The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has announced that APT and sister-brand, Travelmarvel, have agreed to slash their COVID-19 cancellation charges to provide impacted customers with higher refunds.
APT and Travelmarvel both operate a range of domestic and international land and cruise programs.
Instead of its previous 15% of the booking price, the Australian travel company’s cancellation cost will be trimmed to $400 per person. APT will also consider providing a full refund to consumers who can provide evidence of medical or financial hardship due to the pandemic.
The consumer watchdog said “thousands of Australians” will now receive additional refund amounts after Australian Pacific Touring Pty Ltd agreed to “stop deducting marketing and overhead costs” from booking refunds.
“Where a refund is sought (as opposed to credit), APT will continue to deduct an amount from refunds to cover reasonable losses that it has not been able to recover, and will deduct a fee per booking relating to administration costs in arranging the refunds,” the ACCC said.
The move comes as the competition regulator said it had been concerned that during the pandemic APT had been deducting greater amounts from refunds than it was entitled to under its own terms and conditions.
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.
“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,” ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said.
“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,” she added.
The ACCC has been engaged with APT for months regarding its fee impost, with Court adding the regulator’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”.
“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,” she said.
“Constructive steps” taken by APT
In a statement, Australian Pacific Touring Managing Director, Chris Hall, said it had been working closely with guests affected by national and global travel suspensions “to find the best possible outcome”.
Hall said The APT Travel Group and the ACCC have a “different interpretation” of the company’s T&Cs relating 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”.
Hall said charges have now been replaced by a one-off $400 per person administration fee, plus any third-party costs that may have been incurred.
“As has been the case since April 2020, as an alternative to the refund option, we are offering a Future Holiday Credit of 100% of the value of what was paid, with the Group absorbing all incurred costs,” Hall added.
The Future Holiday Credit will be valid until the end of 2023, applicable to any of the company’s brands – APT, Travelmarvel, Botanica, etc – and any destination. The Credit is also able to be fully transferable to a family member or a friend.
Hall continued, “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. However, the adjusted refund and 100% Future Cruies 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.”
“Throughout this entire period we have also been considering, 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.”
Hall said the travel company is aiming to communicate with all its impacted guests by the end of March 2021.