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Ryanair under fire for ‘Wallet’ refunds policy

Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

The budget airline has been accused of making it more difficult than necessary to get refunds for flights cancelled during the pandemic.

A campaign group has called for an investigation into Ryanair’s Wallet refunds policy over possible breaches of consumer law.

The airline introduced a policy of automatically paying refunds into a ‘Wallet’ attached to customers’ Ryanair accounts last year. Customers then needed to request to withdraw funds from their Wallet to their credit or debit card, or bank account.

Which? believes this creates an extra step in the refund process, which could result in fewer people claiming their money back in cash.

One passenger who had problems withdrawing funds from her Wallet threatened legal action against Ryanair unless it offered her a refund. She told Which? she believed the airline had deliberately made it an “intimidating process” for customers to withdraw cash “in the hope that many people simply give up”.

Which? is calling on the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to step in to investigate what it says is a potential breach of consumer protection law and inform passengers of their rights if an airline cancels their flight.

Any traveller whose flight is cancelled by their airline within 14 days of departure is entitled to rebooking or a full cash reimbursement within seven days (unless re-routing is offered in certain circumstances).

Airlines are required to obtain travellers’ signed agreement if they wish to provide a voucher or ‘other services’ as an alternative. But Which? said Ryanair doesn’t appear to give passengers a choice as to whether their refunds are issued into the Wallet.

The consumer champion said the scheme is the latest example of the budget carrier potentially skirting around the rules. Ryanair ranked bottom of a recent Which? survey of passenger refund satisfaction.

In October 2021, Which? asked more than 1,100 passengers about their experiences with disrupted flights since March 2020. Only 47% of Ryanair customers said they were satisfied with how it handled the issue, with one in five telling Which? it took them more than a month to get a refund.

The group has shared its findings with the CAA and is urging the regulator to investigate Ryanair’s Wallet refund policy. It is also calling on the Department for Transport to give the CAA greater powers to more effectively enforce the law, including the ability to fine airlines that break the rules.

‘Forcing customers to jump through hoops’

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “Ryanair is showing what scant regard it holds for its customers yet again by forcing them to jump through hoops to get what they are legally owed. The airline should change its policy to offer cash refunds as default.

“Which? investigations have repeatedly shown that some airlines are prepared to flout the law when it comes to refunds and consumer rights, with little fear of facing any consequences. The CAA must step in to investigate the issue, and take action against Ryanair if it confirms the policy is breaching the law. It is crucial the CAA is given the powers it needs to effectively hold airlines to account – including fining powers.”

A spokesperson for the CAA said: “The Civil Aviation Authority has been clear that consumers owed a refund should only accept airline credit or vouchers where it is in their interest to do so and that it is important that consumers are given a clear option to request a cash refund without unnecessary barriers.

“We regularly monitor the approaches that airlines take to complying with their obligations and review any evidence provided to us about how they meet their obligations.”

‘Complete control over refunds’

A spokesperson for Ryanair said: “Customers are clearly informed in our Refund Hub that refunds are issued via the Wallet. It provides customers with complete control over their refunds, by giving them immediate access to their Wallet balance (for use on future bookings) and the ability to withdraw their refund in cash in just one click. All passengers’ rights and entitlements under consumer protection law continue to be fully respected.”