Refunds via third parties ‘more difficult’, says Wizz Air UK boss

Tour operators and travel agents using low-cost airlines should not expect fares to be returned when packages have to be cancelled due to Foreign Office advisories, says the UK boss of Wizz Air.

UK managing director Owain Jones said Covid-related refunds issued to customers who had booked via the trade had been “more difficult” than those issued to direct customers.

He hailed his company’s “industry-leading” refund processing speed to direct customers, but confirmed Wizz would not refund tour operator and travel agent customers when flights operate but packages have to be cancelled due to government advice.

More:Refund rules around travel advisories ‘open to interpretation’

OTAs ‘leave customers hanging’ on refunds, says Ryanair boss

Under package travel regulations, the organisers of packages (principals) are liable for customer refunds. Abta guidance dictates they must issue refunds in full if the package holiday is cancelled when Foreign Office (FCDO) advice warns against travel to a destination.

Airlines, however, have been able to continue flying to destinations the FCDO advises against travel to throughout the pandemic, and are only obliged to refund customers they cancel the flight.

Leading OTA On the Beach quit Abta over the issue, saying it would only refund elements of the package it receives back from suppliers – so in many cases has been refunding its package customers for all other elements, except for flight costs.

Speaking to Travel Weekly, Jones said of passengers booking through third parties: “We don’t have a direct relationship with the customer, and there’s a well-rehearsed process through which refunds are made through an app.”

He said “how the operator talks with its own customers is its own business” but believes “airlines have been targeted” by operators who should have fully understood the booking conditions before mass cancellations as a result of Covid as they sought cheap flights as part of their packages.

Noting that packages “need refunding” because “it’s a government regulation” he defended airlines’ stance, and pointed to “products that allow flexibility” offered by Wizz Air where customers, and third parties, can change dates and routes – though noting “terms and conditions apply”.

“If you book the basic ticket, it’s non-refundable,” Jones clarified.

No Wizz Holidays

Jones ruled out Wizz Air UK entering the package holidays market, saying the airline will avoid “unnecessary distractions” while concentrating on its growth plans.

Fellow low-cost airlines and easyJet have prominent holidays divisions, and Europe’s largest budget airline Ryanair has a small Atol licence for a holidays arm.

Speaking to Travel Weekly, Jones said: “Our strength lies in what we do best.”

He said Wizz offered the “lowest unit cost in Europe” of any airline and said “anything that moves us away from that is an unnecessary distraction”.

Wizz will continuing to drive efficiencies as the airline grows its network, said Jones. It currently has four bases in the UK, and announced its latest addition – Cardiff – last week.

The carrier also expanded its charter flight service last week to offer domestic and international charter flights – which it said could be used for corporate travel, incentive trips, multi-stop tours and repatriation flights.

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