When Hannah Nash and her family paid nearly £7,000 for a holiday to Disney World in Florida there was a huge sense of anticipation.
«We usually holiday in England so the excitement of dining at Disney, meeting the characters at Disney and taking part in all the fantastic rides was so exciting,» she says.
However, the coronavirus outbreak meant that the trip – which was supposed to have taken place last month – was cancelled.
Now Hannah is struggling to get a refund from her holiday company, Virgin Holidays.
«The stress is making me ill. These are not small amounts for normal people,» she told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme.
Hannah is thought to be just one of thousands of UK customers still waiting for a refund from travel firms, despite rules requiring companies to pay out within 14 days.
Hannah and her family had been saving for the trip to Orlando for 18 months.
Her nine-year-old daughter Isla, who has high-functioning autism, was especially excited about the trip.
«She rarely gets excited by anything and to see her get engaged in this holiday was fabulous.»
But Hannah is now trying to find out when she will get her money back. She has received a series of automated emails from Virgin in response to her inquiries, but no clear date on when she will receive her refund.
One of the automated responses advised her to go to Abta, the Association of British Travel Agents, which sent her back to Virgin.
When contacted by the BBC, Virgin Holidays said it could assure customers that refund payments would be paid within an «absolute maximum of 120 days» from when the request was submitted.
«With all holidays now cancelled up to and including 19 July 2020, we continue to be inundated with an unprecedented volume of refund requests, while working through a backlog, and unfortunately these are taking longer than usual to be processed,» a spokesperson added.
Virgin said all customers who had requested a refund would be repaid in full.
«Payments are being prioritised based on how long the customer has been waiting for their refund, working in order from March 2020 onwards..»
The travel editor at consumer body Which?, Rory Boland, says companies are «ignoring the rules because they’re getting away with it».
Speaking to the BBC’s Today programme, Mr Boland said: «The rules are nice and clear. If you’ve had a flight that has been cancelled you are due a refund within seven days and if it’s a package holiday you are due a refund within 14 days.
«We’re in a situation where millions of holidaymakers are due billions of pounds in refunds and at this stage many of them have been waiting for months.»
What are my rights?
- If your flight is cancelled, you are entitled to a full refund to the original form of payment within seven days, although many airlines will be struggling to meet that deadline. You can accept, or refuse, vouchers or a rebooking but a voucher will probably be invalid if the airline later goes bust
- If you decide against going on a future flight, which is not yet cancelled, then there is no right to a refund. Different airlines have different rules over what you can do but many are waiving any charges for changing to a later flight or having a voucher instead. Your travel insurance may, or may not, cover you
- If you are stuck in the EU and a UK or EU carrier is not rerouting or helping you, you should be able to come home on any airline you can and bill the original airline for the new ticket. The airline is legally obliged to get you home and they should be rerouting you themselves. If they are failing to do that, they are responsible for the cost of getting you home. But you should not cancel and accept a refund as this ends the airline’s duty of care towards you and you won’t be able to claim anything back. It is best to pay by credit card, for the back-up option to claim from your card provider
- If you have a package holiday, then a refund should be provided for the whole holiday within 14 days
Mr Boland called on the government to do more to ensure customers receive their money from airlines and travel firms within the guaranteed timeframe.
«We cannot be in a situation where holiday makers… can be asked to bail out the travel industry against their will,» he said.
«This is a problem that is not going to go away because as we come into the peak holiday season will see more holidays and flights cancelled. It is something the government needs to get on top of really urgently.»
The Civil Aviation Authority has said it is conducting a review of the refund situation.