The Battle to Get Ticket Refunds for Cancelled Festivals

As festivals around the world postpone or cancel due to coronavirus, ticket-holders are struggling to get their money back.
05 May 2020, 4:38am
How Can I Get My Money Back If a Festival Cancels?
Photo by VICE staff.

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

Ruby Smith normally goes on one holiday a year – usually to a festival somewhere in the UK, like Glastonbury. This year, however, she and her boyfriend decided to head abroad to Primavera Sound in Barcelona, combining a music festival with a trip to the Spanish capital. It would be the first time in their eight-year relationship that they had gone abroad together. Then, coronavirus hit.

“I've always wanted to go to Primavera,” Smith tells me over the phone. “Me and my partner literally never go on holiday. We were like, 'Let’s save up and actually do something this year.' [The current situation] feels a bit like, ‘Oh, right. OK.”

The festival industry has been hit hard by the pandemic. On the 18th of March, Glastonbury festival cancelled its 50th anniversary, marking the beginning of a wave of festival cancellations across the world. Faced with the choice of putting ticket-holders in danger or losing huge amounts of money, some festivals haven’t cancelled, instead opting to reschedule to later in the year. Other festivals have – optimistically – not announced changes to their schedule, hoping that things will be back to normal by the summer.

For those with tickets to cancelled or postponed events, the fight to get a refund or even clarity from their festival can prove frustrating. Smith alleges that she was never contacted personally about Primavera’s decision to postpone the event to August. “It was crazy. I had assumed that they would contact us,” she explains. “It actually happened that a girl from work messaged me and said, ‘Oh my god, have you seen that Primavera's been postponed?’ I assumed they'd contact the people who bought tickets first before they'd post on their Instagram.”

Despite messaging the festival directly on Instagram and posting on the account, Smith says that she is still unclear about whether she can get a refund. “It's just really frustrating above all,” she says. “A lot of [my friends] have really lost faith in them as a company. Maybe it was ignorance but you just expect when something like this happens, you could just get a refund.”

Other ticket-holders for Primavera Sound have struggled with the lack of clarity on the situation. Pete, a UK citizen currently based in New Zealand, tells me he’s worried about getting a refund.

“I was paying for my ticket on an instalment plan,” says Pete. “Primavera hasn’t handled the situation well at all in my eyes. Pretty much silence for the first few weeks, followed by a change in date with no offer of refunds for those who can’t make the new date, all while continuing to take instalment payments for tickets and even actively promoting the festival at times."

He adds: “It all seems incredibly inappropriate and tone-deaf given the current circumstances. Some clarity from the organisers would be greatly appreciated.”

VICE UK reached out to Primavera, who say that they never ruled out ticket refunds. A spokesperson said: “During the 'state of alarm' in Spain, product refunds are interrupted in accordance with 'Royal Decree Law 8/2020 of 17 March on urgent extraordinary measures to deal with the economic and social impact of COVID-19: Article 21'.”

They continued: “Primavera Sound is contemplating various solutions for this edition’s ticket holders, which will be announced after the state of alarm decreed by the Spanish government. One of these solutions, among others, will be the refund. If we cannot give more information about the refunds at this time, it is because we are waiting for the legal framework on this matter to be defined. If we were to do so before, we would not be guaranteeing legal certainty either for our festival or for our ticket holders. We want to inform our customers on the basis of certainties, not speculations.”

Primavera ticket-holders aren't the only ones navigating coronavirus cancellations. Sophie bought a ticket to Mad Cool festival in Madrid after it secured the European festival appearance of Taylor Swift. The festival has not yet officially cancelled or postponed but with only a few months to go, many believe it will not be going ahead.

“Until about two weeks ago,” Sophie tells me, “[Mad Cool] continued to tweet as if there wasn't a global pandemic happening around them. They were ignoring tweets from people who were asking for an answer or a statement, just putting out filler tweets and there's still no information going forward about how we can get our money back.”

Sophie says that she has tweeted the festival and emailed them for information, but to no avail.

“The only information we can get back from our ticket provider who won't provide a full refund,” she continues, “only an e-voucher to be used towards a festival next year.”

This has caused a huge amount of stress for Sophie and her boyfriend. “It's definitely been really, really infuriating,” she says. "It's been so frustrating to see how other festivals are taking actions and all we can get from Mad Cool is that Taylor Swift isn't playing.”

VICE reached out to Mad Cool festival who did not offer a comment at the time of publishing

So, what can ticket-holders do if the festival they had hoped to attend won't provide information on refunds? Adam French, a consumer rights expert at Which? told VICE: "Many festivals have been cancelled due to the coronavirus crisis, so festival-goers will understandably be concerned about whether they can get a refund."

"A number of festival organisers have advised customers to hold onto their tickets as they will be valid next year, however they should still be able to request a refund of the ticket's face-value price if they can no longer attend,” he continued. “If the festival is still scheduled to go ahead as planned, then it is unlikely you'll be able to claim a refund if you choose not to attend.”

French had another trick for getting a refund if the festival still won’t offer one: "If you are struggling to claim a refund for a cancelled festival from the organisers and you bought the tickets by card, then it is worth contacting your bank to try and get your money back using chargeback or section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, depending on how you paid and the price of the ticket."

Smith, Peter and thousands of festival-lovers like them won't be vibing to Young Thug in the hot Barcelona sun this year, but let's hope that they can at least claim their money back.