In the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, hopeful holidaymakers had their dreams shattered when travel restrictions made holidays impossible in many cases. While it was a learning curve for airlines like Ryanair, who were faced with a sudden influx of cancellations and refunds, it also offered the Irish carrier an insight into some roadblocks which come between customers and their money.
In particular, Ryanair bosses claim they noticed issues with third-party booking platforms and some online travel agents not refunding the money from Ryanair straight away or “withholding” customer details.
Now, the airline has launched two new features for customers to ensure they are “booking on a verified Ryanair source” and “getting the lowest flight price”. These come in the form of Ryanair’s new “verified seal” and a “price checker”.
“The COVID pandemic highlighted a lot of issues when it comes to bookings that have been made through third parties such as not having the correct contact details or not having the correct payment details for refunds,” Dara Brady, Ryanair’s director of marketing and digital told Express.co.uk.
“From our learning throughout that period it is evident that customers in some cases don’t even realise that they’re not booking on a real verified source. They just think if it looked like a real Ryanair website or in particular if a site that looks very like our own in terms of colouring and branding consumers were unaware that it might not be a legitimate Ryanair source.
“One of the things we wanted to do was ensure that customers can easily identify what the genuine Ryanair source and what is not.”
This is where the verified seal comes in. Mr Brady explains that it works much like a verified “tick” you might see on social media sites, to confirm that the flight being purchased has come directly from the airline and will have no additional third-party fees associated.
Not only is this vital for securing the “best price”, but Mr Brady also points out how crucial booking directly is should an unexpected disruption arise.
“Under law, Ryanair has to deal with the passengers and if something goes wrong, it’s our obligation under EU law to deal with the passengers directly,” Mr Brady explained.
“It just gives that confidence to customers. That they are booking on a legitimate source, getting the best pricing, and their details aren’t going to be changed.
“If something goes wrong then Ryanair can fix it and it is Ryanair’s job to do that.
“If it was from a verified source, we’ll be able to issue a refund directly, or give you all of the travel options that are available to you in the event of disruption.”
However, booking directly doesn’t just protect against cancellations. As Mr Brady points out, it could also save customers substantial money.
According to the director of marketing, many online travel agents or third party providers ramp up the cost of additional extras, such as bags or legroom.
Some even charge booking fees which he claims Ryanair do not receive.
“I think ultimately, the price checker means if you don’t believe us [about additional fees] check it yourself,” he said.
“You go in, put in your reference number and we will tell you how much we got for that booking.
“So if your bill is different to what’s on our price checker it means that’s how much you’ve been overcharged.
In some of the test bookings, we’ve been making for a flight that costs £22 the price checker is showing some of these third party agents could be charging up to £48.
“Customers will now clearly be able to see that differential.”
He continued: “It’s a tool for customers. You know there’s nothing in it for our site, only to give transparency of how much we charge.
“It’s to educate the customer base. Those initiatives are very much rooted in helping customers to understand what’s a legitimate source and what is a legitimate price that they should have been charged for their booking.”
In any instance, Mr Brady says the most certain way for customers to ensure their bookings is protected against cancellations, covered by the airline’s “no flight change fee” and getting the “best price possible” is by purchasing flights directly from Ryanair.com or the Ryanair app.
“There is an inherent risk with booking with these online travel agents for very little value,” he said.
“If you want to ensure that you’re getting the best price, that you’re not being overcharged, that your passenger contact details and your payment details aren’t being changed, or that in the unlikely event of a disruption that Ryanair customer service can deal with you and pay you directly then you should absolutely always book directly.
“It is just awareness and it’s an education for customers.”