‘I need your help please’: Consumers struggling for refunds of COVID-19 cancelled travel

ST. CLOUD, Fla. — A St. Cloud woman discovered getting your money back for a vacation cancelled due to COVID-19 remains a real battle, especially with online travel agencies.

Marian McDougall wanted to take her mom and family to England for the first time. She booked a travel tour a year ago for a trip this spring, thinking the COVID-19 shutdowns would be over.

Now she fears losing nearly $5,000 for a trip to nowhere.

“This seems crazy,” Todd Ulrich said.

“Yes, I need your help please,” McDougall said.

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She contacted Action 9, claiming Tripmasters, an online travel agency, cancelled the trip because of pandemic travel restrictions, but then refused to refund her $4,700.

“I expected to get my money back because I was not the person who cancelled the trip,” McDougall said.

Instead, the company offered McDougall travel credits through December. She says it could still be impossible to travel then. She’s disputing the refund denial with Tripmasters and her credit card provider.

“They asked me to fax documents of proof but I haven’t heard back from them,” McDougall said.

Action 9 checked with Florida’s attorney general. Four other consumers made similar claims against Tripmasters and two of those families are from Central Florida, including an Orlando woman who claims the company refused to refund her nearly $4,000 for a travel package to Barcelona.

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“Do these consumers have a case to make?” Ulrich asked.

“Absolutely. I would be livid if I was a consumer or a traveler,” Scott Keyes said.

Keyes runs the website Scott’s Cheap Flights, and says online travel agencies are the middlemen that paid the airlines and hotels for your travel package and many drag their feet with refunds.

Keyes says U.S. regulations are clear. “You are still owed a refund when an airline significantly changes or cancels your flight.”

Tripmasters did not return Ulrich’s messages about McDougall’s refund.

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Ulrich called Region’s Bank, her credit card provider. The bank said they are working to extend her future credits until it’s safe to travel.

“I didn’t get the help I needed,” McDougall said.

You need to push back against COVID-19 refund denials. Consider sending complaints to the attorney general, and for complaints about flights, to the Department of Transportation.

If your credit card dispute fails, contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Todd Ulrich, WFTV.com

I am WFTV's Action 9 Reporter.