Cancelling Both Award & Revenue Flights With British Airways: A Mess at Best, A Scam At Worst!

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British Airways doesn’t get a lot of positive exposure these days and to a large degree the reasons for that are home made as the current experience with trying to get flights cancelled is yet another example.

Customers have been complaining for weeks that they can’t properly cancel and refund their flights anymore with the airline refusing to refund the cash value even if they themselves cancelled the flight.

British Airways is currently cancelling plenty of flights since many if not most countries have introduced entry restrictions, making most trips obsolete. Some of these cancellations are government mandated and some are actually voluntary by BA.

How does this look like? Assume your flight is no longer operating and you go to “Manage My Booking” to explore the “Cancellation Options” tab and you’re automatically routed to this screen:

Under normal circumstances once would reasonably expect a full cash refund if the airline has cancelled their own flight but British Airways doesn’t seem to see it that way.

Then there is another issue of British Airways Executive Club members who have booked Avios tickets on a variety of oneworld partner airlines that might not be possible to be utilized either for the same reasons outlined above.

I had one Avios ticket on Japan Airlines to Tokyo that suddenly disappeared from my booking overview:

This is extremely strange because it was there just days before and now I was unable to add it back as the itinerary didn’t contain any BA segments.

I was still able to pull up the ticket on “Manage my Booking” and since Japan has strict quarantine regulations in place I decided to cancel the ticket. Even for Avios tickets it doesn’t result in the usual cancellation screen which means full Avios refund and $50 fee deducted from the refund of the taxes/fees if the exceed that amount. Yet they route you to the voucher site which is complete nonsense.

Eventually I called the BA Customer Service hotline in the U.S. and they cancelled the Avios ticket in the usual way. Didn’t waive the cancellation fee though even in the light that British- and a range of other passport holders can’t even enter Japan anymore. The miles were back short after and the refund of the tax difference is in processing.

But this is a rather minor problem compared to someone who has a couple thousand dollars on the line with the flight not operating and the airline refusing to offer a refund.

The Telegraph also had an article about this issue a couple days ago and it showcased how widespread this issue has become.

British Airways has been accused of being dishonest and “shady” after customers seeking to claim refunds on cancelled flights on its website were instead directed to an application for travel vouchers.

Travellers have said that a button online that reads “cancel and refund flights” does not then offer the option for money back, with customers only able to be reimbursed by phoning the UK flag carrier’s call centre.

The world’s airlines have been forced to cut thousands of flights from their schedules as countries go into lockdown due to the coronavirus. …

BA’s Twitter account is blowing up with angry customers who are raging for being issues a voucher instead of getting their money back, even in cases where flights were outright cancelled. Some reports including the Telegraph article suggest that once you get a hold of an agent on the phone you might actually be able to get a refund if the flight no longer operates and a voucher if you cancel a ticket voluntarily due to being just unable to enter a country based on entry restrictions.

The airlines have been lobbying EU politicians in Brussels to set aside EC261/2004 rules but they were only partly successful.

As Forbes reported three days ago, while some aspects of EC261 are now excluded from compensation liability, airlines are still required to refund for flights cancelled and in any case the original ticket rules prevail. So if you have a refundable ticket to begin with then airlines are required to abide by that rule.

The EU in their decision from March 18th says about this:

2.2. Situations where passengers cannot travel or want to cancel a trip

The EU’s passenger rights regulations do not address situations where passengers cannot travel or want to cancel a trip on their own initiative. Whether or not a passenger is reimbursed in such cases depends on the type of ticket (reimbursable, possibility to rebook) as specified in the carrier’s terms & conditions.

It appears that various carriers are offering vouchers to passengers, who do not want to (or are not authorised to) travel any more as a result of the outbreak of Covid-19. Passengers can use these vouchers for another trip with the same carrier within a timeframe established by the carrier.

This situation has to be distinguished from the situation where the carrier cancels the journey and offers only a voucher instead of the choice between reimbursement and re- routing. If the carrier proposes a voucher, this offer cannot affect the passenger’s right to opt for reimbursement instead.

3.2. Right to reimbursement or re-routing

In the case of a flight cancellation by the airlines (no matter what the cause is), Article 5 obliges the operating air carrier to offer the passengers the choice among:

a) reimbursement (refund);
b) re-routingattheearliestopportunity,or
c) re-routing at a later date at the passenger’s convenience.

Regarding reimbursement, in cases where the passenger books the outbound flight and the return flight separately and the outbound flight is cancelled, the passenger is only entitled to reimbursement of the cancelled flight, i.e. here the outbound flight.

However, if the outbound flight and the return flight are part of the same booking, even if operated by different air carriers, passengers should be offered two options if the outbound flight is cancelled: to be reimbursed for the whole ticket (i.e. both flights) or to be re-routed on another flight for the outbound flight (Interpretative Guidelines, Point 4.2).

So passengers are absolutely eligible for a full cash refund if the airline cancelled their flight.

Conclusion

Airlines are going to have a severe cash flow problem so their decision to change their “refund method” to vouchers are understandable, however the customers might face their own financial problems as a result of this COVID19 situation. Many will lose income or even their jobs so to push the airlines cash crunch onto the consumer is rather unethical and also wrong. One could go as far as saying it’s a scam and I fear BA won’t be alone in going this route. It’s important to fight this position and do it effectively. It appears the EU took the same position here, at least when the airline cancelled the flight and it wasn’t a voluntary cancellation by the passenger.

What I would do if the airline denies me a refund after a cancellation is trying to initiate a chargeback through the credit card company for services not received. There is no guarantee though that the chargeback application will be decided in your favor. Some banks work better than others. A regulator complaint will be a futile effort for now, they have gazillions of cases to handle.

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