We’ve seen dozens of reports of similar issues on the MoneySavingExpert (MSE) Forum and on social media, and we’ve spoken to three passengers who were told they could not fly until they returned the money. The amounts range from £400 to £630 and were awarded to passengers via the Chargeback process for flights not taken because of Government advice.
There is help below setting out your options if you’re in a similar situation.
What’s more, the situation could be worsened after the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) dropped an investigation into Ryanair and British Airways after the pair refused refunds for flights passengers couldn’t take due to lockdown restrictions. The CMA believes the airlines should pay up but it ended its probe last week because of the huge cost of enforcement action and a lack of clarity within the law.
While the passengers we have spoken to got Chargeback refunds because they chose not to fly due to Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) advice against non-essential travel to their destinations last year, the worry is airlines may feel empowered more generally by the climb-down from the regulator.
MSE’s campaigns team has flagged the three cases to the CAA, the aviation regulator.
What is Chargeback and what happened here in a nutshell?
Chargeback is where you can ask your credit or debt card firm for a refund for a service not provided, which it then charges back to the retailer’s bank. While in this case the flights themselves went ahead, the passengers felt they could not take them due to the extraordinary Covid circumstances at the time. Find full help on the scheme in our Chargeback refunds guide.
Chargeback is central to the story as the three passengers we’ve spoken to all claimed refunds via the scheme because Ryanair would not offer refunds for the initial flights booked in summer 2020.
While it’s unclear if Ryanair should or shouldn’t have provided those refunds for the 2020 flights, the airline then barred them from taking 2021 flights they had booked unless they paid back the Chargeback refunds, which had been awarded to them by their card firms ( American Express in all cases) as per the rules of the scheme. Lawyers agree that this was unreasonable.
The passengers were allowed to book this year’s flights without any problems but only found out about Ryanair’s demands when trying to check in or make a change to their booking.
In at least two instances customers were contacted by Ryanair’s fraud department about the refunds, which the passengers said added extra anxiety and pressure to the situation.
Ryanair offered to return the money for this year’s flights if the three customers did not repay the chargeback – however, in one case, a passenger stood to lose hundreds of pounds in accommodation, car hire and Covid testing costs if she didn’t travel.
There is a similar scheme to Chargeback called Section 75 but this is enshrined in law so you have more rights. However, it is only for purchases that cost £100 or more on a credit card. If something goes wrong in this situation, the card firm is jointly liable with the retailer so you can get your money back. See our Section 75 guide for more.