Why Is Getting a Refund From an Online Travel Agency So Hard?

On social media and in emails to The Times, many travelers complained that getting help from their O.T.A. has been particularly difficult during the coronavirus pandemic. One site, Bookit.com, completely suspended its operations, and told customers to contact their credit card companies for assistance.

Here’s what has happened.

The agencies say they were overwhelmed by the immediate spike in travelers looking to cancel.

“The Wednesday Tom Hanks said he had coronavirus, and the N.B.A. season got shut down was panic day,” Hussein Fazal, the chief executive of SnapTravel, said. “Everyone in the U.S. started panicking, we saw a spike in volume and then the travel bans came.”

“We’re getting hundreds of thousands of more calls on any given day,” said Sarah Waffle Gavin, vice president for global communications and corporate brand at Expedia, which includes sites like Orbitz and HomeAway under its umbrella. “If that was the only problem, we could totally solve it.”

Expedia’s call volumes have been five to seven times higher than average, amounting to thousands more calls than it would normally receive, even during its busiest times. VRBO, the home booking site, saw its call volume increase more than 300 percent.

SnapTravel’s Mr. Fazal said call volume has been five times higher than usual and its chat volume has been three times higher than usual; its average call wait time before Covid-19 was 45 seconds and now it is 7.5 minutes, he said (though travelers have complained of spending hours on hold with various agencies).

The spike in refund requests occurred while companies were simultaneously trying to equip their own teams to work remotely, said Olivier Pailhès, co-founder and chief executive of Aircall, a cloud-based phone system that provides its technology to companies. In mid-to-late March, Aircall had a spike in calls from its customers in the travel industry.

— to www.nytimes.com

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