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Loveholidays customers complain of refund hell – what you can try

Loveholidays customers complain of refund hell – what you can try

The name Loveholidays has become a scourge of many travellers during the pandemic, as droves of customers are still in the dark about their refunds. 

The firm sits alongside Virgin and Ryanair as the big names with the worst feedback for refunds. In our 70 best and worst firms for travel refunds survey, it had a net rating of -81, and just 4% of Loveholidays customers whose holiday had been cancelled and who responded to our survey said they'd received a full refund (though the firm says it has refunded over 25% of affected customers).

We want to take you through what you can do to improve your refund chances, though there's no perfect solution. Customers say they've spent months trying and failing to contact the firm about cancelled holidays, and are still £100s or even £1,000s out of pocket.

One MoneySaver, Daniel, emailed: "My holiday back in March was scuppered due to Covid-19 and I have had so many difficulties with Loveholidays over the past four months trying to get my money back. I have tried to contact them by phone, live chat and post – the letter I sent them was returned to me a week later. I'm owed £788 and it's caused me financial difficulty."

We've also seen widespread complaints on social media:

It's not taking phone calls – how to try to contact it

To add to the frustrations, Loveholidays has confirmed you can't just ring it up right now. You can only access its refund line if you've been sent an invitation to dial it. When we dialled the usual Loveholidays customer service number, we were played an automated message saying that customer service functions had been moved to live chat due to the coronavirus crisis.

This means live chat is the only way to get in touch, but every time we've tried to use it we've been shown a message saying that "all of our live chat agents are currently busy". Loveholidays says the live chat function goes offline when there are no agents available, and admitted that "chat lines are frequently at capacity at the moment" due to the levels of queries from customers.

Loveholidays says its live chat service tends to be busiest in the mornings, with longer wait times when the service opens at 9am, but queues go down over the day – so if you're struggling to get through, it may be worth trying at a later time. The service is open until 8pm.

This, of course, simply isn't good enough. The Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) is now looking into package holiday firms as part of its investigation into companies' behaviour during coronavirus – so if you think you've been treated unfairly, you can add your Loveholidays complaint on the CMA coronavirus complaints tool to push for specific action.

It IS Loveholidays you need to claim the refund from

Though customers will have booked their holidays through Loveholidays, the components of the actual holiday – such as the flights and accommodation – will be provided by third parties.

But it's Loveholidays which needs to pay your refund, rather than the airline or hotel directly.

While Loveholidays markets itself as a travel agent rather than a tour operator, it's confirmed that it is the 'organiser' of the holiday packages it sells under the Package Travel Regulations, meaning it's responsible for the performance of your holiday and any refunds.

An ABTA spokesperson confirmed this, saying: "Whenever a travel company has themselves put together a package for you, which will be made up of transport and another service, typically accommodation, then they will be acting as a tour operator and subject to the refund requirements of the Package Travel Regulations. These require refunds to be made within 14 days."

Loveholidays will, in turn, be claiming refunds from the travel providers, but this doesn't affect its obligations to you as a customer. Under the Package Travel Regulations, firms need to pay refunds for cancelled package holidays within 14 days regardless of whether or not they've received refunds themselves (though, in practice, many travel firms have found this timeline unachievable).

Loveholidays says in some cases it'll ask you to request the refund with the airline directly, if that's the airline's policy – but the refund will still be paid to it and be passed on to you through Loveholidays.

What is the Loveholidays refund policy?

Loveholidays originally told us at the beginning of July that it was aiming to refund "land based" elements of holidays (such as hotel bookings) within eight weeks of when the customer makes a refund request, but says this will now be done within six weeks from the request – and it says it's aiming to reduce this to a two-week timeframe next week.

It says it will pay out for cancelled flights within five days of receiving the refund from the airline – meaning the refund could be paid in instalments (technically, you should be given a refund for cancelled packages within 14 days of cancellation, regardless of when Loveholidays is refunded by suppliers, but many firms have struggled to meet this timeframe).

But many customers have reported they aren't receiving their refunds within the promised timeframes, and are hitting brick walls trying to contact the firm.

Danielle Lewis James, consumer law expert at Slater and Gordon, said: "In short, from a refund perspective for a package holiday... the onus is on Loveholidays to provide the refund as they took your money.

"If Loveholidays fail to provide the refund, they are in breach of their statutory obligations and you could complain to them, ABTA, or commence legal proceedings. In addition, you could seek to claim on your travel insurance if covered.

"The fact that Loveholidays is awaiting a refund from a third party is a matter for them and not the customer. Loveholidays are possibly seeking to delay matters for their own economic reasons, but that does not negate their legal obligations unless the booking terms and conditions have permitted any variation."

Struggling to get a Loveholidays refund? Here's what to try

If your trip's been cancelled and you want a refund from Loveholidays, here are some steps to try:

1) If you're happy with a credit note, some are now Government-backed.

With many travel firms struggling, as a rule we always say it's worth considering whether you're in a position to show forbearance in a tough time, though we understand that after a lot of hassle you may not feel that way.

While Loveholidays insists it will pay cash refunds to those who ask for them, it's also offering amendments or refund credit notes which you can spend on a future Loveholidays booking.

And the Government's now announced it will protect all refund credit notes issued between 10 March and 30 September 2020 for ATOL-protected bookings, meaning you WILL get a cash refund if you opt for a refund credit note but the firm goes bust before you can spend it.

It's important to remember this protection only applies to bookings which were originally ATOL-protected, for example package holidays. So make sure you double-check whether your booking has an ATOL certificate before you decide – our Government to protect refund credit notes for cancelled holidays MSE News story has full info on how the protection works and how to check whether you're covered.

These are also requested through the 'Manage my Booking' function but, unlike cash refunds, Loveholidays says that refund credit notes are generated as soon as they're requested – though let us know your experience with asking for them at news@moneysavingexpert.com.

2) If you do want to hold out for a cash refund, you need to request it online through the 'Manage my Booking' function.

With the phone helpline closed to general enquiries, Loveholidays says that if your flight's been cancelled you should register the cancellation through the Manage my Booking portal on its website, and you'll be given the option to request a refund.

Loveholidays says it's working through refund requests in departure date order, and prioritising vulnerable customers, who will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Loveholidays has said that in some cases, customers' bank cards have been cancelled or expired since the booking was made, meaning their cases will need to be resolved manually. So to stop it using that excuse, double-check your card details are correct in 'Manage my Booking' before you put in the refund request.

Some customers have been left confused because they can see that their flights are cancelled, but other elements of the trip are still going ahead and they haven't been contacted by Loveholidays. But Loveholidays told us that if your flight is cancelled it will give you a full refund for the whole cost of the trip, even if your accommodation is still open.

3) If you haven't heard back or got your refund or credit note, you can make an official complaint.

Technically, you should be owed a refund within 14 days if your package holiday is cancelled (though firms are generally struggling to meet this requirement at the moment), so if you're still waiting and not happy with the service you've received, you can make a complaint.

You can submit a complaint through Manage My Booking.

You can also make a complaint about Loveholidays to ABTA – the trade body Loveholidays is a member of. Remember that you'll need to give Loveholidays 28 days to respond to any correspondence before you complain to ABTA, so it's not a quick fix to get your money back.

To be frank, we wouldn't expect an immediate resolution using these methods, with some saying they haven't received responses from Loveholidays when they've complained.

But it's still worth a try. You may be asked for proof you've tried to engage with Loveholidays if you try to pursue a refund using methods like chargeback below, so it could be helpful to submit a complaint and keep evidence of your correspondence.

4) Still struggling to get paid or can't wait any longer for the cash? Submit a chargeback or Section 75 claim – though watch out for clawback.

If you're still struggling to get a refund and you paid for your flight or holiday using a debit or credit card, you can also try disputing it using the chargeback scheme.

This is where your bank tries to get money back from the firm's bank, though remember this is a customer service promise rather than a legal requirement – and even once you're paid the money, the firm can dispute it with the bank, and the money may later be clawed back.

It doesn't happen often but it is possible, and worryingly we've seen reports of Loveholidays disputing chargeback claims. Loveholidays says it's "reviewing the appropriate response to chargebacks" and will only dispute chargeback claims "where there are valid grounds to do so".

If it does happen, you can fight it and complain about the fact the money's been taken back. You can do this by making a formal complaint to your bank about the clawback, and if this fails you have the right to go to the free Financial Ombudsman Service, which will adjudicate your case – see chargeback clawback for full help. In the meantime, if you do get a Loveholidays refund through chargeback, don't spend it straightaway.

So while there are no guarantees, and there is a risk of the money being clawed back, if you've exhausted other avenues with Loveholidays and can't wait longer, it could be worth a try – and we have heard of some customers successfully getting Loveholidays refunds using this method:

Bear in mind the chargeback scheme has its own 120-day limit, meaning you'll need to make a chargeback claim within 120 days of the scheduled date of your cancelled flight or holiday.

If you paid for a flight or holiday costing over £100 using a credit card, you could also have extra legal protection through Section 75, which makes your card firm equally liable when something goes wrong – and these refunds can't be clawed back by the firm, as they're paid for by the card firm.

5) Your absolute last resort would be to go to court – though it's unlikely to be worth the hassle.

In some cases with other firms, sending a 'letter before action' (essentially a formal note warning you'll take court action if the problem isn't resolved) has been enough to spur firms on to refund you more quickly. We've seen successes from people using this method to get Virgin refunds, for example.

But we've not seen evidence that Loveholidays is reacting to formal notices in the same way, so you may need to weigh up very carefully if you want to follow through with your threat and file a county court claim.

If you do really want to do this, you may be able to do it through the small claims route – see more in our Small Claims Court guide. There is a cost of £25 to £300, which is refunded if you win. If you lose, there are no costs against you in the small claims court, but there may be if it goes up to a higher court (you'll know beforehand though and could drop the case then).

And of course, it's worth considering the hassle factor as well as the potential costs.

Sadly we've not seen many Loveholidays refund successes yet, with some reporting that the firm isn't co-operating with complaints and chargeback requests. Let us know how you get on at news@moneysavingexpert.com.