As COVID-19 forced everyone home and social distancing took effect, the immediate focus of travelers worldwide was on cancelling their upcoming plans. Now that this initial wave of cancellations has crested, many of you may be wondering what’s taking your travel refunds so long to appear. While every company is different and we can’t give you a blanket statement answer, we have put together an overview of the situation below.
If you’re seeing a delay, the biggest reason is because of the sheer number of cancellations and travel refunds being processed. For example, airlines alone have over 150 million passengers that have cancelled their flights and are in need of a refund. To put this in perspective, the tragic events of 9/11 resulted in the highest number of cancellations up until now with 10.5 million passengers affected – more than 14 times less than those due to COVID-19. All of those cancellations require a lot of human and computer processing power to get the money back to your account.
With today’s technology, it’s easy to think that the travel refund process should be automated and much faster than we’re currently seeing. While this may be the case for typical cancellations, many suppliers are (thankfully) updating their policies frequently to give more flexibility and less cancellation penalties. However, this now means that the refund process (which is normally automated) must be done manually to match the policies in place at time of cancellation. This, of course, requires more time.
Additionally, we have to remember that everyone is practicing social distancing and working remotely, which brings its own challenges. Tasks that can usually be completed quickly in a corporate office may be more difficult from a home setup due to limited access to programs and data. Some of the larger companies are also moving to shortened work weeks until travel demand picks up again, further reducing available staff to process your travel refund.
It’s easy to forget that travel refund processing involves more than the original travel provider. Once a refund is submitted by an airline, hotel, or tour operator, there are steps on the banking and credit card company side that may add additional delays as they too are facing challenges like the above. So even if an airline says your travel refund has been “processed”, it may still take some time to post to your account.
We understand how frustrating it can be to wait for a travel refund to appear. While it may be taking longer than usual, please try to be patient and bear with our travel partners (and other businesses in general!) as they work down the list of cancellations. However, asking for patience doesn’t mean our travel advisor team is just sitting back to wait – we are continually following up to check on refund statuses and want to know when your travel refund is received.
While we unfortunately can’t speed up the refund process, we’re here to answer your questions and advocate on your behalf. That’s a major benefit to working with a travel advisor – you always have someone in your corner when the unexpected happens (looking at you COVID-19!). Contact us with questions or if you need an advisor for a future trip.