COVID-19 ruined journey plans in 2020, so how will you e book with confidence this yr?
Australians are fortunate enough to be able to think about domestic travel, but even in a country with very low COVID-19 transmission, bookings are not a safe bet.
We have seen how quickly a hotel quarantine leak can lead to an early lockdown, hotspot declaration, border closings, canceled flights and, when it comes to the hopeful traveler, a possible refund request.
In 2020, the Australian Competition and Consumers Commission (ACCC) received 126,412 complaints about travel companies and airlines because Australians were forced to abandon previously paid itineraries.
Some of the most common issues included issues with refunds or credit when trip was canceled due to the pandemic.
Unfortunately, this isn’t everyone who believes they are eligible for a refund. So before you book anything else, be sure to keep this advice in mind.
Offers are popping up that entice consumers to book flights, accommodations and more. However, before you commit, it is important to read the terms and conditions.
According to consumer group Choice, there are some shortcuts to finding things that matter.
“When reading the terms and conditions, look for words like cancellation, refund, credit, force majeure, frustrated contract,” campaign director Erin Turner told ABC.
“If you have a digital copy of the terms and conditions, use the search function as a link.
“These terms will help you find the most relevant sections of even the longest travel contract.”
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Ms. Turner said the terms and conditions should make it clear when and under what conditions a refund can be expected.
“Look for terms that might limit when you can get a refund. For example, some contracts may only offer a refund if the travel company cancels, not if you have to cancel,” she said.
“Others may only offer a refund in certain circumstances or for a certain period of time.”
An ACCC spokesman said consumers need to understand their rights if a trip is canceled due to three different scenarios: “The company cancels the booking, you cancel the booking, or the booking cannot proceed due to government restrictions.”
“Note that normal protections under the Consumer Warranty provisions of the Australian Consumer Code are unlikely to apply to cancellations caused by government restrictions,” he said.
“In such circumstances, your right to a refund or other remedial action is likely to depend on the terms of your booking.”
If after reading the terms and conditions you are unsure whether you are eligible for a refund, you should consider another booking.
Knowing the details of the deal you are entering into will help you better assess the risk.
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The problem with prepayments
During the pandemic, many travelers told ABC that they had paid for their trips early.
In some cases, people had paid for the flights or tours in full months or even a year prior to their departure.
If you prepay this far, you’ll need all of the documentation to apply for a refund.
Choice’s top tip for booking travel in 2021 is “Document Everything”.
“Keep copies of the records, take screenshots,” said Ms. Turner.
“We know terms and conditions feel like boring read, but every airline, accommodation provider and tourist attraction can have very different terms in their contracts that can change in the blink of an eye.
“It is important to keep track of the terms and conditions at the time of booking as they are bound by them.
“You cannot change your contract afterwards.”
Consider booking options that don’t require you to prepay and vendors that offer a cooling off period.
“Look for companies that offer more flexible policies and allow payment closer to departure when there is more security about the itinerary,” said the ACCC spokesman.
“It can be worth paying more for a booking with flexible change and cancellation policies.”
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First, dive deep into the company
In our digital world, it is easier than ever to check the reviews of an airline, a hotel or a travel agent.
Specifically, looking at reviews from customers whose trip has been canceled will help you decide who to book with.
Choice also recommends that you obtain the COVID-19 guidelines in writing – regardless of whether you are booking with a large international hotel chain or a small caravan park.
“Unless they clearly offer a flexible booking option, ask for one,” Ms. Turner said.
“You may even be able to negotiate more flexible terms than the standard offer or terms.
“Some websites can help you filter only on flexible options.”
Gone are the days of last minute travel. Australians need to spend time planning their trip, say experts (ABC Far North: Brendan Mounter)
And as you read the fine print, look past any claims of “worry-free” booking.
“Be careful about selling ‘risk-free’ or ‘100 percent refund guarantee’ offers as they may misrepresent your right to a refund for canceled trips,” the ACCC spokesman said.
Even if promotional material promises you a refund, check the terms and conditions as there is always the possibility that claims are misleading.
“Be aware that some travel offers may contain restrictive or onerous terms and conditions that may limit your right to change or cancel your booking,” said the ACCC spokesman.
Think twice before using third parties
Ms. Turner also said that consumers should be careful about third parties and their terms.
“Sometimes travel comparison websites or travel agents are more expensive, have stricter cancellation policies, charge cancellation fees and make it difficult to find a solution with the main provider,” she said.
“While you may receive help from third-party vendors, you must carefully review their terms and fees.”
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Using a third party may mean a second set of terms and conditions.
“One of the difficulties with using a third party when booking travel is that if something goes wrong you have to refer to the terms and conditions, as well as the terms and conditions of your airline or property. It can make things more confusing and time-consuming,” Ms. said Gymnast.
Control the things that you can
Gone are the days of traveling on a whim. We have to plan everything.
“Be aware of the local restrictions before choosing your destination and any requirements that you must meet to travel to and from that destination,” said the ACCC spokesman.
“Plan your trip carefully – it may be easier to cancel your trip if you’re only going to one destination and limit the number of travel services you can book at the same time.
“Be aware of your individual circumstances and the risks associated with travel prior to booking as a refund is less likely if you cancel the booking.”
Is travel insurance valid during COVID-19?
There are a handful of guidelines that cover traveling during the pandemic, but again, you need to read the terms and conditions very carefully.
The Australian Insurance Council recommends that you review the policy’s product disclosure statement to ensure you are covered for the type of trip you have booked.
“There are national and international guidelines, but you have to tailor them to your needs and make sure they fit the trip you are booking,” a council spokeswoman told ABC.