Chris Fletcher and his wife Christina booked what they thought would be the holiday of a lifetime – a 14-night European river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest with APT.

But the Queensland couple, like thousands of Australians, have been caught in refund and cancellation chaos that has almost brought the travel industry to its knees.

The ACCC and Choice have become involved as complaints from travellers from all areas, including flights and hotels, mushroomed and travel agencies struggled to help clients as best they could.

The Fletcher’s case is particularly poignant as Mr Fletcher was first diagnosed with throat cancer in 2015. He made his booking through Flight Centre and with APT’s ‘Peace of Mind’ insurance.

Their holiday package cost $24,000 and they put up a $6,000 deposit with APT. The final package included flights and a trip to Dublin and Britain.

The couple say they were told the insurance would let them cancel the cruise and get their deposit back.

A clause in the policy allows for cancellation 100 days before a cruise, which they thought, would be enough.

“Due to my ongoing health concerns we were recommended by our agent from Flight Centre to take out APT’s Peace of Mind insurance that would let us pull out of the cruise and get our deposit back up until the final payment was made some 100 days prior to departure,” Mr Fletcher said.

“We were of the understanding the insurance would refund our cash deposit should we need to cancel. However, when we did have to cancel our holiday, we were only offered vouchers.”

With the spread of COVID throughout Europe, and Mr Fletcher falling ill on a trip prior to his European holiday, his specialists and doctors advised him to cancel the holiday because of his ongoing medical issues.

But the Fletchers were told they would only get travel vouchers instead of their cash back.

Rhine, Moselle“We thought this would be ok at the time as we still wanted to do our bucket list trip if and when it was safe to do,” he said.

“We had hoped this new virus would go away in a few months to a year however it appears this will not be the case. Due to its wide-spread and now numerous mutations of the virus and my evolving health concerns and compromised immune system and the advice from both my doctors, we now feel that it will not be safe for me to travel to Europe in the foreseeable future.”

Now, the couple are seeking their deposit back from APT on compassionate grounds because Mr Fletcher is ill again.

Consumer advocate Adam Glezer, leader of the Facebook advocacy group Travel Industry Issues – The Need For Change for Australians, said APT should try and show some compassion for the couple considering that Mr Fletcher is ill.

“Chris who had throat cancer, is now awaiting results from his doctors who suspect he might have cancer again. How APT can put Chris and his partner through additional stress by not refunding their deposit is beyond me and makes me very angry,” he said.

“They should be concentrating on Chris’ health rather than having this financial burden hanging over their head.”

A customer relations administrator from APT wrote in an email to the Fletchers that their case, asking for compassionate assistance, was under review.

The Fletchers are clinging on to the hope that APT will be understanding.

An APT spokesperson told Cruise Passenger that they were unable to comment but the case is currently being reviewed.