Tens of thousands of Australians are still chasing travel refunds, but one Perth woman found a discrepancy when she tried to rebook her holiday, which allowed her to get back her total refund of $13,900 from Evergreen Tours.
Kim Woodhams Crawford is one of the few to win her fight for a refund. The former business-owner had booked a nine-day French river cruise for herself and her husband which was due to depart in May.
But when the pandemic hit, Scenic, Evergreen’s parent brand cancelled the cruise.
Her case has led consumer campaigners to warn again about the importantance of reading terms and conditions as cruise lines make changes to cope with new conditions.
“Scenic offered us 110 per cent future cruise credit which we thought was a fantastic offer. But when we rebooked in June, our booking had not come with terms and conditions. And we were informed that they were to come, which we thought was a bit odd,” she said.
Mrs Woodhams Crawford and her husband received the new terms and conditions three months later in September – and what she found was that Scenic had updated their terms and conditions, so guests were unable to claim a refund.
“We were shocked when we found that under the new terms and conditions, we were ineligible to claim a refund if the guest or Scenic cancelled the trip as a result of a ‘Force Majeure Event’,” she said.
“This term relieves a party from performing its contractual obligation due to an event outside the reasonable control of the affected party, but what we were so annoyed about is that we were unable to rebook unless we accepted the updated terms and conditions.”
Ms Woodhams Crawford said she refused to accept the new terms and conditions for her rebooking and filed a complaint with the Western Australian Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety.
“We refused to accept the new terms and conditions as we had booked under Scenic’s previous policy. But we’ve had a massive win as we filed a complaint with the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety,” she said.
“My liaison officer at consumer affairs told me Scenic has agreed to accept my argument that by not providing their terms and conditions at the time of rebooking, then providing me with substantially skewed in their favour ones and expecting us to accept it, I am entitled to a refund.
“Being older and wiser now, I read and compared them. They stopped replying to me, so took it to my state consumer department. She has obtained a refund, less $1000 per person non-refundable deposit, for us. I’ve not seen the money, but she will state a date for refund by Scenic so that it’s not open-ended.”
But consumer advocate Adam Glezer, leader of the Facebook advocacy group Travel Industry Issues – The Need For Change for Australians said there should be legislative changes so consumers like Mrs Woodhams Crawford wouldn’t have to need to fight for her money.
Mr Glezer said the Australian consumer laws should follow that of the European Union and United Kingdom, where if a resident of those regions has booked a voyage with a travel company that cancels, they are entitled by law to a full refund.
“In Australia, customers are left extremely vulnerable in situations like this as the government has not put protection in place which entitles them to a refund. In fact, in the vast majority of situations, customers are offered either a credit or a refund with unjustified high fees deducted by travel companies. In many situations, customers are out of pocket tens of thousands of dollars,” he said.
“It is the responsibility of the Australian government to change the current legislation in order to protect consumers. We have proposed legislation similar to that of the UK and strongly believe it should be adopted,” Mr Glezer said.
Mr Glezer also urges Australians who are rebooking using their credit to carefully read the terms and conditions before signing.
“When rebooking with travel companies, please be aware of terms and conditions as many companies have changed terms and conditions and the majority of changes have not been for the better,” he said.
Scenic told Cruise Passenger: “We are not trying to make it harder for our guests to travel. We want them to travel with us and enjoy these experiences…Our terms and conditions are updated to reflect the situation and respond to the issues.”
“The terms and conditions vary depending on when a booking was made, when it was cancelled, where the guest was travelling to and are reviewed with significant changes.”