Update on refunds due to Covid-19

Tue, 13 Oct 2020

**Update from Mark Trim, Director, 14 October 2020**

We are starting to get excited to see the 'light at the end of the tunnel' as we approach the end of refund processing over the coming months. The refund situation continues to drag but every week is another step closer to finalising this chapter and tidying up the outstanding issues. Since April we have now processed a total of $14,964,209 in refunds...with another $400k about to be processed by the end of this week upon receipt of the next batch from one of our ticketing consolidators. The ticketing consolidator process and their reduced staffing unfortunately continues to add a few weeks to the end of the process. Please see my 7 September update below for more background information.

Outside of those airlines undertaking a restructure, such as Virgin Australia or Thai Airways, the worst offenders for refund processing continues to be Qantas, Oman Air and the Lufthansa Group Airlines. Unfortunately these airlines continue to take significant time to process refunds, up to as long as 6 months now. We have received significantly more refunds from Lufthansa/SWISS/Austrian than we have Qantas who continue to drag their feet on this issue, which has received national press coverage. In the case of Oman Air they are not even accepting any refund submissions for 12 months, without any kind of oversight or control from local authorities, which we appreciate is very frustrating.

We apologise to those still waiting for refunds submitted as far back as March, we too wish that these would be received and paid as soon as possible and will continue to process refunds immediately upon receipt as we have done throughout this crisis.

On a positive note, many of you may know that we first started as 'RoundAbout Travel' when Amy and I launched the company some 12 years ago. From 'RoundAbout Travel' we expanded to other brands and products as our company grew, eventually changing our overall group name to 'Complex Travel Group Pty Ltd'. We are now getting ready to announce the relaunch of 'RoundAbout Travel Australia' in the coming weeks and you will shortly notice some major changes to that website. We are currently sourcing some very exciting product and exceptional value package itineraries for our clients and preparing to pivot the brand towards domestic holidays. Ultimately we are passionate travellers and cannot wait to help our clients explore more of our own backyard in 2021 whilst the rest of the world is on hold. We believe Australia has been an after-thought for many and what better time to both support our local economy and have an amazing travel experience without the time, hassle and expense of long-haul flights.

From a company perspective it made the most sense branding wise to pivot the RoundAbout Travel brand, with 'Flat Beds', 'QFlyer' and 'Y Premium' all airfare-focussed brand names. We would absolutely love to assist our clients from the other brands under the RoundAbout Travel banner, with the same team of experienced travel experts behind the scenes. Following the launch of RoundAbout Travel Australia we plan to bring our clients more travel opportunities to New Zealand, the Pacific and Asia until round the world itineraries and long haul premium airfares are once again a reality...which could be 2 years away. We see this as a great opportunity to expand our overall product offering in the long term and will continue to deliver the same high quality service standards to our clients as we have done since we launched in 2008.

Watch this space for the new website and brand launch which will be hitting your inbox and social media feeds shortly, but if you're currently planning an Australian holiday please reach out to your consultant for advice as we'd love to help curate your travel experience and we very much appreciate your support of our business.

**Update from Mark Trim, Director, 07 September 2020**

As we move into more favourable Spring weather we are also looking forward to getting past the darker times for the travel industry. Whilst we wait for more news on vaccines and border re-openings, our teams continue to process consistent refunds back to our clients. From 1 August to 4 September we processed $3,624,488 in refunds. This takes the total from 1 April to 4 September to just over $10 million in refunds. 

A note on consolidators, the wholesale firms that agencies use to issue and reconcile e-ticketing transactions. You may have seen me refer to these companies in past updates. A significant portion of refunds are now being approved by airlines and once the refunds are finally approved they are reported to the consolidators via IATA BSPlink. From that time it is approximately 1-2 weeks for the consolidator to receive the funds, airline reservation staff often assume it is instant but these are batched via IATA reporting and do take a week or so to be received as they are usually international payments. Under typical trading circumstances we'd have received the money back into our Client Trust account in the next 1-2 weeks as the consolidators sort through their refunds and process to each individual agency they look after. However, the workload requiring manual intervention for consolidators has dramatically increased with such significant refund processing being undertaken for thousands of agencies and billions of dollars of refunds.

As these firms rely on overall flown revenue for income they have had to make significant cut backs to their workforce and align the hours of remaining staff with the job keeper subsidies. This has caused delays to the overall processing time until we receive the funds back on our statement. Along with AFTA, we are calling on the government for specific industry support to protect the 40,000+ jobs in travel agencies directly impacted by government border closures. In the meantime, the reality is that the complete lack of revenue is slowing down the amount of resources these firms have available to process refunds. It is currently taking 6 weeks for us to receive the funds from consolidators [an approx 4 week delay from when they receive it from the airline].

Effective 3 September we have reduced our opening hours to be 10am-2pm Monday-Friday, in anticipation to the upcoming cuts to Job Keeper 2.0. However, the refund process from our end is very simple compared to airlines and consolidators who have to pour over far larger amounts of data and reconcile those into smaller batches. Our team does not have a significant workload and are able to stay on top of all of their work in a timely fashion, despite reduced hours. We are replying to all emails within 1 business day and processing refunds within 1-2 business days of receipt which we believe all of our customers can attest to over this difficult period of time. Thank you to the countless number of clients who have sent their condolences and words of encouragement, it is much appreciated.

We are looking forward to when we can finalise all of these refunds and hibernate the business until new bookings can resume. However, as airlines spaced out their policies based on departure dates and date of cancellation it does mean quite a long tail to this process over the coming months. We, again, thank you for your patience and recognition for our role in this process and appreciate your understanding that we wish nothing more for this nightmare to end as quickly as possible.

**Update from Mark Trim, Director, 28 July 2020**

Thank you to all our clients for their ongoing patience whilst we steadily receive refunds back from the airlines and our ticketing consolidator. If you have not had a chance to watch the below video/read the statement please take some time to review these documents as important background info. The overall situation with refunds continues in the same manner in June. I am pleased to say that we have processed a further $3,026,584 in refunds since the June update was published.

In the last 6 weeks we continue to get steady refunds back from BA, JAL, Qatar Airways and Cathay Pacific who should be commended for their processing and streamlined solutions. We have, since the below update, had significant refunds received for Finnair bookings and our sister brand Flat Beds has now been receiving refunds from Vietnam Airlines, Etihad, Emirates, SAS, Air New Zealand and Virgin Atlantic.

Just in the last week we have received a handful of Qantas refunds, with many more to come. As some of you may have read in previous replies or updates, Qantas, unfortunately, slowed this process down considerably by disabling the automated refund functionality for travel agencies...forcing a much slower and labourios IATA BSPlink submission. Now that we have seen some refunds being received from Qantas, we are hoping to have a significant chunk of Qantas refunds processed in the following 6 weeks, for tickets submitted in late March/April. For those submitted in May/June, we expect those to be back 14-18 weeks from submission date but ultimately we are at the mercy of the airlines with exact time frames with little to no specific updates sent to us.

Please note that once an airline approves the refund it is typically a couple of weeks for our ticketing consolidator to batch and process the funds back to us with our weekly ticketing statement. However, they are making great progress and this process is speeding up over time. Some recent statistics they have shared with us are as follows (bear in mind they look after ticketing for hundreds of travel agencies in Australia)…

“As of 27 July, total statistics during last 60 days:

67,764 Incoming Received
75,560 Refunds processed

Total statistics during the last week

6,051 Incoming received
9,118 Refunds processed

Total $ Refunds distributed back to agents last week $15.6m”

Typically speaking, as one of their larger travel agency customers, we are now processing over $800,000 per week back to our customers (up from $350,000-450,000 per week in June) and we cannot wait to get through all of these refunds. The quicker this stage is over with, the better. We, like you, wish this to be as painless as possible and look forward to getting back to planning future travels as soon as we are able to.

If you are still waiting for a refund, thank you again for your continued patience during this extraordinary time and we look forward to finalising these as soon as they are received.

Mark Trim, Director


11 June Statement from Mark Trim, Director:

With winter now upon us I'm sure we are all enjoying a bit of additional freedom as some restrictions ease in our everyday lives. Whilst this provides some respite from the depths of the Covid-19 crisis, it is still very much the darkest of days for the travel and tourism industry. Whilst we expect and prepare to be the last sector to recover, we remain relatively positive about the long term outlook and hold onto the hope that, eventually, 'every storm runs out of rain'.

After navigating the first stage of this crisis situation, which seemed extremely reactionary in an ever-changing landscape, we have now settled into the 2nd stage of the Covid-19 dilemma for the travel industry. We are glad that supplier policies are now clearer, more reasonable, and finally somewhat predictable. We very much look forward to when we can safely fly around the world again and once more discover the uplifting experience that travel delivers.

In the meantime, stage 2 appears to be playing the waiting game. Waiting for policies from respective suppliers to be extended, waiting until borders begin to reopen, waiting to return to our usual workplaces, waiting for normality to resume and, most importantly, waiting for airlines to process refunds.

Unfortunately that refund process continues to be derailed by airlines who have disabled any ability that travel agents had to process these refunds ourselves in a reasonable time-frame. With almost all airlines mandating refund submissions via IATA BSPlink, we are left in the dark with no updates and no ability to chase or influence the timeline of refunds due to this antiquated method. This article from late March highlights a number of airlines that have disabled the refund functionality, however, the list of airlines mentioned has only grown and now features almost every major carrier, including Qantas. 

The resulting IATA BSPlink refund process which is being enforced is one that is extremely laborious and requires manual intervention for every ticket, removing any possibility of automation and control. More can be read about the IATA BSP process here. Airlines state that this is being done to prevent errors [and subsequent agency fines], however, we can't help but see this as a delay tactic. Along with slowly extending policies to cover later departures this will ensure that they are paying back refunds at a time when they can be receiving new cashflow for future bookings once borders, both domestic and long haul, beginning to reopen.

Many carriers have finalised government bailout packages which we hope will provide much needed financial surety so that we can receive funds back and get those processed to our clients.

We are very thankful to our government for the support they are providing for our industry, as well as the hard work being done by AFTA to represent the various stakeholders on a larger scale. AFTA's Covid-19 update and FAQs are very useful should you have an affected booking. We would also like to thank the other organisations around the nation which are adapting to the crisis. Including landlords, the banks and especially credit card issuers who are protecting merchants from charge-back requests when trips were affected by Covid-19 cancellations. Whilst we know it is frustrating to wait for the airlines to process these refunds, know that we absolutely wish this would be over with as quickly as possible.

I have taken this opportunity to provide further detail in the video above and would ask that if you have an outstanding booking or refund with us to please take a moment to view the video. Thank you for your understanding, patience and consideration.


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