The 70 best and worst firms for travel refunds: new MSE survey – Virgin and Loveholidays join Ryanair at the bottom
Travel abroad from the UK has partially opened up again, after being essentially banned for over 100 days. During that time millions of people have been owed refunds for holidays they couldn't go on. Today MoneySavingExpert.com reveals the results of its latest survey, with 77,000 responses, showing a stark divide in the way different firms treat their customers.
The survey ran between Tuesday 30 June and Monday 6 July and had 77,101 individual responses about travel firms. The aim was to find out how people felt about their 'refund experience', by asking them to rate it as 'great', 'OK' or 'poor', and whether they actually got one.
Three big names did particularly poorly. Ryanair continues to live up to its customer service reputation, scoring the worst of the major brands at a net score of -89% (worked out as the 1% who rated it 'great' minus the 90% who deemed it 'poor'). It's now joined by Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays on -88% and Loveholidays on -81%.
Unsurprisingly, these three firms were also among the worst at refunding people, with 4% or less of their customers saying they'd had a refund to date. A majority of Virgin Atlantic and Ryanair customers also said they'd been waiting more than two months for a refund since first asking.
While not a statistical random sample of the UK public, this huge survey does paint a strong picture of what's going on in travel refunds. Here are the detailed results.
1. Loveholidays and Virgin join Ryanair with dire feedback as the worst big firms for refunds, while Travel Counsellors, Jet2 and Hays Travel gain customers' applause
We ranked firms by taking the percentage of those who had a 'great' experience with the company and subtracting the percentage who had a 'poor' experience to give a 'net experience score'.
Of firms that received at least 100 responses, travel agent Alpharooms came out bottom with a net score of -99%, followed by Jetline (-97%) and Teletext Holidays (-96%).
At the top, Travel Counsellors managed an impressive net score of +84%. It was closely followed by Trailfinders (+81%) and both Jet2 brands (+79%, +77%), all of which have shown a big improvement since the last time we did this survey, in May.
|1. Travel Counsellors||745||+84||-7%|
|3. Jet2 Holidays||2,283||+79||+25%|
|6. Hays Travel||1,629||+64||-6%|
|7. British Airways Holidays||342||+63||+18%|
|9. Center Parcs||302||+53||+11%|
|11. Disney Holidays||246||+51||+14%|
|12. Co-operative Travel||188||+34||New result|
|13. Easyjet Holidays||311||+31||+21%|
|14. Norwegian Air||309||+23||New result|
|16. British Airways||3,248||+11||+3%|
|17. American Airlines||137||+9||+8%|
|18. Eurocamp||105||+7||New result|
|19. First Choice||292||+5||+65%|
|24. Travelbag||126||-3||New result|
|25. Qatar Airways||127||-6||+15%|
|26. Travel Republic||575||-12||+15%|
|27. Villa Plus||234||-17||New result|
|30. P&O Ferries||120||-24||New result|
|33. P&O Cruises||1,052||-31||-1%|
|34. Brittany Ferries||441||-32||New result|
|35. Princess Cruises*||100||-33||New result|
|37. Wizz Air||215||-34||+14%|
|38. Netflights||225||-36||New result|
|41. Emirates||743||-48||No change|
|43. Etihad||112||-54||New result|
|44. Turkish Airlines||113||-60||New result|
|45. Holiday Extras||634||-65||+27%|
|46. Shearings||377||-65||New result|
|47. Aer Lingus||551||-68||-30%|
|48. Air France||198||-69||+7%|
|49. Loganair||183||-73||New result|
|50. Iglu*||191||-73||New result|
|51. Travel Trolley||270||-74||+21%|
|52. Secret Escapes||386||-77||-1%|
|54. Sykes Cottages||683||-77||+2%|
|56. STA Travel||239||-78||-1%|
|59. Budget Air||300||-82||New result|
|60. Barrhead*||195||-87||New result|
|61. Fleetway||297||-87||New result|
|62. Virgin Atlantic||2,675||-88||-37%|
|63. Virgin Holidays||2,518||-88||-15%|
|64. Air Transat*||173||-88||New result|
|68. Teletext Holidays||507||-96||-2%|
|69. Jetline*||198||-97||New result|
|70. Alpharooms*||188||-99||New result|
Here's Martin's view on these companies' performance on travel refunds.
Martin: 'The refund farce must end, regulators need to take action'
MSE founder Martin Lewis said: "This refund farce has now gone on too long. The pandemic has been a torrid time for millions, who have faced huge financial shocks. Having thousands of pounds tied up on what was once a dream has turned into a nightmare. It's left people in distress and some will have seen their mental health impacted.
"It is time for regulators and politicians to take action. Even now, after months, less than a third of people in our mammoth survey have received the full (usually) legally required refunds, and it simply isn't good enough. We will be passing a dossier on this to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), Civil Aviation Authority and Department for Transport.
"The CMA's already called on full cancellation refunds. It first focused on childcare, weddings, events and UK holiday accommodation sectors. And it's worked, with firms U-turning on refunds. Now it must turn its attention to these travel firms, pressure needs to be put on Virgin, Loveholidays and others – as people have run out of options.
"Of course, we understand that the impact of the pandemic on the travel industry sector is devastating. It's why I've long called for 'forbearance' both ways – if people can help by taking vouchers, or rebooking, then they should.
"Yet how individual firms have treated their customers during this time will long be remembered. And the fact so many firms are flouting the law and treating customers poorly means those that have bent over backwards in a difficult time need applause.
"Bravo then to Jet2, Trailfinders, Hays Travel, Airbnb, Travel Counsellors, and all the small firms that have helped that weren't big enough to make our survey. I'd urge your customers to remember this, and reward you with their future custom.
2. Virgin plummets with the worst decline – First Choice and Tui see substantial improvement
This is the second travel refund cancellation survey we've done since the coronavirus crisis began. In our early May survey we had 27,000 responses and while many firms haven't improved or fallen by very much since then, there have been some substantial changes, as shown in the table above.
Top of the drops was Virgin Atlantic, which plummeted from -51% to -88% (a -37 percentage-point change) drawing it level in disgrace with its fellow Virgin Holidays brand, also at -88%. Big airlines Aer Lingus and Lufthansa also had significant falls in their net score (-30 and -29 percentage points down on last time).
On the other hand, there were some positive movers. First Choice improved its score from -60% to +5%, while Trailfinders improved by +49 percentage points, and Riviera by +47 points.
Unsurprisingly, firms that have recently prominently changed their stance (often after pressure from the Competition and Markets Authority) to offer customers refunds saw a jump too.
These include Tui, which was up from -60% to -21% (see Tui refunds information), Hoseasons, up from -68% to -36% (see Hoseasons U-turns on refunds) and Holiday Extras, up from -92% to -65% (see Holiday Extras U-turns on refunds). Sykes Cottages' U-turn on refunds yesterday (Monday 6 July), came after this poll was concluded.
3. Less than 1 in 20 customers of Ryanair, Loveholidays and Virgin Holidays have had a refund so far compared with 31% on average, yet Jet2 has refunded in 87% of cases
As you might expect, our survey tended to find that firms that performed well in terms of net score were better at providing customers with refunds.
We asked customers who'd had bookings cancelled by firms whether or not they'd had a full refund and found that overall, less than a third (31%) had. Of those who had got a refund, most had got it quickly, with 60% having received it within a month. Forty-six per cent of those refunded got it automatically without having to do anything to claim it.
Alpharooms and Air Transat were the worst performers, with not one of their combined 326 survey respondents saying they'd received a refund for a trip the firms had cancelled. Teletext Holidays and Virgin Atlantic had a refund payout rate of 1% among those who'd had trips cancelled. Big firms Ryanair, Loveholidays and Virgin Holidays barely did any better, with only 4% of their customers saying they'd had a full refund.
At the other end of the spectrum, 87% of Jet2 and Jet2 Holidays customers who'd had bookings cancelled said they'd had a refund from the firm. Trailfinders and Airbnb customers were also likely to get a refund, with 85% and 83% respectively saying they'd been refunded.
|2. Jet2 Holidays||1,955||87%|
|5. British Airways Holidays||294||81%|
|6. Villa Plus||188||78%|
|7. Norwegian Air||288||70%|
|8. Disney Holidays||117||67%|
|10. Travel Counsellors||525||64%|
|11. First Choice||245||63%|
|12. Easyjet Holidays||244||63%|
|14. Hays Travel||1,252||63%|
|15. Center Parcs||217||60%|
|16. British Airways||2,856||60%|
|17. Co-operative Travel||162||59%|
|18. American Airlines||94||53%|
|26. Qatar Airways||95||38%|
|28. Travel Republic||518||35%|
|29. P&O Cruises||829||35%|
|31. Brittany Ferries||344||31%|
|33. Wizz Air||176||30%|
|35. Travel Trolley||220||27%|
|36. Princess Cruises*||83||25%|
|38. Sykes Cottages||318||20%|
|41. Holiday Extras||286||14%|
|43. Secret Escapes||334||13%|
|44. Aer Lingus||412||12%|
|46. Air France||170||9%|
|48. Turkish Airlines||97||8%|
|52. STA Travel||197||6%|
|53. Virgin Holidays||2,215||4%|
|59. Budget Air||281||2%|
|62. Virgin Atlantic||2,368||1%|
|63. Teletext Holidays||465||1%|
|66. Air Transat*||163||0%|
4. Airbnb quick to refund, but yet again it's Virgin Atlantic and Ryanair keeping the majority waiting two months or more (and some are still waiting)
We also asked how long people had to wait to get a refund, or how long they had been waiting. Again, the firms that tended to do well in the overall net score were quick to refund, and those that did badly, either slow or just not refunding.
Airbnb was quick to refund with 87% getting a refund within two weeks. Also quick were big firms Jet2 Holidays (57% within two weeks), British Airways (56%) and Jet2 (55%).
Note that below, the columns include both those who got their refund in the time stated, and those for whom it's been that long since they started their claim, though they don't have their refund yet.
|2. British Airways Holidays||78%||13%||3%||6%||266|
|3. James Villa Holidays||64%||29%||7%||0%||69|
|4. Jet2 Holidays||57%||26%||14%||3%||1,787|
|5. British Airways||56%||14%||13%||18%||2,349|
|9. Disney Holidays||44%||20%||9%||26%||106|
And while those customers who have to wait are still better off than those who got nothing, the worst performing firms for delay time were Iglu and Budget Air. For both, 83% of their customers had waited more than two months for a refund (or it's been that long since they started their claim).
Virgin Atlantic (69% two months or more, 9th worst) and Ryanair (59%, 20th worst) were the poorest performing of the big firms here.
|9. Virgin Atlantic||4%||8%||20%||68%||2120|
|7. Princess Cruises*||3%||6%||19%||72%||72|
|6. STA Travel||1%||8%||17%||74%||122|
|1. Budget Air||2%||4%||11%||83%||214|
5. Customers who got refunds or got to rebook were more than twice as happy as those who got vouchers
Not all of the respondents in our survey have got a refund or other resolution yet. But of those who have, unsurprisingly, there's a huge disparity in happiness levels between those who got full refunds and those who reached other resolutions.
About 75% of those who got refunds said they were happy, as did 70% of those who rebooked for a future date. But only 29% of those who accepted a voucher or credit note said they were happy, with another 42% saying they thought this was a 'reasonable' solution.
And unhappiness reigns for those who have had to fight tooth and nail to get a refund, with a whopping 50% of those who went via their card firm or travel insurer saying they're unhappy or very unhappy – despite getting money back.
MSE's quick tips to get your money back
The exact process to follow if your booking is cancelled and you want to get your money back will vary depending on the type of booking you have (flight, hotel, package holiday etc).
Before asking for a cash refund, consider if you NEED one. At the moment, many firms are struggling. This means it's safer to demand a refund rather than settle for a voucher, in case the firm collapses before you can use it. But it's also worth considering whether you're in a position to show forbearance.
Having said that, if you're sure that you do need a cash refund, here are a few tips to follow:
1. Speak to the firm first and use its refund system. Always start this way. Give it a chance, use its systems.
2. If that fails, warn that you'll take it further. If you can speak to the firm and it isn't helping, warn it you'll speak to your card firm (this costs firms – it's cheaper if they do it themselves, so give them the chance).
3. If the firm won't give you money back, ask your card provider. Speak to your card provider to ask it to do a chargeback – where it asks the firm's bank for the money. Though some firms may later try to claw this back and you will have to go through a further dispute process.
If this doesn't work, your final action would be to take the legal route, perhaps through a county court.
Important! To be eligible for a refund, it's usually the case that the firm needs to cancel the booking rather than you doing it, as if you cancel, unfortunately there's no guarantee you'll get a refund. Plus, you're unlikely to be covered by travel insurance, providers of which would usually regard you cancelling as a 'disinclination to travel'.
However, some firms are now being more flexible and are letting customers rebook. For full cancellation rights and help, see our Coronavirus Travel Rights guide.
What do the firms say?
There are many firms that have performed negatively, but we have highlighted three big ones in this article – so felt it was appropriate to give them a right of reply, and justify themselves, which also likely sets the tone for other firms in a similar position.
A Virgin spokesperson said: "As a direct result of the global travel restrictions, we have had to cancel a vast number of flights and continue to be inundated with enquiries, including refund requests. Our absolute focus remains on supporting all of our customers to amend, rebook or cancel plans.
"We would reassure all customers that if they've requested a refund for a cancelled trip, it will be repaid in full, and the work to process refunds is our priority."
"As a direct result of the global travel restrictions, we have had to cancel a vast number of flights and continue to be inundated with enquiries, including refund requests. Our absolute focus remains on supporting all of our customers to amend, rebook or cancel plans.
"We would reassure all customers that if they've requested a refund for a cancelled trip, it will be repaid in full, and the work to process refunds is our priority. In order to accelerate the process, we have boosted the size of the teams handling refunds and trained additional staff to use the required systems, which is increasing our capacity to process refunds.
"We are committed to completing each refund at the earliest opportunity, but certainly within a maximum timeframe of 120 days, from the date the refund is requested. We are making every effort to reduce this timeframe wherever possible in these extraordinary circumstances and thank all of our customers for their patience."
A Ryanair spokesperson said: "We are pleased to have made such significant progress over the month of June in eliminating the backlog of cash refunds due to the Covid-19 flight cancellations. Over 90% of passengers who booked directly with Ryanair and who requested a cash refund for travel between March and June will receive their refunds before the end of July."
A Loveholidays spokesperson said: "We recognise that during these exceptional times, the experience customers have had with us wasn't as efficient as any of us would have liked and we've been unable to deliver the high levels of service we endeavour to give. We appreciate that this is a worrying and uncertain time for many of our customers and apologise for issues that they have faced with refund payments."
"We recognise that during these exceptional times, the experience customers have had with us wasn't as efficient as any of us would have liked and we've been unable to deliver the high levels of service we endeavour to give. We appreciate that this is a worrying and uncertain time for many of our customers and apologise for issues that they have faced with refund payments.
"To date, Loveholidays has actioned more than 42,000 refund requests totalling over £22m (excluding the cost of refunds from airlines) which represents over 25% of our customers affected. Unfortunately, due to the scale of cancellations involved, while we are working as hard as possible to process refunds, it is taking longer than we would like.
"We are listening to customers and appreciate they have had trouble contacting us as our live chat has been overwhelmed but we are working on improving that. Automated processes have been introduced to speed up the refund procedures with further improvements being worked on. For example, over 20,000 customers with refund credit notes due to expire at the end of July are being contacted this week to bring forward their refund payments (excluding flights) with the aim to pay their refund within the next 14 days (the exact timing of receipt is subject to card providers' timelines which are outside of our control).
"For all other customers, we are aiming to process all requested cash refunds back to them within eight weeks of us receiving the request via 'Manage My Booking' on our website. Where we receive cash refunds from airlines, we are committed to pass these on to our customers within five working days but it is important to note that to date we have only received 28% of the total due from the airlines. We will continue to review and evaluate our refund processes and will try to make this as fast as we possibly can and, once again, we would like to apologise to customers affected."