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consumers
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Buying travel 

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 take care and know who you are buying from.

Travel agents 

Since 1 July 2014, travel agents have not required a licence, however they will still have to comply with the requirements of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL). If you buy travel through a travel agent operating in Australia, you will continue to have rights and access to remedies if something goes wrong. 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, and to take all necessary care to avoid causing loss or damage to their customers.

Travel agents (and other travel providers) must also offer services that will be reasonably fit for purpose or that will give the result you paid for. Travel agents must take care not to act unconscionably or make false or misleading representations and they also must not include unfair terms in any standard form contract presented to you.

Check out the Pack some peace of mind video for a quick and easy reminder of your traveller rights and the steps you can take to protect your travel bookings. The video is an initiative of Australia's consumer protection agencies.

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Selecting an agent 

Most travel agents provide good service but it pays to shop around to find the deal that suits you.

If you are seeking travel services from a travel 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. An agent may offer discounts for an affiliated chain or airline that you prefer. However, you could miss out on opportunities or deals from companies they do not deal with
  • 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. Some agents may charge you for services such as couriers and obtaining visas. Also, some agents may charge a cancellation fee if you decide against the trip.

To find out if a travel agent is accredited or for more information about accreditation and travel agents, go to the Australian Federation of Travel Agents ATAS website www.atas.com.au

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Information from travel agents 

Travel agents are required by law to provide accurate information to their customers. 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 may be able to apply to a court or tribunal for damages to cover any financial losses you may have suffered as a result.

Feel free to ask plenty of questions, it's your holiday and your money.

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Advertising 

In the promotion of 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.

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Confirming your travel details 

When booking a trip, make sure you confirm all the details of your trip 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.

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Deposits, pre-payments and cancellations 

Deposits

Before paying a deposit for a trip, check whether it is refundable, or if a percentage may be kept to cover the agent's cost. Payment of a deposit does not mean the price of a trip is fixed. You may be required to pay more if the price of the trip increases.

Pre-payments

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.

Cancellations

You should check if there is a cancellation fee for transport, accommodation, etc if you are unable to travel.

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Travel insurance 

Where a consumer’s circumstances change, such as an unforeseen event or ill-health, and they are unable to undertake travel or need to terminate their plans during their holiday, they may incur cancellation charges. These charges may vary depending on when cancellation occurred. In these circumstances, travel insurance can cover the loss of the deposit or cancellation fees, medical expenses incurred while on holiday, personal liability, loss or theft of baggage and travel documents.

Not all insurers offer the same conditions and consumers are urged to shop around for policies that suit their needs.

If a claim with an insurer is rejected, consumers can dispute the insurer’s decision by lodging a complaint with the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS), previously Insurance Ombudsman Service. View their website at www.fos.org.au for contact details.

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If things go wrong 

If you are facing disruption or cancellation of your travel plans and it is not your fault, you have a range of options. These are the same whether you purchase travel from an Australian business in-store or online, or from an online overseas business. However, you may find it harder to seek a remedy if something goes wrong with a travel purchase made with an overseas provider such as airlines and cruise companies.

Chargeback

Chargeback is a refund facility available from credit card providers. 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 may apply for the use of this facility. For further information regarding chargeback, contact your credit card provider.

Disputes with an airline

If an airline refuses to allow you to board due to overbooking, 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 to eligible customers of major Australian airlines by facilitating the resolution of current unresolved complaints about airline services.

Participating airlines:

  • Jetstar
  • Qantas
  • REX
  • Tigerair
  • Virgin Australia

The ACA can be contacted on 1800 813 129 or www.airlinecustomeradvocate.com.au

The NSW Civil And Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) does not have jurisdiction to make decisions on consumer claims relating to:

  • air carriage - international, interstate and intrastate
  • most sea carriage or cruises – international or within Australian waters.

Both air and sea carriage relates to carriage of passengers, baggage and cargo where a claim for damages, loss or delay is made.

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, which confirms the booking, 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 also notify that organisation, explaining the problems experienced.

If you have a dispute with a travel provider, try to contact provider to resolve the issue with them directly. If the trader is located in Australia and you cannot settle the problem by mutual agreement, then 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 have been unable resolved the issue through communication with the trader, you can contact the consumer protection body in the country where the trader is situated, and enquire whether they can help resolve the issue. You can also lodge a complaint through www.econsumer.gov

There are consumer protection agencies operating online which maintain a database of traders with a record of dubious trading activities. Some also maintain registers of traders abiding by national or international codes of practice for online trading.

Case study: travel - read about Karen and how her dream holiday turned into a nightmare...

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