Using a travel agent
You may use a travel agent to help you purchase travel and travel-related products and services.
Choosing an agent
Look closely at a range of different agencies and what they offer. Most travel agents provide good service but it pays to shop around to find the deal that suits you.
If you are seeking travel services from a travel agent, you should consider whether the agent:
- is a member of a recognised industry association, such as the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA)
- is accredited or has received another stamp of approval
- has any other industry-specific qualifications or training
- advertises their services and any deals clearly and accurately, and can provide further details when asked
- specialises in the type of travel you seek
- has insolvency insurance (covering supplier and travel agent collapse)
- is willing to arrange the travel or holiday you want.
A good travel agent will listen closely to what you want, answer your questions, make appropriate suggestions, and explain any terms and conditions.
What is accreditation?
Accreditation means that a business has been approved by an industry body or organisation to provide particular services and advertise themselves in a particular way. It can also be a statement about what is considered to be 'best practice'.
Usually, accreditation is obtained by satisfying a range of eligibility criteria and agreeing to abide by a code of conduct. An agency or individual agent may be required to demonstrate how they meet these criteria and comply with the code of conduct each year in order to keep their accreditation.
When choosing a travel agent, an accreditation symbol or quality mark can be an indicator of good practice and reliability. It is not compulsory for travel agents to be accredited.
The AFTA Travel Accreditation Scheme (ATAS) is an example of a voluntary accreditation scheme developed by an industry body.
The cost of travel fluctuates regularly. A travel agent must therefore display:
- the single price for a holiday (based on the most accurate information available)
- clear advice that the price is subject to change
- an explanation of the factors that cause these changes.
Travel agents must tell you the minimum total cost you will need to pay. They should:
- give this as a single figure
- make sure this figure covers the complete cost of the basic package.
Travel agents may advertise holiday packages as being ‘from $1,200’. This is fine as long as it includes all the essential components of the price and is correct at the time of advertising.
Australian Consumer Law
The Australian Consumer Law (ACL) protects you when you buy goods and services, including travel. It applies to all Australian businesses and imposes the same obligations on all travel agents who operate in Australia.
If a travel agent breaches the ACL, you may be able to apply to a court or tribunal for damages to cover any financial losses you may have suffered as a result.
If you make travel arrangements through an overseas travel agent and something goes wrong, it may be difficult in a practical sense to obtain a remedy under the ACL or any other consumer protection laws that apply in the country where the agent is based.
If you cannot resolve a dispute with an overseas agent, there may be a relevant government agency in that location that can help you.
Your other options may include asking your bank for a charge back if you paid by a credit card that comes with this service, or, if you are covered by insurance, making a claim under a relevant policy.
The best laid travel plans can often be disrupted by situations out of your control. Natural disasters, social unrest, industrial action and many other things can affect your holiday.
If your travel plans have been disrupted or cancelled and it is not your fault, your travel agent may offer a refund or another remedy depending on the terms and conditions of your contract. These may include rescheduling your flights or accommodation without charging you any fees.
If you have made bookings separate to your main travel plans, contact the relevant provider as soon as possible to inform them of the situation and try to negotiate a refund or reschedule.
In cases where the supply of travel goods and services are interrupted and out of the control of both the travel agent and yourself the contract may become frustrated. This can occur in times of major disasters such as storms, wars, terrorist events or during a major health crisis such as COVID-19. Where the goods or services were sold to you before such a disaster but not yet provided, this may impact your rights under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).
Some contracts may have a specific clause to cover such events, for example stating that in the case of a pandemic the business will not be held liable for any loss incurred as a result.
If a frustrated contract is upheld, the non-performing party won’t be liable for failing to comply with the contract. The non-performing party could be either the business or the consumer, or both, depending on the situation.
It is best to read the terms and conditions of the contract to see if this is covered. In the event a contract does become frustrated and you cannot agree to a solution with the travel agent it is best to seek independent legal advice.
The Queensland Law Society can help you find a solicitor or law firm, from there only a court or tribunal can decide what the appropriate outcome or remedy will be.
It is common to take out insurance as part of your travel arrangements.
What is covered by insurance will vary depending on the company and the policy. Generally policies may cover the costs of cancelling or changing travel arrangements for unforeseen reasons, lost luggage or travel documents, legal bills and overseas emergency medical expenses. You should shop around to get coverage that meets your needs.
However, most insurance policies do not currently offer protection if the travel agent does not pay the airline, tour operator or hotel, or because the airline or other end supplier has become insolvent. A business may become insolvent if it is unable to pay its debts when they are due. An insolvent business can be put into voluntary administration, receivership or liquidation.
You may be able to protect yourself against such incidents if you do some research and choose an agent or supplier that has insolvency insurance. This allows the travel agent to make a claim for costs on your behalf if your travel plans are affected by the insolvency or collapse of anyone in the supply chain. If the travel agent you have dealt with collapses, you would need to claim directly with the agent's insurance company.
Find out more about buying travel insurance on the Smartraveller website.
Credit card chargebacks
You can ask your credit card provider to reverse the payment if you have paid for your travel arrangements with a credit card and they don't go ahead as planned. This may happen if the travel agent or supplier does not deliver the services as requested, or if they do something unauthorised.
The bank or credit card provider will then try to recover their costs from the travel agent or supplier.
Charge backs have particular terms and conditions, and usually have to be requested within a set timeframe.
You also cannot request a charge back if you are eligible to lodge an insurance claim.
If your request for a charge back has been refused by your credit card provider, you can dispute this decision or complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
If you did not pay with a credit card for travel services or products, and the travel supplier becomes insolvent, you may be able to recover your money by registering with the administrator or liquidator as an unsecured creditor. The insolvency process will determine whether you receive a remedy such as a partial or full refund, or nothing.
Administration notices often appear in newspapers or on the company's website. To find out who the administrator or liquidator is, contact the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.