When it comes to planning that special holiday, most travel agents, airlines and cruise companies provide an excellent service but, as with any significant purchase, it always pays to do your own research first.
Travel agents do not need a licence but they still have to comply with the requirements of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL). Under the ACL, travel products or services automatically come with a range of consumer guarantees and other protections. The consumer guarantees require travel agents to:
- provide services with an acceptable level of skill and technical knowledge
- take all necessary care to avoid causing loss or damage
- offer services that match the customer’s needs
- Should be transparent and never mislead the customer.
Check out the ‘pack some peace of mind’ video for a quick and easy reminder of your traveller rights.
Selecting an agent
If you want to book your travel through an agent, you should consider whether the agent:
- is a member of a recognised industry association, such as the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA)
- is accredited or has received another stamp of approval
- has any other industry-specific qualifications or training
- is affiliated with a chain or airline
- advertises their services and any deals clearly and accurately, and can provide further details when asked
- specialises in the type of travel you seek
- has insolvency insurance - covering supplier and travel agent collapse
- is willing to arrange the travel or holiday you want.
Find out if there are additional costs for services such as couriers and obtaining visas. Also, some agents may charge a cancellation fee if you decide against the trip.
Go to the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (ATAS) website to find out if a travel agent is accredited or for more information about accreditation.
Information from travel agents
Travel agents must:
- ensure that their promotional material is not false or misleading
- inform you of any increase in costs or changes as soon as possible
- quote accurate prices; surcharges must also be clear and not hidden
- provide accurate information regarding passports, visas, customs and health requirements.
If a travel agent breaches the ACL, you can apply to a court or tribunal for damages to cover any financial losses.
Feel free to ask plenty of questions, it's your holiday and your money.
When promoting travel and travel packages, suppliers are bound by the same rules of advertising as general retailers. These generally state that a supplier should not:
- mislead or deceive you
- make false or misleading claims about travel services.
Confirming your travel details
When booking a trip, make sure you confirm all the details including:
- the standard of accommodation
- the exact location and time of departure
- any extra charges for tours, tickets, meals, local charges, transfers or accommodation
- passport and visa requirements, expiry dates, entry and re-entry permits
- vaccination and health regulations
- special conditions of the holiday.
Deposits, pre-payments and cancellations
Before paying a deposit for a trip, check whether it is refundable. Payment of a deposit doesn’t mean the price of a trip is fixed, you may have to pay more if the price of the trip increases.
Travel agents may ask you to pay your fare well before the departure date. Ask the travel agent when your ticket and other documents will be available before making the payment. Your documents will normally be available within two weeks unless other arrangements have been made.
You should check if there is a cancellation fee for transport, accommodation, etc if you’re unable to travel.
If something unexpected happens before or during your trip, travel insurance can cover the loss of the deposit or cancellation fees, medical expenses, personal liability, loss or theft of baggage and travel documents. Not all insurers offer the same conditions so shop around for a policy that suits your needs.
If a claim is rejected, you can lodge a complaint with the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS), previously Insurance Ombudsman Service. Go to www.fos.org.au for the details.
If things go wrong
If there are disruptions or cancellations and they’re not your fault, you have a range of options. These options are the same whether you purchase travel from an Australian business in-store or online, or from an online overseas business.
Chargeback is a refund service if you paid using credit card. It may be possible for you to request a chargeback from your credit card provider if:
- services that you have ordered have not been provided, yet your credit card has been charged
- a transaction is made with your credit card without your approval or authorisation.
A time limit applies. Contact your credit card provider for more information.
Disputes with an airline
If an airline doesn’t allow you to board because they overbooked, you should insist on being provided with meals and accommodation until their airline arranges a seat for you on the next available flight.
If you have a dispute about domestic travel with an airline, the Airline Customer Advocate (ACA) provides a free and independent service resolution service to customers of major Australian airlines.
- Virgin Australia
The ACA can be contacted on 1800 813 129 or www.airlinecustomeradvocate.com.au
The NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal can’t make decisions on consumer claims relating to:
- air carriage - international, interstate and intrastate
- most sea carriage or cruises – international or within Australian waters.
Disputes with local travel operators
If hotels or tour operators refuse to honour a voucher or a letter issued by the travel agent or tour operator, you should speak to the manager on duty and get a written confirmation of their refusal to accept the booking. You should keep records of any additional expenses incurred. If the travel agent is a member of a trade organisation such as the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) you should contact them and explain the situation.
If you have a dispute with a travel provider, contact the provider first and try to resolve the issue with them directly. If the trader is located in Australia and you cannot settle the problem, contact the NSW Fair Trading on 13 32 20 or lodge an enquiry or complaint on our website.
Disputes with overseas travel operators
If the trader is not located in Australia and you’re unable to resolve the issue with the trader, contact the consumer protection body in the country where the trader is located and ask for their help. You can also lodge a complaint through the www.econsumer.gov
Case study: travel - read about Karen and how her dream holiday turned into a nightmare.