Airlines such as Ryanair, as well as hotels, have long argued that online travel sites are stingy about providing them with customer information, and that's a solid point. Could Ryanair have done more until now to provide passengers with refunds? Definitely.
Ryanair, which along with Southwest Airlines was a pioneer in insisting on direct bookings only, has gone after unauthorized screen scapers anew.
The issue that angered the Ireland-based low cost carrier this time was its difficulty in appeasing and providing refunds to irate passengers who may have booked their flights on online travel agency websites such as Kiwi, On the Beach, Love Holidays, and LastMinute.com.
In a video message released last week, Ryanair CEO Eddie Wilson lamented that these third-party websites provide the airline with “fake” email addresses and “fake” virtual credit cards so it’s allegedly impossible for Ryanair to refund customers for coronavirus-related cancelled flights. (See the video message embedded below.)
Wilson said no website — other than Ryanair.com and the Ryanair app — is authorized to book Ryanair flights. He said these websites add extra charges, such as selling the airline’s ancillary services at a steep markup, and block the airline from providing refunds.
With nearly 30 million cancelled flights generated by Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions, Wilson said Ryanair is on track to have 90 percent of the vouchers, flight changes, and cash refunds taken care of by the end of July.
Speaking of the unauthorized websites, the Ryanair help page states: “In some cases, unauthorised, screen scraping travel websites are blocking customers from receiving their Ryanair refunds.”
But Ryanair has also implemented a new customer verification process for passengers seek refunds and vouchers from the airline when they booked their flights elsewhere. Among the information and documents that the airline is requesting are copies of passports, utility bills to prove home addresses, and the passenger name record numbers, also known in travel industry lingo as PNRs.
“Remember, Ryanair is the only website authorised to sell Ryanair flights,” Wilson said.
Despite that statement, Skift saw Ryanair flights being sold this week on Kiwi.com, eDreams, and On the Beach, and referrals to Ryanair.com from Google flights, for example. Expedia was seemingly not selling Ryanair flights. Ryanair and Expedia Group settled litigation in the United States and Ireland over the issue in 2019.
Kiwi founder and CEO Oliver Dlouhy in a statement called Ryanair’s tactics a “dirty tricks” campaign.
“We’re surprised to see that Eddie Wilson has come out and admitted that RyanAir has been holding on to our customers’ money and not releasing refunds to us just because he doesn’t like our business model,” Dlouhy said. “The best thing Eddie Wilson can do for Kiwi.com customers who were booked on RyanAir flights that were cancelled is to transfer the money owed so that we can refund our customers. As of now, they have only passed on 10 percent of their liabilities in a blatant attempt to damage our customer relationships.”
Ryanair has been a stickler over the years for demanding direct bookings only, and going after competitors such as Expedia and eDreams for scraping the airline’s flight, fare, and ancillary services information without permission. Southwest, too, has used the same playbook, but has recently widened its distribution to global distribution systems such as Travelport, but mostly for corporate travel.
Whether it is hotels or airlines, does it pay to book direct like Ryanair, Southwest, Hilton, Marriott and Choice hotels argue? Yes, and no. It may be easier to get notifications about flight and gate changes directly from the airline, and it indeed less complex to make flight changes from the airline than it is to do so with third parties. Another factor is that airline websites are less prone to add hidden fees or surcharges than third-party websites.
On the other hand, many of these rival websites have their own loyalty programs, provide more choice in terms of offering a range of listings for airlines or hotels, and in the case of Kiwi the customer may be able to find a lower-priced deal because the company pairs flights from different carriers.
In recent years, many third-party websites have also launched their own loyalty programs to compete with those of airlines and hotels.
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Photo credit: A Ryanair aircraft stands on the tarmac at Frankfurt-Hahn Airport Germany, September 12, 2018. Ryanair chastised third-party websites for blocking the airline's ability to provide refunds. Ralph Orlowski / Reuters