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How an army family lost their $28,000 Asia holiday

Fiona Coleman and her family had planned the ultimate holiday – a $28,000 trip to Asia which included flights, a voyage with Royal Caribbean, accommodation in Japan and rail tickets.

It was a dream come true, and a chance to celebrate one last family holiday before her eldest left school.

But now it has ended in heartbreak as the family have discovered they are among the alleged victims of travel agency Defence Escapes, which is facing claims it is refusing to refund service personnel.

Like tens of thousands of other travellers, the Coleman’s plans were put on ice when the pandemic hit. But Ms Coleman had not thought of her holiday for the last two years.

“We just had no reason to think about it – we were told that our money could be used for the following year,” she said. “Because I had booked with Defence Escapes for our last two holidays, I had trust that our money was safe.”

But the 47-year-old mum of four earlier last week found out her trust was misplaced.

“My sister had called me and said your travel agent is on A Current Affair. And that’s when the pieces of the puzzle started to come together,” said Ms Coleman.

“I had booked a holiday which my entire family were meant to take in May 2020. We had organised through Carolyn Nelson from Defence Escapes, a holiday around Japan which included rail tickets and accommodation, as well as a cruise the revamped Voyager of the Seas.”

Looking back, Ms Coleman said it was strange that she had received no flight tickets or booking reference numbers for either the cruise or their train journeys, even by January 2020.

“I thought it was extremely odd given that it was a short time till we were about to head overseas, and we still had no received a flight booking number.

“We had paid for the holiday in three deposits – a $10,000 bank transfer directly into her bank account, another $8,000 from my mother’s credit card and then a few days later, another $10,000 bank transfer.

“But when Covid started, we just dropped everything and kept in occasional contact with Carolyn.”

When it came to rebook the postponed family trip, Ms Coleman has been given the ring-around for the last few months, but with no avail to get her money back, or her holiday.

“We started communications again with Carolyn in 2021 who told us we could push our credits. But when we couldn’t travel in 2021, she had assured us the money was safe and was with third party suppliers. I had booked previous holidays with her, so I thought we were in safe hands. When this year came around, we started correspondence again with Carolyn to see when we could take our trip.

“But we didn’t get much of a response and I have tried multiple times to get her to rebook our trip. Finally, I said to her in an email that I would be contacting the Office of Fair Trading Queensland in order to find out what was happening.”

Ms Coleman received a letter from Fair Trading that said they would be investigating the matter. But it wasn’t till A Current Affairs’ expose that she decided she would go to the police to report Ms Nelson.

“It’s absolutely criminal that she has done this not only to me, but plenty of other people. And the more voices there are that speak up about what’s happened to them, the more we can prevent this from happening again.”

Adam Glezer from Consumer Champion said, “What I find particularly disappointing is that the agent blamed the travel providers for not returning the customer’s funds when it appears, they were holding the majority of them the entire time.

“Travel agents should never deceive their customers. Customers should be able to trust that their travel agent is always going to do the best by them. It’s situations like these that give travel agents a bad name.

“The travel agent industry desperately needs regulation. This has been proven by the amount of issues exposed over COVID”.

Cruise Passenger reached out to Defence Escapes, but has not received a response.

 

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