David Matthews, a Sydney based travel agent who doesn’t even specialise in cruise, has had a big win for one of his cruise clients – a refund of $35,000. But it took six months of  “patient negotiations”.

And Mr Matthews believes there are a large number of passengers who had cruises cancelled who don’t claim refunds  – because they wrongly think they are not entitled to their money back.

Since January 2020, more than 20,000 Australians have complained to the consumer watchdog about their experiences with the travel industry – a whopping 600 per cent increase from 2019.

And it’s believed that thousands of holiday-makers are still owed their refunds.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has advised that it expects refunds to be provided where:

  • the terms and conditions at the time of purchase specify you are entitled to a refund
  • you bought a ticket that was promoted as refundable
  • you were told you would receive a refund, even if the business later changed their mind
  • you have a right to a refund under state or territory legislation or common law.

Mr Matthews, who mainly sells hiking and camping holidays through his group, Aussie Explorers, only books around a dozen cruises a year. But a repeat customer who was adamant about booking a Princess Africa 2021 cruise, went ahead against his advice.

“My client had a future cruise credit which she opted to use to rebook a Princess cruise around Africa. She was insistent on going, because her friend had also booked the itinerary,” he explained.

“I had advised her against using her future cruise credit for over $35,000. But of course, we aren’t able to travel this year, I managed to secure her a full refund, despite a bit of too-ing and fro-ing. It took us six months of negotiations, of which we were initially denied a refund.

“But we finally got a win after pursuing the issue for months.”

Mr Matthews, who has had his own travel agency for 10 years, and has been in the industry for 25 years, said there is still a lot of confusion surrounding refunds and future cruise credits. Many travellers are entitled to a refund, despite being told otherwise.

“There is still muddiness around refunds and future cruise credit policies. Most people think they can’t get a refund if they have cancelled a cruise. But in fact, they can. Cruisers are able to get a refund, even if they cancel their cruise,” he said.

“The beauty about booking a holiday through a reputable travel agent is that if you’re stuck in a sticky situation, they’ll be able to help you out and advise you in the best way possible.

“While not all agents are doing right by their customers and clients, I’m just trying my best to get the best outcome for my clients. The key thing is perseverance and they key thing that helped my client get her refund back was the relationships that I have with Princess.”

Adam Glezer, consumer advocate from the Facebook group, Travel Industry Issues – The Need For Change for Australians, said he has parliamentary support to investigate legislative change around refunds.

“These issues are affecting tens if not hundreds of thousands of Australians. The reality is, the lack of consumer protection in Australia in situations such as the pandemic is a real issue and has to be resolved,” he said.

“I am the first to acknowledge that a number of travel agents are doing the right thing by their customers during an extremely trying time for them. They should be commended. What we are looking for is consistency across the board. Enacting legislation from the points raised in the motion will go a long way towards ensuring that”.
“I’ve spoken to a number of Federal MPs to make them aware of the issues we are facing when in comes to the lack of consumer protection”.
“We are in the middle of a campaign where constituents are also meeting with their Federal MPs to make them aware of their individual struggles as well as the bigger picture issues.”
“ I welcome the motion that the Honourable Kevin Andrews has put forward. I can’t thank him enough”.

Victorian MP Kevin Andrews earlier this week in parliament called for legislation that would provide consumers with a right to a refund if the service they paid for hasn’t been fulfilled due to situations outside of human control; establish a mandatory trust accounts for all travel agents, including online travel agents; provide transparent fee for service for all travel agents with no hidden costs; and ensure that supplier terms and conditions are provided to customers by travel agents.

“I have introduced a motion noting that many Australians have experienced difficulties in obtaining refunds for travel not able to be undertaken. This includes constituents who have raised the issue with me,” said Mr Andrews.

“The motion calls for legislation to provide for a refund in these circumstances, the establishment of trust accounts, transparent fees and the provision of Supplier Terms and Conditions to the consumer.”