Thousands of Aussies will receive additional refund amounts for cancelled travel after Australian Pacific Touring made a commitment to the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC).
The company, which trades as APT and Travelmarvel, has agreed to stop deducting marketing and overhead costs from booking refunds, and to reimburse customers who had previously had these costs deducted from their refund.
Where a refund is sought (as opposed to a credit), APT will continue to deduct an amount from refunds to cover reasonable losses that it has not been able to recover, and will also deduct a fee per booking relating to administration costs in arranging the refunds.
The ACCC was concerned that during the COVID-19 pandemic APT had been deducting, and representing to consumers that it was entitled to deduct, greater amounts from refunds than it was entitled to deduct under its terms and conditions.
Following months of engagement, the consumer watchdog has now accepted a commitment from APT to stop deducting marketing and overhead costs from booking refunds impacted by the COVID‑19 pandemic.
APT will provide customers who have previously received a refund quote with a revised quote, and will reimburse customers who have already received a reduced refund due to marketing and overhead cost deductions.
ACCC commissioner Sarah Court said the costs that APT deducted for marketing and overheads amounted to 15 per cent of the booking price.
“With many holidays costing over $20,000, this meant a significant amount was withheld from the refunds given to consumers,” she said.
“The ACCC considered that APT was not entitled to deduct these marketing and overhead costs, as they were incurred before the booking was made and they would have been incurred regardless of whether a booking was made.”
“We are pleased that thousands of customers will now receive additional refunds and that this commitment will provide faster redress for consumers than court action, which would have been our next step.”
Court said the ACCC’s position on refunds for cancelled travel “has been very clear for almost a year now”.
“Travel businesses cannot deduct fees unless there are applicable terms and conditions in their contract that expressly permit them to do so,” she said.
“Our COVID-19 Taskforce has engaged with dozens of travel businesses since the start of the pandemic and we will continue monitoring the industry to make sure consumers are receiving the remedy they are entitled to.”
In a statement to Travel Weekly, Chris Hall, managing director of APT’s parent company, Australian Pacific Holdings, said: “Over the past 12-months, the APT Travel Group and the travel industry have been navigating an extraordinary environment, unlike anything seen before.
“During this time, we have been working closely with guests who have been affected by national and global travel suspensions to find the best possible outcome for them.
“We have also been in discussions with the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) over the matter of customer refund policy arrangements.
“The APT Travel Group understands the ACCC has a different interpretation of our terms and conditions in relation to refunds. However, we have reached a mutually-agreed position.
“For some guests affected by imposed suspensions, this means that the refund amount initially advised, paid or available to them will be increased.
“The adjustment relates to a reduction in the fixed marketing and overhead charges. These charges have now been replaced by a one-off $400 per passenger administration fee. Charges for third-party costs that have been incurred will still be deducted from refunds.
“As has been the case since April 2020, as an alternative to the refund option, we are offering a Future Holiday Credit of 100 per cent of the value of what was paid, with the group absorbing all incurred costs.
“The 100 per cent Future Holiday Credit is valid until the end of 2023, available for use on any of our brands, to any destination globally, and is fully transferable to a family member or a friend.”
Hall said APT Travel Group continues to operate within all Australian regulations and requirements.
“Our refund policy continues to be in line with our terms and conditions for force majeure events, such as a pandemic and government-enforced border closures,” he said.
“However, the adjusted refund and 100 per cent Future Holiday Credit go beyond our standard terms and conditions.”
“The APT Travel Group has made constructive steps of its own volition to provide greater scope and clarity around the issue of refund processing.”
Hall said the company has been considering and will continue to consider, on a case-by-case basis, providing a full refund to any consumers who can provide evidence that they are experiencing hardship, including medical or financial, arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We realise this has been a difficult and upsetting time for many travellers. As always, we appreciate the support and patience of all our guests,” he said.
“In turn, we are committed to getting through this period and supporting our guests, staff, global networks and also the Australian travel industry.
“As Australia’s largest locally-owned and awarded tour company with over 90 years of operation, the APT Travel Group has always been strongly committed to positive customer and guest relations outcomes across our operations.
“This includes the impact of COVID-19 imposed restrictions on some product offering.
“We are working through communicating with our impacted guests and they will be contacted by the 31st March 2021.”
Featured image source: Facebook/APT