Holiday Extras customers furious after getting vouchers instead of refunds for cancelled airport parking
Hundreds of angry customers have hit out at airport parking site Holiday Extras after it changed its usual refund policy and sent them vouchers rather than refunds for cancelled bookings.
Update 17 Jun 2020: Holiday Extras has now backtracked and says it will offer many refunds - see our Holiday Extras update for full info.
The travel company, which lets customers book airport parking across the UK and also offers add-ons such as transfers and airport hotel stays, usually allows those with flexible bookings to cancel up until 11.59pm the night before a booking is due to start and receive a refund – though you'll have a cancellation fee deducted unless you've purchased a cancellation waiver, which normally entitles you to get all your money back.
But Holiday Extras has now changed its refund policy, invoking a "force majeure" clause in its terms and conditions which it says allows it to refuse refunds. It's instead sending vouchers to all customers who cancelled their booking after 17 March 2020 – and even customers who had already had confirmation they would get a refund for their cancelled booking have now been sent emails with vouchers instead.
'They owe me £249 which I need back – a voucher is no use to me'
In recent weeks, MoneySavingExpert.com has had scores of complaints from Holiday Extras customers unhappy that they haven't had a refund.
Teresa, a MoneySaver with a hotel and parking booking for May, emailed us to say: "They owe me £249 which I need back. A voucher is no use to me as I have no idea when I will be able to holiday again – and quite honestly I don't want to use this company again."
And here are just a couple of the many tweets we've seen:
A Facebook group set up by unhappy customers now has over 500 members, who have been sharing their experiences and trying to help each other reclaim money for parking or hotel bookings.
June was one of those to tell her story. She said: "My companion and I booked two reservations for March – the total was a considerable sum. These bookings were on a flexible basis, so whatever the situation if it was cancelled you would get full refund paid back to the card used.
"However, five weeks on from being told we would get a cash refund back to the card – verbally, by their customer representative – still no refund and total fob off with them just offering vouchers. We are in the elderly, vulnerable NHS category and can never know when we can travel again, if at all!"
What is Holiday Extras offering customers who've cancelled?
Holiday Extras says if you booked airport parking, transfers or hotel stays in April or May and have cancelled it, you'll get a voucher worth 100% of the price you paid – this will apply whether or not you had a flexible or non-flexible booking, and no cancellation fees will be deducted.
It says all flexible bookings for dates beyond June can also be cancelled online in exchange for a voucher. For more, see Holiday Extras' coronavirus cancellations info.
Why is Holiday Extras refusing to refund customers?
Holiday Extras says that its T&Cs have always allowed it to refuse refunds in the case of "force majeure", ie, exceptional, unforeseen circumstances that prevent a contract being fulfilled.
A version of its T&Cs seen by MoneySavingExpert.com says: "Very rarely, we may be forced to change or terminate your booking due to unforeseen major events known as force majeure. This means any major event which we or the supplier of the service(s) in question could not, even with all due care, foresee or avoid and that were beyond our reasonable control...
"Changes or termination of your contract due to force majeure are extremely unlikely. If, however, such major events do occur, we regret we will be unable to make any refund of payments for services not received."
Asked why it was refusing refunds, a spokesperson for the company told us: "Our booking terms and conditions have always allowed us to adjust our refund policy during events beyond our control. We have had to take this alternative approach in order to ensure that we are best placed to help customers enjoy travel in the future."
Even if Holiday Extras' T&Cs allow for it to change its refund policy, that doesn't mean you can't challenge the decision. Last week, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) watchdog said that regardless of how contracts are worded, it would usually expect firms to issue a full refund where customers are unable to use a service due to lockdown – though it's not clear-cut whether that would apply here.
We asked the Chartered Trading Standards Institute for its view on the legality of using a force majeure clause to avoid using cash refunds. It pointed towards the CMA's announcement last week and said any such clause would have to be subject to a fairness test, but added that with coronavirus cancellations it was often the case that "neither the seller nor the buyer have broken the terms of their contract".
It added: "This stretches the relevant application of existing laws and consequently poses many challenges in identifying specific means of redress. Consumers... are advised to be patient and allow businesses to find a resolution that will work for both parties. Incidentally, businesses will struggle issuing refunds to every single customer affected, and consumers should work with the business to find a suitable remedy for both parties".
It's worth noting we've not seen a similar volume of complaints from customers about other airport parking booking sites, who in most cases appear to be getting refunds for cancelled bookings minus any agreed cancellation fees. If you've had a problem with another site though, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you've had to cancel your Holiday Extras booking, it is first worth considering whether you're happy with a voucher. If you can afford to take the voucher, expect to use it and want to show loyalty at a time when the travel industry's struggling, you may want to accept it – though there are risks with vouchers too, and there's no guarantee you'll be able to use the voucher to pay for a similar replacement booking.
If you really want a full refund rather than a voucher, there's no guarantee you'll be able to get one, but here's what to try:
Step 1: Fight it by email
Some customers have had success by complaining directly to Holiday Extras, arguing for a refund and persevering with their case in lengthy email threads. It may be worth referencing the recent CMA guidance on refunds for cancellations when making your case.
Patience is key here – be aware that Holiday Extras isn't operating its phone services as its offices are closed, and its site says that it currently has a nine-day email turnaround. Those who've finally been granted a refund say it's usually taken three to five days to get the cash back in their accounts.
Step 2: Request a chargeback from your card provider
If that doesn't work, you can try asking your debit or credit card provider for a 'chargeback', whereby your bank will attempt to recoup the money from the bank of the firm you bought from. The precise process will vary depending on your bank, but you'll need proof of your purchase, and any emails between yourself and Holiday Extras could be helpful too. You'll need to start by contacting your bank – see full help in our Chargeback guide.
Chargeback is a customer service promise rather than a legal right, but if you're turned down you can then choose to raise a complaint against your bank and escalate to the Financial Ombudsman Service. Bear in mind if you do get your money via chargeback, the company can dispute your claim within a limited period (normally within 45 days of your bank approaching them) and, if successful, take the money back.
We've seen at least five reports on Facebook of Holiday Extras customers successfully recouping their money via chargeback – including three via Amex and one via Lloyds. However, most who say they've tried this say they're still waiting for a result, while a couple say they've been turned down, so success is far from guaranteed.
Step 3: If chargeback doesn't work, try Section 75
If you've had no success with the chargeback route, you can try making a claim under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, which has the added weight of being a legal right, rather than a customer service promise. If you pay for a product or service on a credit card and it costs between £100 and £30,000, the card firm is just as liable as the product/service provider if something goes wrong. This means that you may be able to claim your money back, but only if your Holiday Extras purchase was over £100 and purchased on a credit card.
You can raise a Section 75 claim by contacting your bank – it will explain what you need to do. For full help, see our Section 75 guide.
Generally, with holidaymakers trying to fight for refunds after cancellation due to coronavirus, we've suggested trying chargeback before applying for Section 75, because the credit card company may be more inclined to pursue costs solely from the product/service provider, rather than cover your costs itself.
Step 4: Your last resort's to go to court – but weigh up carefully if it's worth it
If you've exhausted all other avenues without success, your last resort would be to consider taking Holiday Extras to the small claims court, a procedure for dealing with simpler cases under £10,000. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, these go through the county courts or High Court, while in Scotland, most small claims begin in the sheriff courts. One big advantage is that you can apply online, it's all relatively informal and you don't require a lawyer.
This method will cost you a fee. It's calculated according to the amount you're claiming, plus interest, and you may be able to claim it back if you win the case. A few of the Holiday Extras complaint Facebook group members say they have embarked on this process, with one reporting it's cost her £25.
You'll need to consider how much you stand to win or lose if you choose this method. Bear in mind the hassle and worry involved in pursuing legal action, and weigh up if it's worth the risk.
What has Holidays Extras said?
A Holiday Extras spokesperson said: "We appreciate that some customers were previously advised that we would be able to offer a cash refund. This will now not necessarily be the case. We have done and continue to do what we believe is in the best interest of our customers, partners, team and business.
"Like everybody, we hope for a return to normal travel in the near future. Where a customer expresses their dissatisfaction, we are making a note of their request for a cash refund and booking reference. If things do change, we will go back to them."
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