Goodwill Lost: Customers Have Long MemoriesMost businesses have faced significant issues due to COVID-19, particularly in the travel industry. With borders closed, many airlines have had to cancel flights and many tour operators have had to temporarily shut down. Millions of cruises, car rentals and hotel bookings have also been cancelled as would-be travellers have been stuck at home. But the way in which businesses have responded to this crisis has varied enormously.

Many airlines and travel businesses have done the right thing. They have communicated with their customers and, when required, refunded promptly. But some businesses have sadly treated their customers very poorly over these past months.

Refusing to refund money that customers are legally entitled to, or charging unfair fees to do so, may help a business to survive in the short term. But customers are not stupid. They have long memories and will remember how businesses treated them during the COVID-19 period.

Over recent months, Qantas has regularly been criticised for lengthy delays in providing refunds for cancelled flights. Many Qantas customers have waited well over 3 months to get their money back. But at least Qantas has generally processed refunds when they are due eventually – even if they did need a bit of a nudge from the ACCC at one point.

By comparison, Virgin Australia has refused to refund most travel cancelled due to COVID-19 at all. Since 21 April, it has told customers that it cannot provide refunds as the company is in voluntary administration. But Virgin Australia was refusing refunds for flights cancelled by the airline for a whole month before it entered voluntary administration. Virgin’s policy was always to provide a travel credit instead, even if the customer would prefer (and was potentially legally entitled to) a refund. Virgin even sent threatening letters to some customers that requested credit card chargebacks with their banks.

Tens of thousands of Virgin Australia customers now possess unwanted “future flight” credits – in some cases worth thousands of dollars. This is especially unfair to customers that had booked tickets to Los Angeles or Tokyo because Virgin has no intention to resume long-haul flights for several years. Customers that had booked $5,000 business class tickets to Los Angeles, for example, are now left with restrictive travel credits that can only be used on selected domestic flights. With Virgin likely to finally emerge from voluntary administration shortly, the new owners may want to consider throwing an olive branch to customers in this situation.

Of course, Virgin is not alone in failing to refund customers with cancelled flights. Air New Zealand too has been criticised for this, and an AFF member whose username ironically is MH_fan recently posted this on our forum after getting a runaround from Malaysia Airlines:

This has left a sour taste in my mouth and I will be far less supportive of MH in the future, especially in the post-COVID recovery period when competition for customers will be fierce (and I’m also a front of the plane flyer).

Tip for airlines: how you treat your customers now will translate into how they treat you when you desperately need them in the future.

I’ve personally been waiting six months for a refund from Austrian Airlines. Under European regulations, I was legally entitled to a refund within 7 days. The airline has still not even bothered to inform customers of when they can expect a refund for flights that never operated.

It’s one thing not to refund people’s money. But the lack of communication can be just as bad. If you have a look at that airline’s Facebook page, the comments on every social media post are littered with angry customers that are also still waiting for refunds and can’t even contact the airline. Why would any of these people give more money in the future to a business that has treated them like this in the past?

And who could forget when Flight Centre tried to charge its customers $300 each to access refunds from suppliers such as airlines – even when the cancellation was not the customer’s fault and the airline was refunding in full. The travel agency finally had a change of heart after the ACCC threatened legal action.

The outcome? Flight Centre had to refund all of those cancellation fees, but now also has thousands of angry customers that will never book with them again.

Equally, businesses that have communicated well and refunded promptly have earned praise and goodwill. For example, an AFF member recently complimented a travel agency publicly for their prompt service.

Customers will remember how businesses treated them during the COVID-19 period. Those doing the right thing now will be rewarded with loyal customers in the long run.

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Matt Graham
The editor of Australian Frequent Flyer, Matt's passion for travel has taken him to over 60 countries… with the help of frequent flyer points, of course!
Matt's favourite destinations (so far) are Germany, Brazil, New Zealand & Kazakhstan. His interests include economics, aviation & foreign languages, and he has a soft spot for good food and red wine.

You can contact Matt at [email protected]

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AgentGerko

The Lufthansa group (Lufthansa, Austrian, Swiss) reopened automated refunds about a month ago, which guarantee refunds within 14 days providing they are straightforward and don’t require manual intervention. If you bought through a travel agent they can cancel your manual refund application and redo it as a GDS auto-refund. If you didn’t use a travel agent then you’re on your own.

Boyd

I waited 3 months for a refund from Lufthansa and have now lodged a credit card chargeback instead !

Geraldine Driver

How about Luxury Escapes refusing to refund. Have used them countless times. Never again. Feel let down.

Mando

Agree. Let’s hope they don’t go bust and we lose all our money

Julie Savill

Luxury Escapes have never ever offered refunds, even before Covid

Jake

Luxury Escapes purchase policy has a 7 day cool down period for refunds with other various reasons for refunds included in their contracts. Not refunding doesn’t mean you never offered to, or shouldn’t refund…

SooziQu

Are they only offering a credit? I have also used them many times but if this is their modus operandii I won’t be doing so in the future.

Larkey

I rang them and they initially gave me a credit, but I rang again and requested a full cash refund which they deposited the next day. I was surprised about how quickly this happed once I knew the trip wasn’t going to happen.

Adrian Prince

I had five airline bookings for a trip to the ‘Stans. Surprisingly, the quickest and most efficient refund (straight back to my credit card) was from Baltic Air so well done to them. Unfortunately, they’ve dropped our origin from their list of destinations so I won’t be able to use them again. Two bookings with Uzbekistan airways have a strange credit/refund process. They supposedly give a “deposit” of the original amount plus 5% but if that’s not used in 12 months, it converts to a refund so we’ll see. An application for a Singapore Airlines refund was submitted several weeks… Read more »

Pete

Agreed. Air Baltic was fantastic – by far the quickest refund of any airline involved in my 6 month itinerary. I can’t say I’m happy with Singapore Airlines. I got one refund, but a half used return SYD/ARN/SYD business class ticket for two is virtually useless. The weirdest was Armenia Air. After about three months I was given a contact to sign (in Armenian) which is a voucher good for 12 months which if not used will then provide a refund.

Peter Jones

Singapore took 4 months for me.

Diane

Unfortunately due to the limited number of airlines in Australia we will have no choice other than to use them whether we want to travel domestically or internationaly… however in future I will always book direct and keep a copy of the T&C’s at time of booking….

Richard Allberry

Finnair promised 13 weeks…..

Boyd

Got our Finnair refund in 5 weeks

UKEagleinAus

Just had another cancellation to MCO from BNE for our group of 6 with VA. We had originally booked for late August departure and then rebooked for May next year on their advice. Fairly straightforward? No, not on your nelly! We got extensions on our accomodation and a full refund for car rental (small saving grace and thank you Auto Europe). Our agent for the flights at Helloworld has been working her backside off trying to get us refunded all throughout and has now been told categorically no way. Leaving us with this weird credit hold, until they start flying… Read more »

joe

I hope that is the case but I feel people have short memories For example about 15 years ago and 10 years ago I had a bad experience flight centre Refusing to price match another flight All their prices were way higher and the final nail in the coffin was a $50price match fee that they deceivably hid and then once caught out tried to justify it with a pathetic excuse. I will never use them again out of principal but they still are trading and I believe made some record profits in recent years. Qantas handling of many customer… Read more »

SooziQu

I had one bad experience with Tiger when they first starting flying out of Australia and I never booked with them again. Regardless of Virgin buying them they were on my sh*t list and remained so. I liked Virgin for international flights until they got too ahead of themselves and their prices weren’t competitive.

Ros

Qantas left me stranded, cancelling my return leg Brisbane to London. Getting anyone from Qantas on the phone was exhausting and promises made were broken. Customer care is appalling.

Julia

Years ago I had to use a travel agency for a single one sector flight BNE SYD. It happened to be Flight Centre Cleveland QLD. When I finally looked at the invoice while walking out the door, I noticed a $7 ‘Insurance’ fee, which had not been disclosed nor was I asked if I wanted it!
As I was rushed for time I chose not to make a complaint there and then but will never use again nor buy their listed shares.

Boozlebub

….and dont get me started on Emirates practices!! After many years of pointy end flights, they have lost this loyal customer.

greg hunt

good example how to loose customers is Turkish Airline-I bought 2 business class tickets Adelaide-Salzburg-last December-my flights were cancelled so applied for a refund via Jetabroad from whom I bought those tickets-waiting since April to get back nearly 10K and still nothing-agent says TK says due to backlog I have to wait as long as 180 days!!!
In the meantime I purchased also 2 business class tickets for Lufthansa Salzburg-St Petersburg-Budapest-They refunded those tickets 6 weeks ago-TK is a lousy business operator I will never again book anything with them despite my previous good experience while flying!

Boyd

I had flights booked directly with TK for late March. When I cancelled the refunds took less than 24 hours. If say Jetabroad are your problem.

Euan

Had a cancellation, business class with Vietnam Air, to Europe, they cancelled and refunded in full absolutely no hassles had a great travel agent also, Travel Hut in Kincumber NSW who chased up recalcitrant hotels etc thru Europe, very pleased with results, try again in 12 months

Daniel Doyle

Bangkok Airways provided refund without question or delay. Bookings made on other airlines through Skyscanner were refunded within month. Air Asia promptly provided credit valid for up to 24 months (if they are still flying then)!

Julia

On another note, I flew Bangkok Airways from BKK to Cambodia with a GF. We were visiting a friend who runs a English school for kids. We had school supplies, clothing, lots of mosquitoe netting & General young children items. The check in agent was heavily pregnant as we chatted about her due date etc.
upon arrival at Siem Riep airport noticed our bags were partially opened and all of the children’s clothing, & most school pencils/supplies were gone. We were the last passengers to check in! we placed a complaint formal letter on arrival but of course, Zip interest!

Julie Savill

This is categorically not true – I processed many refunds for my clients on Virgin before it went into VA, and have been successful in getting refunds from many other airlines too. In accordance with the fare rules airlines didn’t refund any tickets that were non refundable – but the average punter doesn’t understand are rules and the people buying the cheapest tickets are usually those that complain the loudest

UKEagleinAus

I hate being called a liar when it isn’t true and that’s what you have just done. Well done for getting your refunds through, but I can categorically say 1000% that we are being refused refunds through our extremely experienced agent and have no chance of flying internationally through VA! This site by the way is full of frequent flyers (go figure AFF), so your average punter snipe is unwelcome as well.

Peter Jones

Even non refundable tickets are entitled to a refund if the flights did not operate…

Greg Low

I think they were probably underestimating the impact on associated businesses too. Back in December, we bought flights CFS-SYD-MEL back and forward for the whole year, every two weeks. So we had 60 flight segments prepaid with Virgin. You can imagine how unimpressed we are with Virgin at this point. But it’s not just Virgin Airlines. As one example, we used Virgin Money cards to accrue points for VA. We 100% stopped using VM cards. We won’t deal with ANY Virgin-related business if they don’t sort it out properly. When you sell on a brand, any company that messes it… Read more »

Scott

I was told by Flight Centre SingaporeAir would refund but it would take 12 weeks, 15 weeks later I contacted SingaporeAir direct and they told me the money had been refunded to Flight Centre a month and a half ago but they have not passed it on.

Avril Summers

Could you add Luxury Escapes to those who treat customers with no respect no empathy and block them if they post negative reviews. There are thousands who have been fighting to get their money refunded for trips since the start of the Pandemic. Many owed more than 10,000 some multiple trips mounting to over 20,000.

Neil S

Like lots of people, had a (short) OS holiday booked for May-June 2020 – most arrangements booked and paid for in Nov 19. Main travel to & from Australia by JAL – fares fully refunded but delayed by 4 mths, internal flights in Europe booked via Expedia numerous phone calls/emails but NO refund (blaming the airline – KLM), train travel in Germany booked via DBahn direct NO refund, hotels booked through Agoda NO refund, some hotels booked directly full refund. Lesson learnt – do not use third parties to book flights and/accoms best ethical and professional responses were from direct… Read more »

Julia

I honestly don’t know why or how Travel Agents ( a retail agent) are still in business even prior COVID-19.
When your overseas and for whatever reason, you need to change You’re flight itinerary, you can’t access the booking as the ‘Travel Agent’ ‘Owns’ your booking!
You then have a delightful wait for communication with acceptable time difference delays, with your ‘Agent’ before you can modify your plans!!
I would Never use an agent.
Bar one urgent flight and using Flight Centre, I can happily say in 43years if extensive world travel, I have done all the leg work myself.

Jake

Anyone from Luxury Escapes reading this? After our experience with Luxury Escapes we won’t just never use them again, we’ll never use a Travel Agent again.

Alanna Ash

Scenic/evergreen, cancelled output trip and can’t offer a similar in return.
Will pay our money back in 2023 after four years.
They probably won’t exist then.

Kerrie Ashcroft

Recently booked with Qantas to go to Kangaroo Island, a community that Qantas said they would support after the devestating fires. Not even a week later they cut their services significantly, forcing us to re book with Rex who have started up again after Qantas pushed them out of the market. Poor behaviour for much needed regional services from our major carrier

christine crombie

I can not speak more highly about Qantas. They have refunded all monies paid and we didn’t mind the wait, for once I had to show a little patience. But no fight from them, just given the refund for our flights to Chicago. My family and I do have long memories and for that we will fly Qantas, they have my loyality.

Heather Rodgers

Same for us. Qantas called us last week to cancel our flights to New York, London & Paris, that we had booked last December for this December. Very happy with their service & they have happily refunded our FF points & service/tax charges. We will have to wait a few weeks for it to come through but are very happy with the outcome. We feel very lucky. Can’t say the same for Airbnb yet as we will loose over 50% of our payment under their current rules (we paid in full last December for an apartment in Brooklyn). We expected… Read more »

Peter Jones

Looks like peoples experience varies, my Qantas flights booked direct are now 2 months since cancellation and refund promised. Nothing yet.

Joe

As a life-long marketer, I am amazed at businesses that invest millions to build customer “loyalty”, and then betray that loyalty in this manner. Your observations are spot on. Many frequent flyers will, in fact, pay a higher fare to an airline to which they have both “transactional loyalty” (doing it for the points) and emotional loyalty (I like how they treat me and how they behave).

Andrew M

Our business class flights from Sydney to Frankfurt through Taipei on China Airlines were refunded immediately through a web form that took a minute to complete. Didn’t have to argue with anyone; a real joy.
It’s a shame we never got to enjoy the rest of their service.

Troublespot-nomad

Hire car companies are doing the same. After being a Privilege Elite VIP with Europcar for the last 8 years, they are refusing to provide extensions on status despite borders being closed, preventing business vehicle hire.

DAVID

Hi Matt, you have great stories & information in the AFF & yes, you are 100% correct that “Customers Have Long Memories” I would have thought that industries in the travel business would understand this but obvious not all of them do. Thank you & your team for all the information, all the best.

Claire Ryan

Cathay Pacific (through Webjet) refunded our business class tickets to the UK within 4 weeks, No problem at all. Also Brussells Airline refunded our internal europe airfares within a few days.

Philip Geddes

Glad u got a refund from Brussels Airlines. Four months and still waiting.

Garrett Fitzgerald

During the 2011 Brisbane floods – One of the offs-site parking companies at Brisbane Airport, refused to refund my fees, despite the fact I could not make my flight or even drive to the airport…

Brenda Hateley

We were contacted by Andrews Airport parking last week after – of course – our flight to London was cancelled. They offered to keep our prepayment as a credit. Much appreciated. and unexpected. Also Accor refunded fully a prepaid Non refundable accommodation booking.
Still waiting for refund from Flight Centre – we were told 12 weeks.
Wouldn’t use Insure and Go for travel insurance ever again.

Julie

I was very disappointed in Jetstar initially cancelling flights, no email contact and never answering the phones. The website went down making impossible to book alternate flights. We felt abandoned in Thailand and luckily family at home were able to book flights home for us.
HOWever Jetstar did refund flights eventually and credited flights we cancelled before they cancelled.
Bangkok Air refunded flights in full ( promptly) that we cancelled.

Adam Schwab

Luxury Escapes, you are on the list. I expect you will change you name post Covid if you are still around but never again.