GOSHEN — Discount travel sites were often the best way to save on travel until March 2020, when the pandemic hit and everything changed.
Now, many people who purchased tickets through third-party travel sites are still trying to get their money back a year and a half after they canceled their trips.
Chris Cole of Goshen, Ohio, saved and saved to take his children on their first big trip to Hawaii in April 2020.
He booked through the discount travel site Kiwi.com, which found a great airfare using a combination of Allegiant, Frontier and Hawaiian Airlines.
It was much cheaper than booking the flights directly on Delta, American or United.
"I live on disability, so I don't make much money," Cole said. "That was a lot of saving up."
15 months of waiting for refunds
Then the shutdown happened, and they had to cancel the April trip along with millions of other travelers.
Despite months of emails to Kiwi.com, Cole is still waiting for $4,800 in refunds for the tickets. That's months of income for someone living on disability.
By now, most people who had to cancel a 2020 trip that had been booked through a major airline have received a travel credit or full refund.
But many who used third-party travel companies are still struggling to get their money back.
Kiwi — based in the Czech Republic, with a United States office in Miami — has an "F" rating from the Better Business Bureau with more than 300 recent complaints.
Most concern frustrations over trying to get a refund.
After we sent Cole's information to Kiwi.com, a spokeswoman apologized, and blamed the delay on a processing error.
She said they will rush to refund him $4,391 that he is owed for the tickets. (Full statement below.)
The company has explained the delays by saying "at Kiwi.com, we have been dealing with hundreds of airlines, all with different refund policies, to get monetary refunds for our customers."
Although Cole's trip involved multiple airlines, he could not get help from any of them because they did not sell him the tickets. The trip was booked through Kiwi, so the resolution has to come from Kiwi.
Should you book with third-party sites?
Travel sites like Kiwi.com can save you money, compared to dealing with a mainline carrier. Their computers search for the lowest fares at dozens of airlines flying your route.
Often the best deal will be one that involves using two or three airlines, as in Cole's case. In normal times, it often works well, potentially saving travelers hundreds of dollars.
But you should know the risks in case you have to cancel. You'll be dealing with multiple airlines that don't know who you are and may not be able to help if something goes wrong.
Your best bet during the continuing pandemic may be purchasing travel insurance for any trip that involves hotels and resorts. And try to purchase "cancel for any reason" travel insurance.
As always, don't waste your money.
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Full statement from Kiwi.com:
"The whole industry has been severely affected with flight cancellations and long delays for refunds since the start of the pandemic.
Unfortunately, Mr Cole’s request was impacted by a manual processing error that meant the request was not submitted correctly.
It was our responsibility to ensure he was properly supported and communicated to during this process and we recognise that this was not the case in this instance and we sincerely apologise for this."