A massive increase in complaints about online travel agency activities saw an 83% rise year-on-year in the first three months of 2022. This brought consumer issues to light in what the UK International Consumer Centre (UKICC) refers to as a “huge contractual mess” within the online travel industry.

One of the most noticeable trends from the UKICC’s 1st quarter 2022 data report (from January to end March 2022) was the large number of complaints UK consumers made about online travel agency activities. The increase of such complaints compared with the same period in 2021, meant cases went up from 301 to 552. Most were related to flight bookings and have been made through online booking intermediaries rather than directly with airlines.

Laura Johnston, Consumer Advisor at the UKICC, said: “COVID-19 has highlighted a problem that already existed for UK consumers, but the pandemic has made it worse because the numbers of consumers affected has grown considerably.

“People are now coming to us in droves as some consumers still appear to be waiting for their money back from flights that were cancelled towards the start of the pandemic.”

Laura outlined the problem, saying: “The law (Air Passenger Rights Regulation 261/2004) states that airlines have to give passengers their money back within seven days if their flight is cancelled, but the problem is that airlines usually won’t deal with passengers direct. Booking intermediaries aren’t governed by the same laws so aren’t motivated to help.

“The difficulty is that passengers have to rely on the booking intermediary they booked their flight with to make a claim to recover the flight cost on their behalf, but booking intermediaries don’t really want to do that.

“Effectively what they are saying to consumers is that all they do is book the flights on the consumers’ behalf and then wipe their hands of any problem. Some booking intermediaries are even charging consumers to make a claim for the flight costs from the airline.

“It’s a huge contractual mess which deprives UK consumers of their rights.”

Consumers can contact with the UK ICC via the website – www.ukecc.net – or by phone on 01268 886690 Monday-Friday between 10am and 4pm.