Which? magazine launched a broadside against British Airways and easyJet yesterday over their treatment of cancelled flights and the issuance of vouchers.
You can read their article here.
Getting cash back from British Airways wasn’t easy
As regular HfP readers will know, British Airways removed the option to request a cash refund online at the start of the pandemic.
(Back in March, we published this article on how to ‘hack’ the BA website to force it to bring up the cash refund box. The article was read 101,000 times and is our most read piece of 2020.)
If you follow the online path to requesting a refund, you will (hopefully) notice that you have actually requested a Future Travel Voucher, valid to April 2022, and not cash.
April 2022 is, of course, getting nearer by the day. This leads us to the big question – is British Airways going to cancel all outstanding vouchers on 30th April 2022 and keep the money?
Remember that 30th April 2022 is NOT a ‘book by’ deadline. It is a ‘travel by’ deadline.
The European Union has issued guidance that any unused airline voucher should be refunded WITHIN 14 DAYS OF EXPIRY for cash. So far, neither easyJet or British Airways has committed to this.
Many people believe that they were misled into taking a voucher
Here is a typical case as reported by Which?:
BA passengers have told Which? they received vouchers for cancelled flights when they thought they’d applied for refunds. Jackie Harbridge says when she called BA to request a refund a recorded message directed her to Manage My Booking on BA’s website, but when she clicked on the Refund button, she says, she received a voucher for £2,118 for the flights to San Francisco.
She tried to call BA immediately, but struggled to get through. When she eventually got to speak to an agent she was told that since she had requested vouchers the decision could not be reversed.
‘I was completely misguided by the instruction in BA’s Manage My Booking, which specifically quoted “Refund” but turned out to be for a voucher, which is completely useless to us,’ said Jackie.
BA has refused to show Which? the specific form it says Jackie filled out.
Some Future Travel Vouchers are being turned into eVouchers
British Airways has begun the process of converting Future Travel Vouchers for cash tickets into standard eVouchers. This will allow the voucher to be used online, unlike a Future Travel Voucher. The latest version of the BA app can also accept eVouchers.
The plan was to convert ‘cash only, one passenger only’ bookings first. Once done, the plan was to start dealing with multi-passenger cash bookings. It isn’t clear if Future Travel Vouchers which contain Avios can or will be converted into something else.
eVouchers carry an identical 30th April 2022 expiry date.
BA has lost at least one arbitration case over Future Travel Vouchers
What was really interesting from the Which? article yesterday is that it found a case where BA had been taken to CEDR arbitration – and lost.
Some passengers who have been issued with vouchers they didn’t want have been successful in getting a refund instead. Kim Norris received a cash refund of £1,099 after taking her case of an unwanted voucher to the airline’s alternative dispute resolution service, CEDR.
It said that, on the balance of probabilities, she had not agreed to accept a voucher. BA said that Kim applied for a voucher via its website, but it only provided CEDR a screenshot of the type of form it says she filled out, not her specific form.
BA acknowledged that Kim had asked twice for a refund, by phone and by email. CEDR found that when BA issued the voucher, it was unlikely that Kim had voluntarily consented to accept it.
In its ruling, CEDR also pointed to the recommendation from the European Commission that if vouchers haven’t been redeemed by the end of their validity period they should be automatically reimbursed within 14 days.
What next for British Airways?
At some point soon, British Airways is going to have to make a statement about what will happen to unused Future Travel Vouchers on 30th April 2022.
It is unfortunate that the European Commission has only issued a recommendation and not a ruling that vouchers must be turned into cash on expiry if unused. That said, it isn’t clear if such a ruling would have been converted into UK law anyway.
As CEDR has already forced the airline to swap at least one Future Travel Voucher for a full cash refund, it is possible that other cases will go the same way. It would make life easier for everyone if there was clarity sooner rather than later. It is an odd world when Ryanair is leading the way by committing to replace vouchers with cash refunds on request.
There are two sides to the story of course …..
To be fair to BA, there are two different scenarios under which vouchers were issued.
If British Airways voluntarily let you cancel your non-refundable flight for a voucher – even though the flight was still departing – should you be treated differently to someone whose flight was cancelled? I’m not sure of the answer.
A lot of these vouchers have been issued to travellers who would otherwise have been covered by their travel insurance. If a passenger cancelled their ticket but the flight departed, should British Airways be forced to turn the voucher into cash? Isn’t that what travel insurance is for? Which? does not make this distinction but I think it is an important one.
PS. HfP has its own ‘how to take British Airways to CEDR arbitration’ guide which you can find here. If that fails to work in your favour, Rhys also wrote a guide on his experiences of launching court proceedings.