Covid-refund Ryanair passengers ‘face travel ban’ unless they return money – report



Budget airline Ryanair has barred some passengers who received a Covid disruption refund from travelling again – unless they return the money, according to Money Saving Expert (MSE).

An investigation by the consumer website claims that some holidaymakers who booked flights in 2021 were later told by Ryanair that they could only fly if they paid back their refunds. In one instance the demand was made just days before travel.

MSE reported that dozens of cases had been highlighted on its online forum and social media. The website said it had spoken to three passengers who were told they could not fly until they returned the cash, with amounts ranging from £400 to £630. Further customers, meanwhile, said they were contacted by the company’s fraud department about the refunds, which added extra anxiety to their situations.

All the individuals MSE spoke to revealed they received their original refunds from their credit card company via the “chargeback” process, after initially being refused them by Ryanair. MSE’s campaigns team has since flagged the cases to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the aviation regulator.

One of the passengers told MSE: “Travelling with Covid restrictions is stressful but this totally unforeseen payment demand took stress to a new level. Ryanair took a new booking for flights and surprised me when I tried to check in online three days before travelling to discover this demand.”

In a post on its website, MSE explained the investigation in detail. It reads:

What has happened here?

The three passengers MSE spoke to are unconnected but all tell similar stories.

  1. They booked Ryanair flights for summer 2020, which went ahead, but they chose not to travel due to Government warnings against non-essential travel at the time to their chosen destinations.
  2. The travellers asked Ryanair for a refund but the airline refused to make a payment so they turned to their credit card firm – American Express in all cases – through the ‘chargeback’ purchase protection scheme, which allows card companies to reclaim cash from a retailer’s bank if they agree that goods or services paid for were not received.
  3. Amex agreed that all three passengers could make a claim. According to the passengers, Ryanair didn’t dispute two of the cases, and in the one the airline did contest, Amex upheld the customer’s claim.
  4. The three passengers, who were lead bookers of the original flights, then booked holidays for summer 2021 without any problems, but later found that when they tried to check in or make a change to their reservation that Ryanair wanted the chargeback money returned before allowing them to check in.

Ryanair did offer to return the money for this year’s flights if the three customers did not repay the chargeback – however, in one case, a passenger stood to lose hundreds of pounds in accommodation, car hire and Covid testing costs if they did not travel.

Ryanair says its T&Cs state that if flights still go ahead they are non-refundable, and that the airline can deny boarding to customers who have “recharged against us” for a previous flight. The latest incidents come after MSE reported that some Ryanair staff in May 2020 threatened to “blacklist” passengers who used chargeback to get a refund. At the time, Ryanair told MSE this was a mistake.

What are the chargeback rules and was Ryanair entitled to behave as it did?

Whether Ryanair should have given customers refunds for flights in 2020 is a grey area, but when it comes to denying their boarding after their successful chargeback claims, lawyers speaking to MSE agree is likely wasn’t a “reasonable” thing to do.

On the issue of the original flights, the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA’s) guidance gives no guarantees on refunds for flights when Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) restrictions were rife in 2020, but the watchdog does add that refunds are “not impossible”, particularly if you would be “at serious risk if the contract went ahead as agreed”. Other airlines told MSE they allow customers to rebook or, in some cases, request a voucher in this scenario.

When it comes to chargeback, Mastercard and Visa say that while the retailer has the opportunity to challenge, the card firm’s decision is final and the retailer’s bank cannot reclaim the payment. However, whether the retailer then imposes further restrictions on customers is outside of the chargeback arrangement. MSE put this to Amex but it would only say it is investigating these cases and would not confirm its general position.

Whether Ryanair was right or wrong to say passengers could not fly unless they paid the chargeback money is a fairly new problem and is down to a court to decide. Airlines can deny boarding, but lawyers speaking to MSE say it is only if there are “reasonable grounds” to do so. British Airways, Easyjet, Jet2 and Virgin Atlantic all said they would not prevent passengers who had received a chargeback from travelling in future.

Guy Anker, deputy editor at MoneySavingExpert.com, says: “This is absolutely outrageous behaviour from Ryanair. It essentially had these passengers over a barrel shortly before their holiday at a point which turned excitement into stress and anxiety. And by its fraud department collecting the money, passengers could be forgiven for feeling scared and thinking Ryanair considers they are somehow in trouble.

“Some may have sympathy for Ryanair given it incurred the costs of the original flights that did go ahead that passengers chose not to take.

“However, it’s then used up any sympathy by the way it’s treated holidaymakers afterwards. If Ryanair wants to ban people for getting a refund that the card companies judge was fair, that leaves a sour taste in the mouth, but to let them book a holiday and only tell them this news at the last minute shows no regard for fellow human beings.

“If this has happened to you, then you have official complaints channels you can use to try to free yourself of the ‘debt’, while you’d be forgiven for choosing another airline.

“But don’t let this put you off using chargeback. It is still a very useful scheme and we don’t recall ever seeing an incident such as this before. However, there is clearly a risk if companies conduct themselves as Ryanair has done – so if you use chargeback to claim money back from Ryanair, and you want to make a future booking with the budget airline, it’s best to check your status with it first.”

What does Ryanair say?

A Ryanair spokesperson said the following statement applies to all of the cases MSE put to it, despite it being addressed specifically to one: “Mr Johnston initiated a chargeback via his bank for the value of his flights. However, refunds are only permitted for cancelled flights so the outstanding balance was added to Mr Johnston’s Ryanair account as this is still owed to Ryanair.

“Ryanair flights that operate as scheduled are non-refundable – this is clearly outlined in Ryanair’s T&Cs agreed by the customer at the time of booking.”

When MSE asked Ryanair why it processed and accepted payments for new bookings before telling customers they owed it money, it said that in all three cases it offered full refunds for the new flights if customers didn’t want to repay the chargeback refund.

The airline’s T&Cs state: “We may refuse to carry you or your baggage on any flights operated by an airline of the Ryanair Group, if… you owe us any money in respect of a previous flight owing to payment having been dishonoured, denied or recharged against us.”

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