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Long Wait For Refunds

Posted in Airline News, Singapore Airlines1 comment

Flights to Bangkok may have resumed but it is going to be a long haul for some holidaymakers who are seeking refunds for cancelled flights.

Some say that airlines and travel agents refuse to entertain refund requests or they have had to forfeit chunks of their deposits. Others are unhappy that they have to wait up to six months to get their money back.

The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) says it has received 35 complaints in the past week about cancelled Bangkok flights. This is seven times more than the average amount.

Its executive director Seah Seng Choon says: “The complaints we receive mainly involve travel operators not acceding to requests or that resolutions are slow.”

Political riots in the Thai capital last month saw demonstrators shutting down Suvarnabhumi International Airport, freezing flights in and out of Bangkok for a week.

Although flights resumed last Friday, travel agents say travellers are still wary of the unstable political situation and cancelling their trips.

A spokesman for Chan Brothers says 90% of customers with forward bookings to Bangkok till February are considering switching destinations, delaying or cancelling their flights. CTC Holidays says it has seen overall bookings to Thailand fall by 80% compared to the same period last year.

Mr Terence Tan, 27, an engineer, and his wife Xu Jing Wen, 25, a teacher, were scheduled to leave for Bangkok last Thursday.

They decided to cancel instead of postponing their trip. They had booked their four-day vacation for a total of $1,430 and had to forfeit about $480 for their hotel. The couple are appealing for this portion to be refunded.

Cathay Pacific has agreed to give a ticket refund with all cancellation fees waived. But Ms Xu was told she might have to wait up to six months to get her money back. She adds: “I’m not even sure how much I can get back because of all the terms and conditions that the tickets have.”

Apparently, she had bought promotional tickets which are only partially refundable, so she is still waiting for confirmation from her travel agent.

She says: “The whole situation is very disappointing.”

Ms Juliana Goh, 25, a teacher, is another passenger who is dissatisfied with how cancellations for her trip were handled. She was supposed to fly to Bangkok this week but decided to cancel because she does not think it is safe to travel there.

She was looking for the cheapest tickets and had booked a flight from Singapore to Bangkok on Jetstar and two flights with AirAsia – from Bangkok to Chiangmai, and Chiangmai to Kuala Lumpur. When the airport takeover happened, she had not booked her return trip from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore.

Ms Goh is receiving nearly a full refund of $121 for her Singapore to Bangkok flight from Jetstar, but has to wait 12 weeks.

AirAsia is giving her credits to replace the value of the second flight from Bangkok to Chiangmai ($260), provided she re-books within three months. But she has had to forfeit the third flight from Chiangmai to Kuala Lumpur. She is losing over $200 for this part of the journey and is appealing to get her money back.

Getting the refunds took up a lot of her time. When she could not get through to the AirAsia hotline, she went to its office at the airport. She says she waited for over an hour before she could meet its officials.

AirAsia could not be contacted for comment but the airline had a notice on its website last week telling passengers that its call centres have been “overwhelmed with calls”, and that “guests may face difficulties getting assistance”.

Customers are advised to refer to the website for updates.

A check with the main airlines flying to Bangkok such as Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways shows that the general policy is to offer passengers full refunds or re-routes with all fees waived, provided tickets were bought before the crisis in Bangkok and meant for travel during the November to December period.

Refunds for cancellation of trips outside the November to December travel period would be subjected to what the airlines say are the normal terms and conditions. Airlines are generally tight-lipped when asked what these “terms and conditions” mean.

An online check reveals there are various permutations involving refunds, cancellation or change fees, depending on the type of fare. For example, budget carrier Jetstar states on its website that only passengers who have bought the more expensive JetFlex and StarClass tickets can claim refunds when they cancel their trips. Passengers holding JetSaver tickets have to forfeit their entire tickets.

An SIA spokesman says: “Cheaper fares generally come with tighter conditions so a deep discount fare may include a condition of no refund in the event of cancellation.”

Industry sources say refunds on average may take as long as a month to four months. This is because there are various parties involved, including banks, in the sorting out of the administrative details.

Cancellation or change fees may start at $25 for travel agents and can be anywhere from $40 to $200 for airlines. This may mean that travellers with budget or promotional airline tickets could end up not getting any money back after taking into account the cancellation charges.

A CTC spokesman says: “We have to adhere to suppliers’ terms and conditions. Refunds for customers will depend on whether airlines and hotels are willing to offer them and waive charges.”

In general, travellers are urged to always check in advance with the airlines or travel agents about refund policies when booking.

Case’s Mr Seah advises: “Consumers can also protect their interests by buying insurance. And they should read the terms and conditions when booking tickets.

Some are spelt out quite clearly. Many consumers don’t pay attention because they don’t expect such situations to happen.”

It is not all a lost cause however. Bank officer Tai Ping Ling, who is in her 40s, had one successful attempt at flight cancellation in May this year. She was supposed to travel to Kerala, India, with her friend, but had to put off her trip because of her father’s death.

After exchanging e-mail with SilkAir for a week, the airline agreed to give her a full refund on compassionate terms, albeit with an administration fee of $60. She had to wait about five weeks for her refund of $600.

This was the only time she managed to obtain a refund, having cancelled bookings before on four previous occasions for “less compelling reasons”. “At first they were unwilling, but I guess they do listen if your reasons are appropriate,” says Ms Tai.

As an airline spokesman, who declined to be named, says: “Airlines do make concessions on a case-by-case basis. But if any of them were to come out and say this, they would be faced with a flood of appeals. It would be an impossible situation.”

1 comment

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  1. Please let me know the address for Singapore Airlines to request a refund. I sent a letter for Andres Rodriguez already to United Airlines. They returned the letter saying I had to write directly to Singapore Airlines.

    Please provide me with the address.

    Thank you.

    Leslie Vera for Andres Darrigrande Rodirguez
    Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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