ASTA: Airlines Must Clarify Ticket Refund Procedures, Protect Incentives

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Zane Kerby, president and CEO of the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA), is tackling a source of confusion among travel advisors and travelers: airline refund and exchange procedures.

“Government discussions regarding targeted financial relief for the travel sector are rapidly moving forward. Passenger and cargo airlines alone have requested $58 billion in relief. Given the pivotal role travel advisors play in the booking process, ASTA feels strongly that any targeted relief for the travel industry should be available to travel agencies and not limited to the largest companies in the industry,” Kerby said in a statement Monday.

He adds that, in the case of airlines seeking the significant relief as described, the companies should be compelled to clarify ticket refund and exchange procedures for all travelers. For those who have booked through a travel advisor, carriers must provide greater specificity to include:

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  • Ensuring travelers who have booked through an agency are advised to contact their advisor to process refunds and exchanges rather than directly on the carrier’s website
  • Ensuring all tickets are fully refundable and not merely credited for future travel
  • Permitting travel advisors to process all refunds via ARC
  • Protecting original agency commissions/incentives on air bookings should the tickets be exchanged or rebooked 
  • Protecting advisor commissions on refunded tickets
  • Confirming and/or clarifying that penalty charges or change fees will not apply for canceled or rebooked flights at this time
  • Ensuring travelers the opportunity to use any credit issued for unused tickets for a minimum of two years from the original departure date
  • For those tickets booked on or after March 1, extending the window for rebooking flights to one year from date of travel with no change fees
  • Ensuring ancillary fees for any booked in 2020 and subsequently cancelled, are fully refunded to the traveler 

“We commend those airlines and other travel suppliers that have already relaxed their rebooking and cancellation requirements during this crisis,” Zerby said. “Doing so is of great value to the traveler as well as the travel advisor. However, more relief is needed given the constraints remaining. Likewise, ASTA and its members thank those suppliers that have revised their travel agency commission and incentive payment practices to make them payable upon booking rather than at the time of travel, but we now we call on all airlines to implement the same practice. Recognizing the value travel advisors play in the booking process and the trust placed in advisors by the traveling public will help ensure the long-term success of the travel industry as it rebounds in a post-COVID-19 world.”

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