation.
This is the most common complaint reported by travellers needing to change dates or get ticket refunds through online agents. The bouncing back and forth between airline and agent. Almost two weeks after the passenger tried to cancel the tickets and almost a week after the flight was cancelled by the airline the day before travel, the matter remains unresolved.
- The airline acknowledges that the booking was made and they were asked to check in (to a, by that time, non-existent flight).
- The airline has agreed to provide a credit voucher that must be used by 31st December 2020.
- However, the agent has not provided any confirmation of this arrangement.
Please think twice before giving your ticket money to an online travel agent with no physical office in your country.
Claiming ticket refunds on your insurance
Claiming ticket refunds from your insurer is your last resort as they will expect you to claim what you can from the airline or agent. Once you have done that, you can make a claim for any shortfall. Your success will depend on the terms of your policy, so read the conditions before you commit.
It can be difficult to judge before you travel which clauses could cause problems. Especially loosely worded clauses as shown in the screen-grab.
Covid-19 Pandemic: lessons learnt
If everything goes smoothly, all is well. However, the internet has many stories of people who had bad experiences with agents.
Some of the problems include:
- Agent suddenly went out of business.
- Customer lost all payments made
- Traveller stranded part way through the trip
- Agent is still in business, but
- Tickets not actually purchased
- Full payments not made for inclusions
- Accommodation not booked
- Not uncommon, even well known companies are guilty
- Refusal to refund money paid
- Responsibility pushed to traveller to cancel or change bookings
- Deduction of exorbitant fees
- Difficulty in reaching the agent
What can I do?
- Do your homework first and read reviews before you book.
- Make a report or claim to the appropriate authority in your country.
- Add a review yourself.
- Be factual, but do not include personal details or booking numbers etc.
We have sought responses from airlines, the insurance company and the online agent. As yet, we have no comments from any, but attribute this partially to the current fluidity of the situation.