From June 2018 to June 2019, the Australian Bureau of Statistics says Australians made a record 11.3 million trips overseas – double the number of trips just 10 years ago. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, millions of Australians have been forced to cancel or alter their international travel plans.

This has left many Australians struggling to get refunds from travel providers. Flight Centre was charging $300 in processing fees per person, in some cases leading to fees that cost more than the value of the refund, until the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission stepped in and threatened legal action, causing the company to waive fees for trips cancelled by travel providers. The ACCC also warned travel providers against retroactively changing their cancellation policies after tour companies including Topdeck and Intrepid attempted to retrospectively apply updated refund policies that would force customers to take credit rather than cash for cancelled trips.

Many frustrated customers are now faced with rebooking or losing their holidays, despite an uncertain outlook, or accepting notes of credit from companies whose futures look shaky. But those who have managed to secure cash refunds or pulled the plug on planned trips prior to booking have experienced unexpected positives.

Benjamin Neutze, who works for Opera Australia, was meant to be visiting New York at the end of April. He had booked many elements of his trip nine months in advance, including accommodation at a hotel in Times Square. “I was hoping they would give me credit,” he says – but the hotel ended up offering him a cash refund. Because the Australian dollar had fallen between the time of his booking, and the time of his refund, he was “lucky enough to get a refund that was $250 more” than he had originally paid. “It’s a really weird realisation,” he says. Neutze also expects to make a small amount of money from refunds on theatre tickets. “I suppose there are silver linings everywhere you look,” he says.

Patrick Stevenson, a photographer, had a similar experience. When he received the refund for his tickets to the now-postponed Coachella music festival, he discovered he had made about $200 due to currency fluctuations.

While not everyone has been lucky enough to receive a cash windfall, others have decided to reallocate their travel money to other priorities. An artist Guardian Australia spoke to says she is planning to use the savings she accrued for a residency abroad for paying off her debts.

Meanwhile, writer Alana Wulff and her husband were planning to spend their honeymoon in Hawaii and Los Angeles. While she says “it’s been very shit” to have to cancel, “I am also happy that we are safe and healthy”. She managed to avoid incurring fees during the cancellation process, and now “the money we were going to spend on the honeymoon will go toward our house deposit … We didn’t think finally reaching a decent deposit amount was going to happen this year due to the trip. But now that it’s been cancelled, that’s changed.”

When lockdown restrictions ease and recreational travel becomes possible again, the pair are planning a more modest honeymoon in their home state of New South Wales instead – because they “need that break badly!”

Has there been a silver lining to your cancelled holiday? Share it with us in the comments. Note: some comments may be published in a future article.

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