Customers of collapsed tour operator Thomas Cook have been getting in touch with the BBC to voice their frustration at delays in processing their refunds for holidays that never took place.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) originally said all valid claims made on the first day of its refund programme would be paid within 60 days, or by Friday 6 December. But now it says only two-thirds will be paid on time.
Retired teachers Alan and Diane Holmes from Ripon in north Yorkshire booked a two-week holiday in Egypt, but initially thought their money was safe because the booking was made through another firm, Freedom Holidays.
“My wife always wanted to do the Egypt Nile cruise. It’s been quite peaceful there these last two years, so we thought we’d best do it before it all takes off again,” Mr Holmes told the BBC, referring to the possibility of civil unrest in the country.
But as they later found out, the cruise itself and the hotel accommodation had been booked through Thomas Cook.
The couple had paid £3,200 for the holiday, but were then told they would have to pay another £2,200 upfront if they wanted the holiday to go ahead.
“They had told me the money was safe in a trust fund, but it turned out that Thomas Cook had already taken it,” said Mr Holmes.
They decided to cancel and are now waiting for the initial £3,200 to be refunded.
“I filled in the CAA form and never heard anything back,” said Mr Holmes. “Then two days ago, I got this email saying they wanted more information.”
Mr Holmes has now provided details of the booking and the credit card payment.
“I realise the people dealing with it have got a lot of work to go through. It’s just the poor communication,” he said.
“Travel companies are very happy to take your money, then as soon as anything goes wrong, they don’t want to know.”
‘We were in turmoil’
Bank employee Deborah Hulme and her husband Stephen, from Staffordshire, paid Thomas Cook £3,060 for “the holiday of a lifetime”.
They planned to spend a week in New York and a further two in Las Vegas.
As well as the package holiday itself, they had booked excursions and other extras with third-party companies, which made things extremely complicated.
“When they went bust, we were in turmoil,” Ms Hulme told the BBC. “We would have had to cancel every single thing. It was a complete nightmare to even start doing.”
As a result, they decided to pay out another £3,500 to re-book the same holiday with another travel agent, expecting to be reimbursed promptly by Thomas Cook. But they too are still waiting.
“We had no choice but to replace our holiday, because we would have lost so much otherwise,” said Ms Hulme. “We thought we would get it back pretty much straight away.”
‘Christmas is looming’
Maggie Eveleigh of Highbridge in Somerset, who works at Asda, booked a £3,500 10-day all-inclusive holiday in Turkey for herself, her partner Terence Beasley and his son and grandson.
When Thomas Cook collapsed, she booked another holiday in Cyprus at a cost of £3,800.
What annoys her most is that two days before the firm went under, when the extent of its problems had started to come to light, she spent another £50 to secure a late check-out at the Turkish hotel and the payment was processed the same day.
“I asked if there were problems and I was told it was just scaremongering,” she told the BBC.
Now she is anxiously waiting to be reimbursed. “I can’t afford to lose that money,” she said. “Christmas is looming and I’m still £3,500 out of pocket.”
‘Everything was gone’
But not everyone has had the same bad experience. Vape shop salesman Jason Henderson, from Lancaster, booked a Thomas Cook package holiday to Cuba and paid for it in instalments on direct debit.
As the news emerged that the company was in trouble, he continued to check with his local branch and was told that nothing had changed.
“Then I woke up on 23 September and boom, everything was gone,” he told the BBC.
Fortunately, he was able to borrow money to book another Cuban holiday with a different firm.
“I ended up having to go via Amsterdam and staying in a different hotel at the other end of the island,” he said.
In the end, his final direct debit payment didn’t go through, because the bank stopped it when Thomas Cook collapsed.
But after he put in his claim for a refund, he received five separate instalments of £109.56 back within two weeks, while his initial deposit of £700 was refunded on Thursday, just before the deadline.
“I had no problems with them. The communication with them was great,” he said.
“But Thomas Cook hadn’t provided the correct information for a lot of people, and that’s why some people are having so many problems.”