PUEBLO — More than a year after the Coronavirus pandemic first shut down parts of the world, some travelers are still fighting to get refunds after their trips were canceled at no fault of their own.
While U.S. lawmakers have urged domestic airlines to provide cash refunds, News 5 Investigates discovered that's had little impact on international travel booked through third-party web sites.
Kim Guerrero was looking forward to a family trip to Greece last year.
She booked her travel through the third-party site "Kiwi"---spending more than $4,500.
Her flights were later canceled due to COVID-19.
Guerrero thought getting a refund would be relatively easy since she wasn't the one who canceled the trip.
Unfortunately, Guerrero says she had to jump through numerous hoops and frustrations along the way.
"We need to bring awareness to this company," Guerrero said. "They have no morals, no integrity and no accountability."
Guerrero says for months, she patiently waited for a refund. However, all she says she received was excuse after excuse.
"When you request a refund, they say be patient it could take up to 3 months," Guerrero said. "3 months had passed and I was told by them that they needed more time."
Her story isn't unique.
A Facebook group called "Victims of the Scam Kiwi" has more than 4,000 followers as of April 2021.
People from the across the world have voiced their problems getting their money back after their travel was reportedly canceled during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Better Business Bureau has given Kiwi an "F" rating for its business practices.
The company has 184 complaints on file within the last 3 years.
165, or nearly 90-percent were filed just within the last 12 months.
"They say if we (the customer) make a change or cancel our trip, we would get back like 10 euros out of $4,500," Guerrero said. "They would refund $10 per ticket."
Guerrero believes that's not a fair refund---especially since the trip was canceled at no fault of hers.
She filed a charge back with her bank which initially ruled in favor of Kiwi because their refund terms are posted on its web site.
After Guerrero reached out to News 5 Investigates and just a few days prior to our on-camera interview with her, we learned Guerrero's bank reversed its decision and she finally had her money back.
We offered Guerrero the chance to back out of our scheduled interview, but she still wanted to tell her story.
"This is the first time that someone from the media took any interest," Guerrero said. "Anything News 5 can do I'm appreciative of and even though I'm made whole, I still wanted to participate so that we can try to help some of these people as well. What about those other 3,900 people (in the Facebook group). I've read almost every comment in that group."
In a statement to News 5, Kiwi's CEO apologized for the frustration in getting customers their money back.
The company says it has 621 airlines in its network---all with different refund policies.
Kiwi also places blame on the airlines, saying the majority of them are just not willing to act quickly on refunds.
We're told refunds should take anywhere from 6 weeks to 3 months, but Kiwi acknowledges there are customers who are waiting longer.
Struggling to get a refund?
Always try and work directly with your booking agency first on a resolution.
If you booked through a third-party travel web site, calling the hotel or airline directly may be a waste of time. Most airlines and hotels will require you to work directly with your booking company should any problems arise.
If you placed your entire purchase on a credit card, you can open up a dispute with your credit card company. Most credit card companies offer "conditional credits" pending a formal investigation.
If you plan on traveling in the near future, getting a travel voucher typically is going to be easier than a refund.
If you feel the company you did business with isn't being fair and honest, file a formal complaint with your state's consumer protection agency. In Colorado, the Attorney General's Office has an online form to file complaints. You can also call them at 720-508-6000.
You should also make your complaint known to your local Better Business Bureau.
Full statement from Kiwi:
As I am sure you will know well, the closing of borders and restrictions have had an enormous impact on the entire travel industry. At Kiwi.com we have been dealing with many hundreds of airlines (621 in total), all with different refund policies, to get monetary refunds for our customers. Unfortunately the majority of these airlines are just not willing to act quickly as they manage their businesses through the downturn and the hundreds of thousands of requests for refunds, and in some cases they are only providing vouchers or not able to pay out until travel recovers. We are of course extremely sorry for the impacts on our customers and that the process has been so frustratingly slow. When customers make a booking with us, those flights are purchased at the time of booking - we do not hold the customers money so we are not able to immediately return it without applying to the airline or booking partner to return what was purchased. In pre-pandemic times the refund process would be a relatively simple procedure, we would request refunds for the flights purchased for the customer, a response would be expected from the airline or booking partner in a short period, we would then pass the full refund to the customer and all would be resolved quickly. However, with the airlines overwhelmed it soon became clear that the usual process would not be the case. All airlines implemented new and different processes to obtain refunds and with differing solutions (not always monetary) and we found many refund requests require multiple follow-ups and chasing through the system. This has impacted international travel providers across the world and, unfortunately, we are not alone in the impacts of these delays affecting the experience of previously happy customers."
Additional questions Kiwi answered:
Question: For travel that was canceled by an airline or hotel due to the COVID-19 pandemic, are customers who booked through Kiwi entitled to a full cash/card refund, OR voucher-only credit?
"As mentioned in the background, we are pursuing refunds for our customers from over 600 airlines following the impacts of the pandemic causing cancellations and dramatic schedule changes. The policies that airlines have brought in to manage their businesses mean that some airlines are only offering vouchers or open tickets rather than monetary refunds. Our first priority is always to apply for what a customer is eligible for in monetary form but what is currently returned to us depends on the airline."
Question: What is the average time that it's taking for Kiwi to issue customer refunds?
"At the outset of the pandemic we anticipated the time taken to refund would be much longer than usual due to the volumes of cancellations that airlines and booking partners had to manage and our prediction, which we made public, was that it would be between 6 weeks and 3 months. Although there are many cases that are now refunded within that timespan, unfortunately there are those that have extended way beyond what we could have imagined at the start of the crisis and this was exasperated by the impacts of the second and third waves of the pandemic. For any customer who has had to wait for this extended period for what they are eligible for we are truly sorry and would like to ask for their continued patience as we continue to pursue what is owed."
Question: What issues are there with issuing refunds?
"As explained in a previous response, the issues are the considerable delays and these are dependent on the individual booking partners and airline processes we have to manage. This unfortunately can be compounded when a chargeback is filed as this means our refund application needs to be paused whilst the investigation is done by the financial organisation (sic) - which adds approximately 3 months to the process."
Question: For customers who are entitled to a refund, what is the time frame they should wait to receive their money?
"I wish I could provide an exact answer to this but every case is different, we now have some refund applications that are implemented with speed, just as the process was prior to the pandemic. We, unfortunately, have other cases where the airline may be managing its business through the downturn and we will not see fast refunds happen until travel recovers and they no longer need to manage their financial positions so carefully."
Question: How is Kiwi working to address customer refund issues? We're hearing from a lot of frustrated customers so any insight you have would be greatly appreciated.
"We are of course devastated that the impacts of the pandemic have meant that our customers have not had the experience they expect from us. We would like to take this opportunity to apologize to anyone who has had to wait, is still waiting or has not received the support they were looking for. We have implemented automated processes internally to help speed up the application process and continue to work tirelessly on pursuing those applications through the third party processes. With the vaccine roll-out already having positive effects on travel, particularly in Europe, we will look positively to the future when people can feel confident to travel again as we know this will increase the business of airlines and therefore the speed of refunds being returned."
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