Commissioner's Blog: Happy Holidays
Travel buying tips to avoid holiday hell
The recent collapse of a travel agent business in WA and similar instances over East should send a warning to Australians looking to buy airfares and/or holiday accommodation.
Consumers who had paid cash, in person or by direct bank transfer, for travel services lost their money when the agent failed to pass funds on to suppliers or cancelled booked travel arrangements and kept the refunds. A number of these businesses specialised in providing travel services to particular community groups. None of the agents were members of an industry accreditation scheme.
Whether booking through an agent in person or online, you have rights under the Australian Consumer Law but you can protect yourself further by following these tips:
When looking for a travel agent, check:
- they are accredited (for example, through the Australian Federation of Travel Agents accreditation scheme - ATAS). ATAS members are bound by a Charter and Code of Conduct and required to abide by standards of industry practice including having formal complaint handling processes.
- whether the agent offers insurance to cover the collapse of carriers and travel agents in their group.
- they advertise their services and any deals clearly and accurately. Carefully read and question the terms and conditions especially on special promotions, discounted fares and membership offers. Seek explanations if there is anything you do not understand.
- you can pay by credit card or by selecting ‘credit’ on a MasterCard or Visa debit card. You may pay a bit extra in merchant fees but you can seek a chargeback from your bank or card provider if you don’t get what you paid for (time limits post purchase may apply). Remember if you pay cash and your travel or supplier becomes insolvent it can be very difficult to get your money back.
- whether there is a cancellation fee for transport, accommodation if you are unable to travel.
- before paying a deposit whether it is refundable, or if a percentage may be kept to cover the agent’s cost.
- if payment of a deposit means the price of a trip is fixed so that you are not required to pay more if the price of the trip increases.
- how long you have to wait for your ticket and other documents if you pay your fare before the departure date (normally within two weeks unless other arrangements have been made).
When buying from online sellers, check:
- you are dealing with a reputable travel agent and that they have a good reputation. For example, search the business name and read online reviews.
- their contact details, such as phone number and email address, are on their website
- the website payments page includes security features, such as a padlock symbol and address starting with ‘https://’
- they display clear processes for solving problems and giving replacements and refunds. If using an ATAS (www.atas.com.au/) accredited travel agent they should have dispute resolution systems in place.
If things go wrong
- If an airline refuses to allow you to board due to overbooking insist on being provided with meals and accommodation until their airline arranges a seat for you on the next available flight.
- If hotels or tour operators refuse to honour a voucher or a letter issued by the travel agent or tour operator, which confirms the booking, you can:
- speak to the manager on duty and get a written confirmation of their refusal to accept the booking
- keep records of any additional expenses incurred
- notify any industry organisation that the travel agent is a member of, such as the Australian Federation Travel Agents (AFTA), to notify them of the problems you have experienced
- contact Consumer Protection (email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1300 30 40 54) for assistance and advice on your options, or to alert us that the travel provider may no longer be operating.
REMEMBER! Always take out comprehensive travel insurance when travelling, and check for circumstances and activities that are not covered by your policies.
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