RYANAIR has banned some passengers who it paid refunds to from its flights unless they return the money, an investigation has found. 

MoneySavingExpert (MSE) found that the airline has barred some passengers who had received refunds for flights which were disrupted by Covid. 

Holidaymakers who booked flights for this year were told by Ryanair that they could only fly if they gave back the refund, MSE discovered. In one case, a customer was told this just days before they were due to travel.

MSE spoke to three customers who were told they couldn’t fly until they returned their refunded money. 

The amounts ranged from £400 to £630. 

Some passengers reported being made to feel anxious as they were contacted by the budget airline’s fraud department about the refunds. 

The customers MSE spoke to had received their refunds through their credit card company through the “chargeback” process. 

This is a protection that kicks in on credit cards where you don’t receive goods or services you’ve paid for, or if you’re refused a refund.

The Ryanair passengers had been refused refunds by the airline, MSE said. It added that the cases had been flagged to the Civil Aviation Authority. 

Many airlines were criticised for being slow to dole out refunds during last year’s lockdown, when flights were cancelled across the board, or for not offering refunds at all. 

However, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) last week ruled that British Airways and Ryanair would not have to refund customers for lockdown flights. 

In June, the CMA had started to look into whether airlines should have offered money back to holidaymakers who couldn’t legally take flights because of Covid. 

We have previously looked at your refund rights when it comes to cancelling a holiday during the pandemic. 

Can an airline ask you for money?

The three Ryanair passengers that MSE spoke to had booked flights for summer 2020. 

While the flights did go ahead, each of the would-be holidaymakers decided not to travel because of Government warnings about non-essential travel. 

Each customer asked Ryanair for a refund but was refused. 

So instead they asked their credit card provider, American Express, through the chargeback purchase protection scheme. 

American Express agreed to all three of the claims. While Ryanair contested one of the claims, Amex paid out on all three. 

Fast-forward to 2021, and the three passengers all booked flights for this summer without any issues. 

But they later found that when they tried to check-in or make a change to their booking, Ryanair wanted the chargeback money first. 

One passenger said: “Travelling with Covid restrictions is stressful, but this totally unforeseen payment demand took stress to a new level.

“Ryanair took a new booking for flights and surprised me when I tried to check-in online three days before travelling to discover this demand.” 

The airline did offer to return the money for the 2021 flights if the customers didn’t want to repay the chargeback money. But one passenger stood to lose hundreds in accommodation, car hire, and Covid testing costs if they cancelled their flight. 

Guy Anker, deputy editor at MoneySavingExpert.com, said: "This is absolutely outrageous behaviour from Ryanair. It essentially had these passengers over a barrel shortly before their holiday at a point which turned excitement into stress and anxiety. 

“And by its fraud department collecting the money, passengers could be forgiven for feeling scared and thinking Ryanair considers they are somehow in trouble.”

Do airlines have to give refunds?

Ryanair said its terms and conditions lay out that flights are non-refundable if they go ahead. 

They also state that the airline can deny boarding to customers who have “recharged against us” for a previous flight. 

The airline has previously threatened to “blacklist” customers who apply for refunds.  

MSE said it is a “grey area” as to whether the airline should have given refunds for flights in 2020. It said lawyers had said denying boarding to those who had received chargeback claims was not “reasonable”. 

While the CMA says refunds are not guaranteed even if there are restrictions on destinations, it does say they are “not impossible”, and particularly if you might be “at serious risk” if you did travel. 

Anker added: "Some may have sympathy for Ryanair given it incurred the costs of the original flights that did go ahead that passengers chose not to take.

"However, it's then used up any sympathy by the way it's treated holidaymakers afterwards. 

“If Ryanair wants to ban people for getting a refund that the card companies judge was fair, that leaves a sour taste in the mouth, but to let them book a holiday and only tell them this news at the last minute shows no regard for fellow human beings.”

Airlines are legally allowed to block boarding if there are "reasonable grounds".

Ryanair told MSE: “Mr Johnston initiated a chargeback via his bank for the value of his flights. However, refunds are only permitted for cancelled flights so the outstanding balance was added to Mr Johnston’s Ryanair account as this is still owed to Ryanair.

“Ryanair flights that operate as scheduled are non-refundable – this is clearly outlined in Ryanair’s T&Cs agreed by the customer at the time of booking.”

While the statement only mentions one passenger, Ryanair said it applied to all the cases.

The Sun has also asked Ryanair for comment.

British Airways, Easyjet, Jet2 and Virgin Atlantic all said they would not prevent passengers who had received a chargeback from travelling in future.

Some airlines offered free rebooking or vouchers for those who did not want to travel during the pandemic.

We have previously looked at how to apply for a holiday refund.

What if I’m asked to repay a refund? 

Your first step is to make a direct complaint to Ryanair, according to MSE.

Websites such as Resolver can help you do this. 

If the airline still won’t let you fly, you could pay the chargeback so you can travel and fight it later – although there is a risk you won’t be successful.

Alternatively, you could cancel your flights and book with another airline. But bear in mind the chargeback owing will remain on your Ryanair account so you won’t be able to fly with the carrier until it’s repaid or resolved.

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