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BA loses arbitration case over Future Travel Vouchers – and what happens in April 2022?

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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.

Which Magazine british airways refunds vouchers

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.

British Airways cash refunds vouchers

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.

To quote:

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.

British Airways cash refunds

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.

Comments (133)

  • Russell Tait says:

    I think BA have behaved appallingly over cancelled flights making it extremely difficult to navigate and avoid a travel voucher and the making it even harder to speak to customer services to get a refund. It took time and persistence. I feel that BA should be stripped of its National Carrier status and that honour should be handed to an airline that behaved well and with respect towards its customers. Easyjet anyone?

    • Aston100 says:

      SleasyJet? No thanks.
      They were even worse than Ryanair when it came to avoiding refunds.

    • ChrisC says:

      ‘National Carrier Status’ means absolutly nothing these days.

      I’d put such a ‘status’ on a par with a certain organisation and their pentad stellar awards.

  • Andy says:

    What happens to the EU rules re vouchers and refunds after January 1st?

    You really couldn’t make this all up, could you?

    • Anna says:

      There are no binding EU rules re vouchers as far as I know. The legislation covering cancellations etc has already been carried over into UK law.

    • Nick_C says:

      Absolutely nothing.

      As stated many many times on here, all EU legislation has been incorporated in domestic legislation, and will remain in force unless Parliament decides to repeal it.

      And that is not made up!

    • Harry T says:

      Nothing because EC261 is part of UK law, and has been for some time.

      • ChrisC says:

        It was incorpororated, as a Statutory Instrument, in 2005

        • meta says:

          But any new changes in EU regulations relating to aviation would not apply either unless UK wishes to change it as well. For example, if EU regulations were changed that the compensation was for flights cancelled within 14 days to 300/600/900 euros, it would not automatically apply to flights from UK.

          • ChrisC says:

            That is correct and the same with any new ECJ rulings won’t apply unless the UK agrees to them.

            Though in your example those changes would apply to any EU registered airlines departing the UK.

            The reverse will also apply with the EU not having to automatically follow any changes the UK Parliament or Supreme Court makes

  • Richard says:

    I was due to fly to Inverness but local rules meant I couldn’t stay in the family household- or share holiday accommodation. Further my flight was booked with avios, which I could have canx. For a redeposit fee of £35…. or take advantage of a future travel voucher, which I have and I think was a good option…

    • Harry T says:

      Almost always better to accept a deposit fee, rather than take a voucher that is difficult to use and essentially gives BA a loan.

      • ChrisC says:

        With a vouvher you are still able to use the avios and cash of the original booking

        Cancelling means BA gets £35 free and clear.

        I’d rather BA has a ‘temp loan’ than just give them cash.

        • Harry T says:

          Yes, but it’s harder to use the vouchers than just booking as normal, as you often have to ring BA to book. And it isn’t always easy to get hold of BA!

          • ChrisC says:

            Personally not had much fs a problem with calling BA to use my vouchers etc. Ditto many other people on here

            But I’m not going to give BA £35 just because sometimes there are delays getting the phone answered.

  • Tim says:

    Is this the big announcement from 11.30 yesterday that was delayed?
    Thanks

  • ChrisC says:

    How many people are we talking about with this specific situation?

    This is not the same as taking a voucher because YOU didn’t want to apply and some people appear to be conflating the two vouchers.

    Personally I’m appreciative of the voucher I got for a flight that I didn’t want to use (it was a positioning flight to ARN) where now I have a £250 voucher rather than a £50 quid refund I would have got under the normal rules for a self cancelation.

    Not all vouchers are the same

  • CSim says:

    I was booked to go to India from LHR-HYD with BA on 30th June 2020 and return HYD-LHR on 21st July 2020.
    This ticket was paid for and bought from an Indian big travel firm called MakeMyTrip.com
    As soon as BA cancelled my LHR-HYD flight on 30th June but not my return flight to UK.
    Even though I was in UK,MMT rang me up and understood that the return flight would be impossible for me to take; so asked for a refund.
    They waited till May 14th 2020 and got a full cash refund on May 15th 2020 from BA. I got all the money back except £10/- for admin charges by MMT.
    So my experience with BA has been wonderful so far even for earlier periods when they demoted a ticket of ours from Premium to Economy.
    But BA dealt with it in a very understanding way and made good compensation since we travel regularly with BA on this route.