I was shocked to see the news about the first Christchurch earthquake. While it was fortunate that no one died, we had booked to travel to Christchurch for a family holiday in only one month’s time. After doing some research about earthquake aftershocks we quickly realised that we definitely did not want to stay in the inner city Christchurch accommodation we had booked, and also that a couple of the tours we had booked could be an issue. As a result we commenced the process to make quite a few cancellations and changes to our holiday bookings.
We had independently booked our whole trip, and for each booking at the time we had quickly reviewed the terms and conditions before committing. we went back and more closely scrutinised the terms and conditions documents and we were relieved to see that we were in time to be able to cancel those bookings without having to pay any cancellation fees.
Our Trip Cancellation Experiences
We started the process to make the cancellations and it was an interesting experience. The inner city Christchurch accommodation provider was very gracious and cancellation was no issue, although at the time we suspected that from a business perspective they were at real risk of going bankrupt if every person cancelled their booking.
We also cancelled two other pre-booked tours and had quite different experiences. For one tour we had paid a substantial amount of money up front. Following an exchange of emails we received a full refund within 2 business days into our account. No problem.
For the other tour operator the cancellation process was a lot more difficult. We rang them to advise of our cancellation, and then followed up with an email as requested. After seeing no sign of a refund into our account within a couple of weeks we followed up again and was told they could not find our information, and we had to send it in again.
A couple of weeks after that we followed up again and was told that it was still being processed. At the time we asked for details of their manager so that we could follow it up at a higher level, and that was enough of a threat that we received the refund within the following week. We did not receive that refund until after we had completed our trip.
Tips to Book Your Holiday
When you start the process to book your next holiday, whether it is through a travel agent or online, you have protection under Australian Consumer Law, and similar laws also apply in other countries. But it is also a case of ‘buyer beware’ when you select your holiday providers. Here are six quick tips to ensure you can confidently make your holiday bookings.
1. Book through a reputable agency or supplier
Before you make a booking ask your friends for recommendations, read reviews and check whether the supplier or agent has accreditation, for example through the Australian Travel Accreditation Scheme (ATAS) which requires members to comply with a Code of Conduct.
2. Pay for Travel Using Credit
If you pay for your travel booking with a credit card or by selecting ‘credit’ on a Mastercard or Visa debit card, you may be able to seek a chargeback from your bank if you don’t get what you paid for.
3. Read All Terms and Conditions
Read all terms and conditions and be sure you understand them before committing to the booking, so you know your options if you need to change or cancel your booking.
4. Protect Your Consumer Rights
Your usual consumer rights apply whether you shop with an Australian or overseas business. However you might find it more difficult to get a problem solved with an overseas business.
5. Ensure Online Transactions are Secure
Look for basic security features when booking online, such as a padlock symbol or ‘https://’ on the payment page address bar.
6. Book Travel Insurance
Book travel insurance for your holiday as soon as you are ready to start making bookings. Then if an unexpected event occurs you may have coverage to assist with minimising your expenses to change or cancel your trip.
Travel insurance will also help to cover you for other things which could go wrong on your trip, however often travel insurance will not cover you if a travel provider ceases trading. Again check the terms and conditions of your travel insurance before finalising your policy.
Options to Obtain Assistance With Travel Booking Issues
But what would have happened if we still had not received the refund after those attempts? At the time we were unclear of what our next course of action would be to attempt to recover our money.
Having since done some further research here are my tips for travellers to get help to recover their money or seek assistance with booking issues if things don’t go to plan.
- If you booked through a travel agent then go back to them to seek assistance.
- If you are using an accredited provider you can seek support through their accreditation scheme.
- If you have booked with your credit card, you can contact your bank to seek a charge back.
- If you have travel insurance then go to them to seek assistance.
- If you have an issue with an airline that participates in the Airline Customer Advocate (ACA) scheme, you can contact the ACA directly to seek assistance.
Other Options to Seek Assistance with Holiday Booking Issues
Your Australian state or territory consumer protection agency can help you to understand your rights or to assist with resolving a dispute with a business.
This article was written in collaboration with Australia’s Consumer Protection Agencies.
How do you protect yourself when booking your holidays? Please respond in the comments below.