Kiwi.com is one of the smaller companies known as Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) which includes big names like Expedia.com, Priceline.com, Kayak, and many small businesses. While some specialize in a particular segment, like SnapTravel, which helps people book hotels, they often serve as one-stop-shops for travel that may involve flights, rental cars, and hotels.
Under normal circumstances, getting a refund from an OTA is a fairly straightforward process. A traveler contacts the third-party booking site and requests a refund, and the third-party contacts the airline or hotel to process the refund. This is if the traveler has booked a refundable rate, which many people who wanted to cancel their plans did not.
On social media and in emails to The Times, many travelers have complained that it has been particularly difficult to get help from their OTAs during the coronavirus pandemic. A website, Bookit.com, has completely suspended operations and has asked customers to contact their credit card company for assistance.
Here is what happened.
They were overwhelmed by the “panic day”
Agencies say they are overwhelmed by the immediate spike in travelers seeking to cancel.
“On Wednesday Tom Hanks said he had coronavirus and the NBA season ended on a panic day,” said Hussein Fazal, chief executive of SnapTravel. “Everyone in the United States started to panic, we saw a spike in volume, and then the travel bans came in. “
“We get hundreds of thousands of additional calls every day,” said Sarah Waffle Gavin, vice president of global communications and corporate branding at Expedia, which includes sites like Orbitz and HomeAway under her umbrella. “If that was the only problem, we could totally solve it. “
Expedia’s call volumes were five to seven times higher than average, representing thousands more calls than it would normally receive, even during its busiest times. VRBO, the home reservation site, has seen its call volume increase by over 300%.