• Fri. May 19th, 2023

Mum Chloe Quin issues warning about third-party travel booking websites following flight cancellation

A Victorian mum has issued a word of warning for travellers booking flights through third-party platforms after she was left waiting seven months for a refund and $3000 out of pocket.

Chloe Quin purchased three plane tickets for herself, her daughter and her mother in October last year for the trio to fly from London to Florence for a visit that doubled up as a holiday and business travel.

The family were due to fly with British Airways subsidiary Vueling, in a trip they had planned and booked months in advance, which followed a stay in Morocco where they attended a wedding.

“We booked our main long haul flights (from Melbourne to Morocco) through a local and reputable (Australian) travel agent and then we booked the internal Europe flights online,” Ms Quin told news.com.au.

“We searched for those flights through Skyscanner … which gave us a bunch of (flight) options through third-party platforms.”

Ms Quin was redirected to discount airfare site My Trip – a subsidiary of global online travel agency Etraveli Group – where she paid $796.10 for two adult tickets and one child ticket.

As the trio jetted from Morocco to Spain, to London, the customer experience manager recalled everything running smoothly up until she received the dreaded email her flight to Florence had been cancelled.

“Dear Chloe, Vueling has been notified of a national air transport strike call in Italy for the 21st October 2022,” the email read.

“This circumstance will force us to make preventive changes in our flying program to minimise as much as possible the impact. Unfortunately this strike will affect your flight.”

With the flight scrapped, Ms Quin was offered three options regarding how she would like to proceed with her booking.

This included a “full refund … processed within seven days of (her) request”, alternative transport to get the family to the destination of the next available flight or changing the date of their flight to an alternative option.

As Ms Quin desperately needed to get to Florence for a work conference, she looked into booking a different flight, however this option quickly became impractical.

“(Vueling) put us on another flight that was a day or two later, which would fly us to Barcelona with a 12 hour layover (before flying to Florence),” she explained

“It was obviously unacceptable … it would have been like a 21 hour trip after you add everything up when Florence was just an hour away from London.”

After contacting Vueling, the 40-year-old opted for a refund and chose to purchase tickets with a different airline, which in addition to extra nights of accommodation and reserving a new Airbnb in Florence, cost her an additional $3000.

While the rest of the family’s trip went somewhat smoothly, Ms Quin’s troubles were only just beginning.

To receive the refund for her initial booking from London to Florence, Ms Quin had to contact My Trip.

“I tried to call them and this is where it really went pear-shaped,” she explained.

“I could not get through to them, I think I sat on hold with them for about an hour before I finally could speak to someone who then gave me the run-around and kept putting me through to other people.

“I think I spent about three to four hours trying to sort it out on the phone and called about eight times.”

With this avenue of contact failing, Ms Quin emailed the company to no avail.

“They just kept giving me the same standard response. They were like ‘oh, yeah, it’s been escalated. We haven‘t got the money from the airline’,” she said.

“So that was their big excuse for not refunding me my money.”

As the months went on, Ms Quin grew more annoyed at the company – not at the fact she hadn’t received her refund but rather because of all the time and energy she put into the cause only to get nowhere.

“It‘s the time, it’s the effort, it’s the energy and it’s just principle,” she said.

Not a one-off problem

Ms Quin isn’t the only customer of Etraveli’s subsidiaries to share this experience, with dozens of enraged consumers sharing similar incidents.

Online booking platforms Flight Network and Go to Gate, which are also owned by Etraveli, have received one-star reviews on customer feedback platform Product Reviews.

Just four days ago, one South East Queensland woman expressed an almost identical situation to Ms Quin’s stating she’s waited seven months for a refund after a flight was cancelled in October last year.

“It has been a constant headache each month to get a refund. The airline that we were flying with has paid a refund back to Flight Network but Flight Network has not returned that money to us,” she said.

“Last call they confirmed again it had been escalated for processing, but they couldn‘t give me a time frame for a refund. Guess I will talk to them again next month!”

Meanwhile, a customer of Go to Gate who purchased tickets for a Melbourne to London flight in 2019 is still yet to receive a single cent back after the booking was cancelled due to the pandemic.

“Covid intervened and I could not go. Qatar airways refunded the airfare to Gotogate and to this day Gotogate has not returned the funds to me,” the customer explained.

“I have made numerous approaches to Gotogate but to no avail. They never return my calls or when I do call them they merely hang up.”

My Trip, which is the platform Ms Quin booked through, also has a string of very similar reviews including one woman who is desperately waiting for a $4000 refund to get her family out of financial strife.

“My flight was cancelled ruining our Christmas (last year). We were offered a refund that should be paid within 30 days and it’s been over five months and I haven’t received anything,” she explained.

“To make matters worse, my partner has motor neurone disease and we’re struggling badly to make ends meet and the company simply doesn‘t care.

“I’m waiting on a refund of nearly $4000, having to borrow money to feed my kids.”

‘It’s the airline’s responsibility’

A spokesperson for Etraveli told news.com.au the online travel agency acts as an “intermediary”, or a link between passengers and airlines.

Consequently, it follows the “airline’s fare rules” meaning it’s not responsible for the cancellation, delay or changes made to flights and is merely a booking organiser.

“All customers sign two agreements when purchasing through an intermediary – one agreement with us for being the intermediary and arranging the bookings and they then have one other agreement for the fulfilment of the service directly with each provider, being the airlines,” they explained.

“If the service is not delivered then it is the service providers’ responsibility to rebook or compensate the customer.”

Because of varying airline policies, the spokesperson acknowledged the company can “never decide” if a customer is entitled to a refund.

“We can apply for a refund on the customer‘s behalf and are then bound by the airline’s decision. We can also not normally refund a customer in advance without knowing if an airline will allow a refund,” they said.

Additionally the company’s terms and conditions states: “As an intermediary, we will only process a payment refund where we have already received such from the applicable (airline)”.

Simply this means customers will only receive a refund if Etraveli has received compensation from the affected airline.

“As soon as the service provider has sent a refund back to us we have only a few days of handling time until we pay out to the end customer … and a refund reaches the customers a few days after we make the payout,” the spokesperson said.

News.com.au raised Ms Quin’s case with Etraveli, with the spokesperson stating Vueling was yet to compensate the company for her October flight cancellation.

After pointing out the mum had waited seven months to receive her money back, Etraveli made the shock decision to refund Ms Quin who received the money on Friday morning.

“We have now made an exception and paid out the refund to the customer anyway, even though we have not received the money back from the airline despite this long waiting time,” the spokesperson said.

But Ms Quin says the deed doesn’t take away from the dozens of families who are still waiting to receive large sums of money back that they’re rightfully owed.

“I just don’t know how they’ve been getting away with it for so long – genuine honest people are just getting ripped off,” she said.

News.com.au has contacted British Airways for comment.

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