Consumer Protection has been unable to secure refunds for more than 200 complainants who have paid over $200,000 between them for cheap flights or holiday deals from a Facebook travel agency. Affected consumers either could not get plane tickets for their desired dates or were asked to pay extra money and some flew to their destination but found they were not booked on return flights as expected.
Nicole Bromage and Jacklene Torr using the ABN 38605142917 and unregistered business names Travel 2 Go and No Frills Travel had made a commitment to pay back customers, during negotiations with Consumer Protection, but regrettably this hasn’t happened.
Commissioner for Consumer Protection Penny Lipscombe said an investigation is now underway, which limits what information can be publicised.
“In August 2019 Consumer Protection saw an increase in complaints from consumers who had purchased discount return flights – Perth to Bali for $99 for example – via a travel agent on Facebook, and then not been able to get seats on a plane.
“This escalated and Consumer Protection attended a public meeting of about 100 affected consumers in South Yunderup on 7 September 2019. We now have in excess of 210 complaints with a total dollar value of more than $200,000. This includes some people who have bought cruises or package holidays.
“Our conciliation officers have been working hard to try to achieve a satisfactory outcome for the complainants in this case but it is not always possible to secure refunds and there is no guarantee goods or services will be provided. Whether or not Consumer Protection is successful in conciliation depends on factors including a trader’s willingness to participate in the process and the financial situation – funds may not be available.
“As of today (Friday 4 October) we are in the process of contacting all of the Travel 2 Go / No Frills Travel complainants to inform them that no refunds are forthcoming and to advise them of their option to go to the Magistrates Court to seek a court order for any money owed. We recommend customers do not pay additional money in a bid to secure flights or holidays.”
The Commissioner said it is disappointing but does not signal the end of the matter.
“If a business has allegedly made false and misleading representations or failed to provide goods or services as promised and within the timeframe specified, Consumer Protection can investigate potential breaches of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL). So, even though attempts to seek redress for consumers may not work out, we have investigators who can then take over and look at alleged non-compliance with the ACL.
“While any such investigation is underway we are restricted as to what we can say publicly for legal reasons. What I can confirm is that this particular situation has been raised with the WA Police Major Fraud Squad.”
Affected consumers who have not yet lodged a complaint should still do so, using the online form at www.consumerprotection.wa.gov.au for Consumer Protection’s records.
Tips for buying travel
- Consider paying with a credit card – it might attract a small percentage surcharge but could be worth it due to the ‘chargeback’ option if you don’t get what you paid for within the agreed timeframe, or if the business becomes insolvent. This option doesn’t exist for cash or direct bank transfer.
- Use an accredited travel agent. While there is no licensing of travel agents (that ceased nationally in 2015), there are voluntary industry accreditation schemes, such as ATAS run by the Australian Federation of Travel Agents: www.atas.com.au.
- Read the terms and conditions of any agreement, get a copy in writing and ask for a receipt. You may wish to check payments have been passed on to third party suppliers such as an airline. A voucher or itinerary does not secure your travel – insist on formal documentation or confirmation from the supplier(s) and verify its authenticity.