Update on refunds due to Covid-19

11 Jun 2020

Statement from Mark Trim, Director:

With winter now upon us I’m sure we are all enjoying a bit of additional freedom as some restrictions ease in our everyday lives. Whilst this provides some respite from the depths of the Covid-19 crisis, it is still very much the darkest of days for the travel and tourism industry. Whilst we expect and prepare to be the last sector to recover, we remain relatively positive about the long term outlook and hold onto the hope that, eventually, ‘every storm runs out of rain’.

After navigating the first stage of this crisis situation, which seemed extremely reactionary in an ever-changing landscape, we have now settled into the 2nd stage of the Covid-19 dilemma for the travel industry. We are glad that supplier policies are now clearer, more reasonable, and finally somewhat predictable. We very much look forward to when we can safely fly around the world again and once more discover the uplifting experience that travel delivers.

In the meantime, stage 2 appears to be playing the waiting game. Waiting for policies from respective suppliers to be extended, waiting until borders begin to reopen, waiting to return to our usual workplaces, waiting for normality to resume and, most importantly, waiting for airlines to process refunds.

Unfortunately that refund process continues to be derailed by airlines who have disabled any ability that travel agents had to process these refunds ourselves in a reasonable time-frame. With almost all airlines mandating refund submissions via IATA BSPlink, we are left in the dark with no updates and no ability to chase or influence the timeline of refunds due to this antiquated method. This article from late March highlights a number of airlines that have disabled the refund functionality, however, the list of airlines mentioned has only grown and now features almost every major carrier, including Qantas.

The resulting IATA BSPlink refund process which is being enforced is one that is extremely laborious and requires manual intervention for every ticket, removing any possibility of automation and control. More can be read about the IATA BSP process here. Airlines state that this is being done to prevent errors [and subsequent agency fines], however, we can’t help but see this as a delay tactic. Along with slowly extending policies to cover later departures this will ensure that they are paying back refunds at a time when they can be receiving new cashflow for future bookings once borders, both domestic and long haul, beginning to reopen.

Many carriers have finalised government bailout packages which we hope will provide much needed financial surety so that we can receive funds back and get those processed to our clients. For more information specific to Lufthansa Group (Lufthansa/SWISS/Austrian) please see this recent article from Forbes, as we know many of you are waiting on a refund from these carriers and they have recently received a EUR9bn package from their 3 respective governments. Rest assured that these aren’t specific issues relating to our agency, nor a reflection on our service or appreciation of your business. Rather, this is a global issue of unimaginable proportions and one which we are stuck in the middle of whilst we wait for airlines who have billions of dollars of transaction to process.

We are very thankful to our government for the support they are providing for our industry, as well as the hard work being done by AFTA to represent the various stakeholders on a larger scale. AFTA’s Covid-19 update and FAQs are very useful should you have an affected booking. We would also like to thank the other organisations around the nation which are adapting to the crisis. Including landlords, the banks and especially credit card issuers who are protecting merchants from charge-back requests when trips were affected by Covid-19 cancellations. Whilst we know it is frustrating to wait for the airlines to process these refunds, know that we absolutely wish this would be over with as quickly as possible.

I have taken this opportunity to provide further detail in the video above and would ask that if you have an outstanding booking or refund with us to please take a moment to view the video. Thank you for your understanding, patience and consideration.

Mark