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National Express wouldn’t refund my ‘flexible’ ticket

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In December, I bought three National Express coach tickets to Newcastle for an event in February. I paid an additional £144 for extra luggage since we were taking equipment with us. The event got called off when the Omicron variant began spreading. I had purchased fully flexible tickets which guaranteed a full refund. However, when I cancelled, I was told that the booking fee and the extra luggage charge would be deducted from the refund. A £1 booking fee I could cope with, but the £144 luggage charge is a significant outlay and it was not made clear that this was exempt from the refund guarantee.
ATD, Chester

It would be bad enough if these exemptions to a “fully flexible” ticket were tucked away in the small print, but they’re not. They’re not mentioned anywhere on the National Express website. The ticket summary promises full refunds, minus the booking charge, up to 24 hours before travel. The terms and conditions state that “there are certain charges which are non-refundable (including, without limitation, booking fees)”. You would have no way of knowing that your excess baggage charge was lumped in with that.

National Express, in response to your complaint, wrote that it was sorry you were “unaware of our policy towards additional luggage” and claimed that it was classed as an “add-on” product, along with seat reservations, and was therefore non-refundable. “Add-ons” are not mentioned in the terms and conditions. Consumer law requires them to be clear, and key facts must be prominent at point of purchase. I put this to National Express which, having rejected your complaint three times, instantly did a U-turn.

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It said: “What is and isn’t included in a refund when purchasing a fully flexible ticket isn’t clear enough in our communications. We are now reviewing this so that it is highlighted at the point of sale and fully explained in our terms and conditions. Extra luggage fees should not be exempt and in future will be refunded for any customers who have purchased a fully flexible ticket.”

The luggage charge has now been refunded along with a goodwill gesture, but there may be many others who have been shortchanged.

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