Many Australians have been unable to take their planned holidays due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Many Australians have been unable to take their planned holidays due to the coronavirus pandemic.

How COVID-19 hit travellers can get their money back

FURIOUS jetsetters who have had their travel plans thrown into disarray are being left waiting months to try and recoup their costs.

The tourism industry has been left bruised and battered in 2020, as many cash-strapped consumers have been left fighting to get their money back for dream holidays they cannot and may never be able to take.

While it's easier said than done to be patient, there are some simple steps consumers can take to try and get a resolution, whether that be getting their hard-earned money back in full or obtaining a credit they can use later.

TERMS AND CONDITIONS

As tedious as it is, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chair Rod Sims said it was critical to read the fine print on travel contracts.

"See whether there's anything there that says if the company cannot provide the service you get something other than a refund, such as a credit," he said.

"But it has to be something where the company cannot provide the service."

Travel firms are not allowed to change the rules around their refund policies on the contract that was entered into at the time of the booking.

Mr Sims said if the contract was "silent" on those terms and conditions and they could not provide the service, then quite often legally your contract was "frustrated and you should be entitled to get your money back for a contract that could not be fulfilled".

ACCC Chair Rod Sims said he was continuing to work with many companies who have failed to provide refunds to customers. Picture: Zak Simmonds
ACCC Chair Rod Sims said he was continuing to work with many companies who have failed to provide refunds to customers. Picture: Zak Simmonds

Mr Sims said he was continuing to work with many companies that were not providing refunds.

"We are looking at their terms and conditions and suggesting to them on many occasions that their policy on refunds is not appropriate, and on a very large number of occasions those companies have changed their policies," he said.

"We are working with these companies one by one but it helps to know which companies to talk to if people let us know who they are having trouble with.

"If we can get them to change their policy then everybody is looked after."

Travel giant Flight Centre was one of the worst offenders, and eventually buckled and dropped excessive charges that customers had to pay in order to get a refund on holidays they could no longer take.

WHERE TO COMPLAIN

Many irate customers have been waiting months to hear back from their provider about whether they can get a refund - which many prefer than a credit.

Mr Sims said it was important to make contact with the relevant booking company as soon as possible to try and work out a resolution with them.

"They should also let their local state's Fair Trading Office know because they can help in terms of disputes as they are on the ground," he said.

"Secondly, let us know at the ACCC."

Consumers can also lodge a complaint with the Australian Financial Complaints Authority.

CREDIT VOUCHERS

Many travellers have been livid after being told by their travel company they must accept a credit voucher and not a refund.

The ACCC says if you are in this position, under law you must make sure you have an expiration date that allows you enough time to use the credit note or voucher.

Some companies are extending these out a few years, but for older travellers this might not be good enough as they might never have the opportunity to travel overseas again because of their age.

Travellers may be given credits by companies they had made holiday bookings with.
Travellers may be given credits by companies they had made holiday bookings with.

FLIGHT CENTRE

Flight Centre has been the most prominent company coming under fire over the excessive charges it was pinging customers to get their money back.

The company's spokesman, Haydn Long, said within the next few weeks refunds would be flowing through to tens of thousands of customers.

"Within the next fortnight we think our people will be able to return funds to more than 20,000 customers in Australia," he said.

"This is in addition to the people who are opting for credit."

For those unsure what to do for travel to be taken a later date, Mr Long said it might be in the "customers' interests financially to wait and see".

He said this could be better than making a change to a longer-term forward booking right now.

"Suppliers tend to adopt short-term policies when it comes to waivers on booking cancellation or amendment fees, with a view of extending those waivers if required in the future," Mr Long said.

TRAVEL INSURANCE

Many travellers have had issues with their travel insurers, either not paying out their claims or because customers want a refund on their policy because they cannot take their holiday.

Comparetravelinsurance.com.au director Natalie Ball said confusion on travel insurance had heightened during the coronavirus pandemic.

"There isn't a straightforward answer to whether or not insurers are paying out on claims," she said.

"But in short, some travel insurers will cover you if your travel plans have been directly affected by the coronavirus, as long as you bought your policy before it became a 'known event'.

"Many insurers have specified dates declaring when this cut-off date is under their policy."

Ms Ball also said there were "extenuating circumstances" where more insurers would give customers credit-vouchers for unused portions of their policies or even refunds.

"Something that a lot of people are unaware of, unless they're unfortunate enough to have to use it, is that the cancellation benefit on a travel insurance policy starts from the day you purchase your policy," she said.

sophie.elsworth@news.com.au

@sophieelsworth

Originally published as How travellers can get their money back



Krav maga classes fighting for post-covid comeback

Premium Content Krav maga classes fighting for post-covid comeback

OF ALL businesses left struggling from Covid-19, those involving physical contact...

11 people to appear in Bundaberg Magistrates Court today

Premium Content 11 people to appear in Bundaberg Magistrates Court today

A list of those in court today