Why Is Getting a Refund From an Online Travel Agency So Hard?

But an O.T.A. doesn’t have your money. When you book with a third-party site, they take your payment and parcel it out to the various suppliers of your vacation services.

Online travel agencies are dependent on the decisions of their hotel and airline suppliers, so they can’t preemptively issue a refund to someone without someone at the hotel or airline signing off on that refund.

Mr. Vrijenhoek, of Kiwi.com, said that is the case at his O.T.A. “We are not holding any refunds from customers. It just takes some time to claim and receive the money back from the airlines,” he said, adding that the workload at the company’s customer care centers was “unprecedented,” leading to delays.

“Most travelers will never know the name of the bus that took them from the airport to the hotel, or that it was paid for 60 days ago and their hotel was paid for a while ago,” said Jeff Ment, a travel industry lawyer. “When you’ve paid for a trip, that money goes to all those parts of your trip, and for that O.T.A. to get it back is very difficult.”

Chris Anderson, a professor at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration echoed this. “A lot more interaction has to happen between staff at the online travel agent and staff at the hotel before a refund or credit can be offered, so it’s no longer a simple online transaction,” Mr. Anderson said.

Instead of reaching out to a hotel after a customer requests a refund, Mr. Fazal said, SnapTravel representatives have been asked by hotels that are also overwhelmed by people hoping to cancel, to gather requests for refunds and send them in bulk, rather than as they occur. A refund process that usually would take two to three days to get necessary approvals may now take several weeks, he said.

Many travelers say they have been caught in limbo between the online agency and the actual provider of the service. Brad Tinnin is one of them.

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