Trip Cancellations and Refund Rights

must know

  • Almost one in two Australians have had to cancel travel plans since the start of the pandemic
  • In 2021, we reported that less than one in five grounded travelers we surveyed received a full refund
  • In our submission to the NSW Government, we are calling for mandatory information standards that let travelers know the terms of the deal when they book

It’s been a tough two years for would-be travellers, many of whom have found that companies seem to make their own rules when travel plans are cancelled.

Since March 2020, almost half (47%) of Australians have had to cancel their travel plans due to COVID-19 risks, border closures or lockdowns.

Since March 2020, almost half (47%) of Australians have had to cancel their travel plans due to COVID-19 risks, border closures or lockdowns

In July last year, we reported that less than one in five of the 4,060 respondents had received a full refund after their trips were scuttled in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Since then, we have heard from many others who have also found themselves empty-handed and unsure of their rights.

Terms and conditions keep customers guessing

The terms and conditions that allowed travel suppliers to keep people’s money were often selfish and convoluted, leaving customers both confused and out of pocket.

Instead of refunds, many received travel credits with their own restrictions, including expiration dates set too early.

As a follow-up to our investigations, we have made a number of recommendations to governments to improve the customer experience in the travel industry.

One of these, a mandatory disclosure standard, is currently under consideration in New South Wales.

Clear disclosure

In a recent survey submission, we argue that travel customers should know the terms of the deal when they book and not be caught off guard by tricky terms.

“The NSW Government has come up with an Australian first information standard to make travel bookings clearer and fairer for consumers,” said CHOICE Campaigns Director Erin Turner. “We hope NSW is the first of many states to introduce this much needed reform.”

What CHOICE asks for

The mandatory disclosure standard that we are calling for requires a number of improvements. One of them is that all travel suppliers (including cruise ship operators, car rental companies, tour operators and online booking platforms of all kinds) must provide the following information at the time of the reservation:

  • Clear disclosure of the amount of money that will be returned to customers in the event of cancellation, and a detailed list of any money that will be retained by the travel supplier
  • A clear explanation of how customers can request refunds and other remedies, how long it will take, and how they can file a complaint if they are unsatisfied
  • Clear disclosure by travel intermediaries such as travel agencies and online booking sites of the remedies available to customers in the event of trip cancellation and the charges they may withhold
  • A standard disclosure form used by all travel suppliers that uses simple and consistent language.

Raising the standards

We are also calling for reforms that will make it easier to get refunds, make travel credits and vouchers fairer, and raise standards of customer service in the travel and tourism industry.

“By requiring travel suppliers to disclose key terms at the time of booking, Australians will be more confident in booking travel in uncertain times,” says Turner. “We need to know what will happen if a booking needs to be canceled and what charges will apply.

Too many people have lost money to poor practices and unclear terms in the past two years

Erin Turner, Director of CHOICE Campaigns

“Too many people have lost money to poor practice and unclear terms over the past two years – this NSW Travel Information Standard is a great start to tackling that problem.”

We will soon report on the experiences of customers who have received travel credits or vouchers.

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