A number of Ryanair customers who received refunds for flights disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic will be barred from travelling with the budget airline again unless they return the money, according to Money Saving Expert.

The UK’s biggest consumer website, founded by cash-saving guru Martin Lewis, has found holidaymakers who booked flights this year as Covid travel restrictions eased have been told they could only fly if they give back refunds.

In one case the customer was informed just days before they were due to travel.

Ryanair customers were told they could only travel if they returned between £400 and £630

MoneySavingExpert.com has reported a number of cases highlighted on the MSE Forum and on social media.

Three passengers told they could not fly until they returned the previously refunded cash and in at least two instances, customers were contacted by Ryanair's fraud department about the refunds.

One passenger told MSE: "Travelling with Covid restrictions is stressful but this totally unforeseen payment demand took stress to a new level.

"Ryanair took a new booking for flights and surprised me when I tried to check in online three days before travelling to discover this demand."

Ryanair did offer to return the money for this year's flights if the three customers did not repay the chargeback – however, in one case, a passenger stood to lose hundreds of pounds in accommodation, car hire and Covid testing costs if they did not travel.

Ryanair says its T&Cs state that if flights still go ahead they are non-refundable, and that the airline can deny boarding to customers who have "recharged against us" for a previous flight.

Bournemouth Echo: Three passengers told they could not fly until they returned the previously refunded cash. (PA)Three passengers told they could not fly until they returned the previously refunded cash. (PA)

Money Saving Expert Editor slams ‘outrageous’ Ryanair stance

Guy Anker, deputy editor at MoneySavingExpert.com said: "This is absolutely outrageous behaviour from Ryanair. It essentially had these passengers over a barrel shortly before their holiday at a point which turned excitement into stress and anxiety. And by its fraud department collecting the money, passengers could be forgiven for feeling scared and thinking Ryanair considers they are somehow in trouble.

"Some may have sympathy for Ryanair given it incurred the costs of the original flights that did go ahead that passengers chose not to take.

"However, it's then used up any sympathy by the way it's treated holidaymakers afterwards. If Ryanair wants to ban people for getting a refund that the card companies judge was fair, that leaves a sour taste in the mouth, but to let them book a holiday and only tell them this news at the last minute shows no regard for fellow human beings.”

He added: "If this has happened to you, then you have official complaints channels you can use to try to free yourself of the 'debt', while you'd be forgiven for choosing another airline.

"But don't let this put you off using chargeback. It is still a very useful scheme and we don't recall ever seeing an incident such as this before. However, there is clearly a risk if companies conduct themselves as Ryanair has done – so if you use chargeback to claim money back from Ryanair, and you want to make a future booking with the budget airline, it's best to check your status with it first."

What was Ryanair’s response?

A Ryanair spokesperson said the following statement applies to all of the cases MSE put to it, despite it being addressed specifically to one: "Mr Johnston initiated a chargeback via his bank for the value of his flights. However, refunds are only permitted for cancelled flights so the outstanding balance was added to Mr Johnston's Ryanair account as this is still owed to Ryanair.

"Ryanair flights that operate as scheduled are non-refundable – this is clearly outlined in Ryanair's T&Cs agreed by the customer at the time of booking."

When MSE asked Ryanair why it processed and accepted payments for new bookings before telling customers they owed it money, it said that in all three cases it offered full refunds for the new flights if customers didn't want to repay the chargeback refund.

The airline's T&Cs state: "We may refuse to carry you or your baggage on any flights operated by an airline of the Ryanair Group, if... you owe us any money in respect of a previous flight owing to payment having been dishonoured, denied or recharged against us."

For Ryanair customers who have been told they need to repay a chargeback refund before they can fly, or paid the chargeback and want a refund, MSE has details on how to complain and what to try