Aussies everywhere are fighting battles to get refunds out of tourism operators for cancelled flights, hotels and other travel arrangements.
Also read: 5 easy ways to cut costs during coronavirus
Sixty-two per cent of us have lost up to $1,000 and one-third, $10,000, according to a new survey of more than 1000 Australians by comparison website Mozo.
The rest have lost even more, with one unlucky traveller surveyed losing a staggering $85,680.
Where people have received their ‘money back’ so far, often it’s been as a credit for future travel, rather than cold hard cash. And even this has taken weeks and months of calling and complaining.
What Jetstar customers need to know
In a major consumer victory, Jetstar recently officially confirmed to me that despite sending passengers an email implying only credits were available, if your flight has been cancelled, you can now get cash.
However, that change only kicked in on 24 June, when it en masse shelved most international flights out to 25 October.
Many people had already claimed credits… the airline encouraged it by setting a 30 June deadline for them. And where that’s the case, it’s refusing to convert them to cash. There are a lot of – rightly – annoyed people.
Many aggrieved customers have made comments like this on my consumer-rights Facebook page: “I was told for my March flight if I did not take a voucher, I would lose my money.
“I had a second flight booked for August which I was going to contact Jetstar to ask for a refund. I received an email on Monday telling me they had issued me with a voucher.”
Cruise company credit woes
Meanwhile, cruise ship company MSC appears to be ignoring its own terms and conditions in Australia and only offering credits.
In the words of one aggrieved customer: “They say they will only process refunds if the credit is not used by December 2021! In the US and UK, they are offering refunds.
“Throughout the pandemic they have been offering less to Australian customers and changing the policy and excuses repeatedly. Not expecting to see my $11,000 ever again.”
So I asked the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission where people stand… and the best ways for everyone with a booking they can’t use to negotiate to get cash rather than credit.
The ACCC’s advice to get a cash refund
In general, whether consumers are entitled to a credit note or a refund for travel bookings cancelled due to government restrictions will depend on the terms and conditions of their booking.
If you had a right to a refund under these terms and conditions at the time you purchased your ticket and the business only provided you with a credit, you are entitled to request a refund rather than a credit.
What about where you’ve already been provided a credit?
If you only had a right to a credit under the terms and conditions at the time you purchased your ticket, but at a later date the business amends its terms and conditions or introduces a new policy to provide for refunds, then it will be at the discretion of the business whether it converts credits previously provided to refunds.
And that’s where thousands of Jetstar customers find themselves: facing an airline that’s intractable on converting credits to cash. In its defence as well, giving outright refunds would be a damaging outlay in an embattled industry.
The ACCC adds that there are very strict rules around credit notes or vouchers, which providers have been scrambling to meet.
“It should have an expiration date which is long enough to allow you to use the credit note or voucher,” a spokesperson told me.
Since March, Jetstar’s have been effectively two years and you can use them across multiple bookings where previously you had only one shot at it.
And that’s not the end of your recourse if you’ve been wronged.
How you can fight back if you’ve lost money
“Depending on your circumstances, you may also have other rights under common law, contract or state legislation,” the ACCC spokesperson confirmed.
“State and territory consumer protection agencies may be able to assist with guidance or conciliation involving relevant state legislation. Consumers may also wish to seek independent legal advice about whether they may have a remedy under common law, contract or state legislation.”
What does the ACCC say about cruise company MSC (and by the way, Mozo’s survey found that nearly half of us will not go on a cruise in the future)?
MSC’s terms and conditions on their website state:
“15.2 If the cancellation is due to an event of Force Majeure and/or any unusual /or unforeseeable circumstances beyond the Company’s control, the consequences of which could not have been avoided by the Company even though it has exercised all due care, the Company will offer the Passenger the choice of:
a) Receiving a full refund of all money paid.”
Then come rebooking options.
And in a specific section on COVID-19 :
“For guests impacted by cancelled cruises through to 31 July please see Compensation Packages section below to find out how to redeem your 125 per cent Future Cruise Credit. For guests who do not wish to take advantage of our generous Future Cruise Credit offer we have a refund option available for these guests.”
This refund will be processed 60 days from departure date. If you request a refund 60 days after departure date, your refund will be processed within 30 days after request has been approved.
What about your post-Covid-19 travel plans?
“With many consumers still waiting for refunds following Covid-19 cancellations and footage of travellers being stretchered from cruise ships around the world still fresh in our minds, it’s little wonder the travel industry’s reputation has been bruised,” says Mozo director Kirsty Lamont.
Mozo’s survey found that despite airlines trying to entice travellers back into the skies with cheap airfares, three-out-of-four Australians (78 per cent) say they won’t buy cheap tickets… and who could blame them!
Further, almost a third won’t book travel through third party booking sites. Sadly, another third can’t afford to travel in the foreseeable future.
“Even with airlines offering cheap flights, it seems uncertainty and the recent refund and travel credit carnage many people have suffered far outweighs any possible savings.”
Tread carefully. And please let me know through my socials below if you have dramas getting your money back.