Two couples whose trips of a lifetime were cancelled during Covid-19 are still waiting on more than $25,000 in refunds from a Queensland travel agent one-and-a-half years on.
Canberra couple Christine and David Russell paid more than $20,000 to Noosa-based Defence Escapes travel agency, but say they are still waiting to be reimbursed for the holiday, which was to take place in September 2020.
The agency has defended the delay, saying it too is still waiting for refunds from third party travel providers.
“It was my husband’s retirement trip. He was getting out after 40 years in the army,” Mrs Russell said.
“We thought we’d splurge. It was going to be the trip of a lifetime.
“Now the world is opening up, if we want to do a trip, where are we going to get that money from? We have to try and save again,” Mrs Russell said.
Mrs Russell said they went with the agency as it promoted itself on getting the best deals for defence members.
But when the pandemic cancelled their dream holiday to the US and cruises to Alaska, she requested a full refund.
She said she was later told by the third party cruise company and accommodation providers that only deposits had been made and these had been reimbursed to Defence Escapes.
She then left numerous messages with the agency and “practically begged” for the money back.
After the couple contacted the Canberra fair trading office, Defence Escapes replied in September 2021 that they’d be refunded once the agency received the money from overseas third party suppliers, but the Russells are still waiting.
Canberra woman Kath Carleton said she was also owed a refund of over $5000 from Defence Escapes for flight tickets in April 2020 that were cancelled during the pandemic.
Mrs Carlton and her husband booked premium economy Singapore Airlines tickets for a European trip, but were only refunded the price of economy tickets.
She contacted the Queensland Office of Fair Trading in late 2020 and was told by the agency the airline had not refunded the money, but it was expected within eight weeks – but the funds are yet to come.
“It was just deafening silence, which was obviously frustrating,” she said.
She said she and her husband, who’s been in the RAAF for 25 years, went with the agency because of its promotions for defence staff, but felt “really let down”.
Consumer advocate Adam Glezer from Consumer Champion said customers deserved to know where their hard earned money was.
“It’s situations like this that give the travel agent industry a bad name,” he said.
“There are a lot of travel agents out there working really hard during the most trying of times.
“It’s ones like this that really let the team down.”
However, Defence Escapes agent Carolyn Nelson said she had advised both clients multiple times they would receive a full refund once her agency was refunded by third party/international travel providers.
Third parties booked by her agency also had not yet provided the necessary refunds, as claimed, she added.
“This is completely false and untrue. If they had, that money would be refunded back to the client,” she said in a statement.
Further, the refund for Mrs Carleton’s airfares would be processed once the agency received the money from the ticketing consolidator, as per terms and conditions of the invoice.
“Ticketing consolidators and third party/international travel providers are not providing a timeline of when they will refund monies owed,” she said.
“Unfortunately, there is still a large amount of outstanding refunds that travel agents are still waiting on from third party/international travel providers.
“There is still $1 billion outstanding in refunds from the Australian market alone.”