TravelUp customers have to contend with ever-changing T&Cs

TravelUp has changed its terms conditions since the pandemic retrospectively applying them to customers. It initially promised customers a full refund for cancelled flights. Then it imposed a fee of £75 per passenger plus a 2% charge. It subsequently changed that to £75 per booking, plus the 2% charge, then reduced it to £50 per booking. It’s now finally set up an online refund claim form, but that seems to require to accept fee.

SR, Warrington

Laments from TravelUp customers are echoing through my inbox and nearly 3,000 have joined a Facebook page dedicated to secure full refunds. Some have been faced with fees amounting to three figures that have almost eliminated the refunds remitted by the airlines. Until mid-April, the terms and conditions stated that a £75 per ticket fee applied if a customer cancelled or amended a ticket, whereas if the flight was cancelled by the airline they would receive a full refund “which we receive back from supplier/airline”.

In April a line was added, stating that when airlines refunded a flight they had cancelled, TravelUp would make an unspecified “deduction of credit/debit card (non-refundable) charges incurred by us at the time of the original booking and a small administration fee”. This fee turned out to be the £75 per head plus 2% of the ticket price.

In May, TravelUp’s CEO, Ali Shah, wrote to disgruntled customers announcing that the fee would be reduced to a flat rate of £50 and claimed that they had misinterpreted the initial promise of a full refund.

“Our terms and conditions originally stated that the customer was entitled to a full refund of what we receive back from the airline or supplier,” he stated. “This will never be the same as the amount you paid us when you booked, as this includes our service charges and we appreciate this has led to some customer confusion.”

Now the website’s FAQs are claiming that passengers who refuse to accept a rebooking or a credit note for a cancelled flight are deemed to have cancelled the flight themselves and are therefore requiring further service from TravelUp for which they must pay the £50.

The company’s contortions are troubling on many counts. Terms and conditions can’t be changed and retrospectively applied to bookings. It’s been illegal since 2018 to impose a surcharge for credit and debit card fees on customers. A fee of £75 per ticket plus a 2% charge – or even the new flat rate of £50 – is by no means “small” as claimed in the amended terms. And if the price charged for flights includes a service fee, as Shah states, this should be made clear at the time of booking and broken down before the payment stage.

TravelUp pointed me to a pre-existing clause half way down its terms and conditions which states that a “reasonable administration charge” will be deducted from refunds if a flight-only booking is cancelled by the airline. This is confusingly included under “Payments” rather than the section on cancellations and, since it gives no indication of what sum it regards as “reasonable”, customers would have no way of knowing what they were letting themselves in for.

Moreover, this term does not apply to accommodation-only bookings, yet PC of London says he was told that TravelUp would retain 25% of the refund for the cancelled hotel room he had booked. When he tried to claim a full refund via section 75, TravelUp disputed the claim and, by way of “evidence”, sent his card issuer the amended terms and conditions in which the right to charge a credit card fee and an administration charge had been added under the hotel cancellations section.

TravelUp was invited to comment on his case.

At the time of publication, nowhere on its website does TravelUp advise customers that they can apply direct to the airlines for a refund under Denied Boarding Regulations and thus save themselves the fee. Skyscanner, the online portal which directed many of the affected customers to TravelUp deals, told me that it has temporarily ceased its relations with the company because of its conduct. “We have been working closely with TravelUp to try to address our travellers’ complaints and concerns,” it says. “However, it’s clear that the unprecedented demands from Covid-19 cancellations, coupled with restricted customer service capacity from lockdown office closures, have meant that their customer service and refund processes are overwhelmed. We have therefore removed TravelUp from Skyscanner’s search results until such time as we are confident that they are back on of things and that traveller cases have been resolved.”

Research by campaign group Which? has found that a number of travel companies are deducting legally questionable fees of up to £125 from customer refunds, while failing to explain their rights to claim direct from the airline. “Customers already left out of pocket by cancellations will be outraged to be told they need to pay to get their own back,” says Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel. 

“The number of customers still waiting for the refunds they are legally entitled to is mounting, so the regulator must take action against any companies it finds breaking the law by failing to provide full refunds for cancelled package holidays.”

If you need help email Anna Tims at your.problems@observer.co.uk. Include an address and phone number. Submission and publication are subject to our terms and conditions

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