Managing and Prioritizing Airline Refunds During a Pandemic

Millions of dollars in unflown flights

Research conducted by Oversee shows that millions of dollars are still tied up in flights that are unlikely ever to be flown. With government advice and travel restrictions extending month-over-month, prioritizing and organizing refunds is high on every travel manager’s agenda. As IROPS, repatriation, and duty-of-care priorities abate, the financial implications and liquidity are fast becoming the most critical issue in travel management. Oversee Vice President of Marketing Chris Ulph spoke to Business Travel News last week to discuss the structural changes in the travel industry and the innovation that can support every facet of this unfolding situation.

Maximizing airfare refunds

Having deployed a module to the Oversee platform that automatically tracks refund policies, Chris and Oversee’s data analytics team were able to show that if a typical client of theirs canceled the next 60 days of flights from April 1st, 2020, Oversee clients would be able to leverage changing refund policies to achieve a 64% net refund on their committed air spend. Compare this to 2019, where around 30 – 40% of committed air spending is refunded. Oversee has been providing this through reporting while their developers were busy building the platform module; in the 60 days preceding April 1st this year, our clients have achieved a net refund of around 74% of their committed air spend. Support staff, front-line staff, and agents at Travel Management Companies are likely to have been furloughed during the COVID-19 epidemic to ensure reduced cash burn. This challenges Travel Managers who want their TMC to be more responsive now than ever when processing refunds and cancellations and dripping a triaged list of urgent or high-value PNRs to be canceled rather than an all-encompassing spreadsheet that must be used to avoid hitting bandwidth.

Voucher management

Some TMCs with a presence in North America may be far more familiar with airline vouchers than the rest of the world. Still, with millions of dollars worth of vouchers now awaiting the ‘day after tomorrow,’ it will be essential to triage and manage the expiry dates and terms to have a logical system when business travel starts returning to normal.

Future pricing strategies

Vouchers ensure immediate liquidity by avoiding direct cash refunds, Still, in the long term, using these vouchers will cause pricing issues for airlines as they seek to mitigate losses. “Expect pricing volatility while algorithms seek to catch up with fluctuating supply and demand combined with a plethora of travel vouchers,” Said Ulph, “This could be one of the best times for products to ensure market volatility doesn’t undo the financial achievements of travel managers in H1″.

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