Dear Tripped Up,
Earlier this year, I used STA Travel to book a British Airways flight from Tucson, Ariz., to South Africa, scheduled to depart in March. Then the pandemic hit, one of the flight legs was canceled and I canceled my trip. After some back and forth, STA secured a refund from British Airways. I was told by an STA representative that my airfare — $2,059.36 — would be credited back to my credit card account within 60 days. Two months came and went. Then I learned that STA had gone out of business. Kaitlin
When I first read your email, I was hit with an inkling of hope that your credit card company could rush in and save the day. Still, I set off to learn more about the laws and policies at play, so I did usually do when I start a Tripped Up column: I emailed some industry sources and started a Google Doc to organize my thoughts.
The notes became a rabbit hole, expanding with news coverage of STA’s collapse, a list of potential interview subjects, email addresses for international press offices and lengthy financial documents. From the chicken scratch, one truth emerged: Anyone attempting to recoup funds from an out-of-business company will likely confront uphill battles, tall orders and every other cliché in the book.
“In general, when a company goes into bankruptcy, basically it’s the vultures picking over the bones,” said Ira Rheingold, the executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit. “The last people who will get a piece of those bones are going to be the unsecured creditors: the consumers.”
Formerly a major travel agency for youth and student trips, STA Travel filed for bankruptcy in August after a crippling flurry of pandemic-related cancellations; it was the first major travel agency to fall because of the pandemic. Although STA’s Instagram account has been dormant for more than two months, the comments live on as a record of unanswered questions and in-limbo refunds: “I have a student that is needing an update on her refund status and there is literally no way to reach anyone,” wrote one user. “I wonder how many people got robbed of their hard-saved holiday money,” lamented another.
From the start, your case felt like a maze of sharp corners and dead ends. First I visited the STA Travel website: shut down. Then I emailed the customer service agent you had corresponded with: bounceback. When I reached out to the press office of Diethelm Keller Group, STA’s former parent company that is based in Switzerland, and I got the following statement back: “As STA Travel Holding AG is in insolvency proceedings, Diethelm Keller Group is not in a position to provide further support or information.”
I contacted the Arizona Attorney General’s office after discovering one address for STA in Arizona — possibly a franchise — but was told by a spokeswoman that all consumer complaints are confidential.
I considered calling