The following is a press release from Massachusetts ASttorney General’s office Maura Healey submitted to SOURCE media.
BOSTON – An online travel agency will pay more than $500,000 to provide full refunds to over 500 Massachusetts consumers for allegedly withholding payment to hotels for reservations already paid for by consumers, collecting payments for travel reservations despite knowing they had been or would be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and refusing to pay refunds,
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced yesterday, December 9.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the AG’s Office has secured nearly $11.8 million in total travel refunds from various companies, resulting in payments to more than 5,700 consumers in Massachusetts.
In a proposed consent judgment filed in Suffolk Superior Court, the Florida-based BookIt Operating LLC d/b/a BookIt.com (BookIt) and its CEO and director Arthur Paul Finlaw have agreed that BookIt will pay $551,835 to 539 Massachusetts consumers.
All affected Massachusetts consumers will be made whole by the settlement, and on average, consumers will receive over $1,000, with some receiving more than $8,000.
“Unfortunately, we’ve seen travel companies take advantage of the COVID-19 crisis by cheating consumers and pocketing payments for canceled trips,” said Healey. “Our settlement with BookIt requires the company to pay back hundreds of Massachusetts consumers harmed by its illegal practices. My office has secured millions of dollars in travel refunds since the pandemic began, and our work continues to protect consumers and take action against companies that violate our laws.”
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the AG’s Consumer Advocacy and Response Division recovered $9.8 million in travel refunds for 1,046 consumers. The AG’s Consumer Protection Division, between the BookIt settlement and a settlement with travel company EF, has secured nearly $2 million in travel refunds for more than 4,700 consumers.
The AG’s Office sued BookIt in June 2020 after an investigation was initiated when the office received nearly 60 complaints from Massachusetts consumers who lost thousands of dollars. The AG’s complaint alleged that when BookIt suspended its business operations in March, the company also stopped paying hotels and resorts for reservations, including for reservations already in progress, leaving many consumers with no choice but to pay their hotels a second time for their stay. BookIt also closed all of its call centers so that consumers had no way to contact the company to seek a refund.
The AG’s complaint also alleged BookIt refused to refund consumers for cancelled reservations, even though the company either never paid or has received refunds from the hotels, resorts, and travel service providers for those cancelled reservations.
This matter was handled by Assistant Attorney General Samantha Shusterman, Division Chief Max Weinstein, and Paralegal Breana Beaudreault of the AG’s Consumer Protection Division, and Anthony Crespi of the Civil Investigations Division.
One consumer complained to the AG’s Office that she booked a March vacation to Cancun, Mexico, through BookIt. The consumer went on her trip as planned, but two days into her stay, the hotel where she was staying told her BookIt had not paid for her stay. Her only choice was to pay the hotel, even though she had already paid BookIt. As a result, the consumer ended her vacation early, but then couldn’t get her money back from BookIt.
Under the terms of the proposed consent judgment, BookIt will pay refunds to eligible Massachusetts consumers within 45 days of the court’s entry of the judgment. The Attorney General’s Office acknowledges BookIt’s cooperation in resolving this lawsuit and its agreement to make the payments for the benefit of its customers.
The AG’s Consumer Protection Division enforces Massachusetts’ consumer protection law and protects consumers from fraud, deception, and other unfair practices. For complaints or questions about the consumer protection law, consumers may file a complaint with the office or call 617-727-8400.