Holiday hell: ‘$6000 out-of-pocket after 100 days’

In the early hours of March 24, I paid Qatar Airways nearly $6000 for three one-way tickets in an attempt to get myself and two mates out of Kathmandu when the coronavirus shut down the world.

Five hours later, the airline cancelled our flight as Nepal closed its international airport.

Almost 100 days later, I'm still trying to get my money back.

Countless phone contacts, email messages and hours spent on hold with overseas call centres have amounted to nothing.

It's been similar frustration with Malaysia Airlines, which cancelled my flight even earlier. And it's extra-annoying knowing that other airlines - including Singapore Airlines and Etihad Airways - provided refunds within a week (albeit after taking a cancellation fee of $300-$400 per ticket).

I'm not alone. Hundreds of thousands of Aussies have cancelled holidays this year because of the coronavirus and many are still awaiting refunds or credits. More than 5.5 million Australians take overseas holidays each year and millions more head interstate.

After experiencing this year's travel dramas as both a journalist and customer in recent months, I have some suggestions.

IF YOU WANT A REFUND

You'll need patience. Remember that airlines and travel agents are snowed under because almost every traveller on the planet wants their money back or at least a credit - even when they paid non-refundable deposits.

A poor customer service experience can turn you off an airline for good. Picture: AAP Image/Richard Wainwright
A poor customer service experience can turn you off an airline for good. Picture: AAP Image/Richard Wainwright

Most travel providers have been flexible and are making progress - but not all.

Do not give up. Some businesses use customer apathy as a strategy to avoid paying up. If it's only a few hundred bucks that you paid last year for a trip or deposit, you may wonder 'why bother?' But thinking that way is like walking out on the street and dropping $300 down the drain - it has the same impact on your finances.

Australia's consumer watchdog, the ACCC, recommends contacting travel providers ASAP. If it's a domestic booking issue you can try state fair trading offices, the Australian Financial Complaints Authority and also let the ACCC know.

IF YOU'RE PLANNING TRAVEL THIS YEAR

Anything overseas is off the table, with the Federal Government not expected to reopen international borders until 2021 and Qantas boss Alan Joyce saying last week that international flights probably wouldn't resume for at least a year.

International trips will be cancelled and several travel insurance companies don't pay out claims when related to a pandemic. Check the fine print.

For many, it may be easier to request a travel credit instead of a refund, but you'll still need to fight for it. Be persistent.

State borders are slowly opening for domestic travellers - unless you're a Victorian - but as we saw last week anything can happen. Be flexible.

TRAVELLING NEXT YEAR?

Booking overseas trips for 2021 is dicey with coronavirus cases multiplying rapidly throughout most of the world.

If you must head offshore, make sure you will be able to get a refund or credit if the pandemic persists. But don't expect travel insurance to cover it.

It's now more important than ever to read the fine print.

Originally published as Holiday hell: '$6000 out-of-pocket after 100 days'


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