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Travel agents are reporting a very high volume of enquiries about travel during the COVID-19 emergency, mostly about changing or cancelling travel plans and bookings.
Such is the public pressure on travel agents that The Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) has taken the unusual step of calling for patience and providing public information about what agents do and their limits in retrieving travellers’ money and changing bookings.
AFTA says travel agents act as agents. When you make a booking, in almost all circumstances, the funds are transferred to the travel supplier and are not held by the travel agent.
When you cancel a booking, the supplier, not the agent, determines whether you receive a credit or a refund depending on the terms and conditions of purchase.
If a refund is applicable, the agent has to wait for that money to be paid back to the agent before the agent is in a position to pass the money back to the consumer. Only if the end supplier is offering a credit, is the agent in a position to offer a credit.
In normal times, many airlines, cruise operators, tour companies and hotels take up to 12 weeks to process refunds. If applicable, travel agents will pass on the refund to you as soon as they have received the funds back from the supplier. In the current circumstances there are significant delays on top of this.
AFTA says these delays are not the fault of the travel agent but are due to government imposed restrictions.
“Travel agents are facing an incredibly high level of requests and please understand that they are doing all they can in the face of this pandemic to service consumers as best they are able,” AFTA says.
AFTA says the simple answer is “yes”. The ACCC has advised that if your travel is cancelled due to government restrictions, this changes your rights under the consumer guarantees. The terms and conditions of your contract will determine what cancellation/service fees may be applied. This may also include any ‘force majeure’ clause which may limit liability or detail what is to occur in such circumstances.
If this is not stipulated, the pandemic may give rise to what is called a ‘frustrated contract’ at common law or under legislation in some states. This allows ‘reasonable expenses’ to be deducted.
AFTA says travel agents, like everyone else, deserve to be paid for work that they do especially in situations like this which are not of their making and which are considerably more complex and time consuming than normal.
Travel agents make their revenue when they make the booking and the customer takes the travel, they do not receive revenue from suppliers for cancellations.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a very difficult set of circumstances for both travel agents and their customers. In some circumstances travel agents will charge a fee for the work being done to cancel or re-arrange bookings.
At the end of the day, make sure to stay patient, keep the lines of communication open and investigate what you are entitled to.
Disclaimer: National Seniors Australia has a relationship with the travel industry, through National Seniors Travel.