A travel company that reneged on a refund for one Melbourne couple is now facing legal action. Image by Julian Smith/AAP PHOTOS

Health

Legal battle over travel refund retreat

2020-05-16 15:32:20

When a Melbourne couple saw their dream holiday shattered by the global pandemic, they got engaged and decided to invest the travel refund on the wedding.

But Louis and Daniela’s new plans were also crushed when travel operator Top Deck Tours backtracked from the original proposal.

They say four weeks after getting an email declaring they would receive a full cash refund of more than $3000, the couple instead got another message claiming they would be issued a voucher for the amount paid, plus $200.

The company retrospectively changed its policies to offer travel credits to be used by December 2021, and the decision has sparked a legal battle that could lead to a class action.

“This was our first holiday together as a couple and it would have included visiting Daniela’s family in Europe, who she hasn’t seen in around six years,” Louis said.

“It was more than just a holiday. This was going to be testament to our hard work in saving for this trip, and to visit family that we haven’t seen in a very long time.”

Louis acknowledged COVID-19 had hit everybody, but claimed it was “a whole other matter” telling people they would receive a refund, then staying quiet for a month and changing the company’s plans.

The couple contacted the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to complain about Top Deck’s lack of “transparency and accountability to customers”.

But their claim fell on deaf ears as the ACCC argued the matter was out of their jurisdiction, urging them to contact Consumer Affairs Victoria.

Louis and Daniela have since joined a potential class action against Top Deck.

The company left travellers worse off when compared to the terms and conditions that were in place at the time of their booking, Maddens Lawyers Class Action Principal Kathryn Emeny said.

“Top Deck Tours’ attempt to retrospectively and unilaterally change contractual terms to the detriment of young travellers was improper,” she said.

“Changing the rules so that travellers are out of pocket for a tour that can’t be delivered anytime in the foreseeable future is not fair and shouldn’t be tolerated.”

A Top Deck spokesperson told AAP the original terms and conditions applicable when the booking was made still apply.

They also said customer who don’t believe travel credit is suitable can contact the company.

But requests to waive that travel credit and offer a refund have been either ignored or declined, Ms Emeny alleged.

Top Deck Tours markets itself as a company aimed for travellers aged between 18 to 39, “devoted to making travel dreams a reality”.

The company is affiliated to Flight Centre.

Flight Centre waived its cancellation fees on bookings from March 13 where the travel provider – such as an airline – cancelled due to COVID-19.

Flight Centre will now refund customers who, from March 13, were hit with the $300 charge or $50 on a domestic flight.

Other companies’ moves to offer travel vouchers have also been subject to investigation for possible breaching of legal obligations.