Recently, the collapse of one of the world’s oldest travel agencies made mainstream news around the world and for good reason. More than 21 000 jobs were lost, and the current and proceeding travel plans of countless more customers were disrupted. What rights do travellers have when these calamities happen? What pre-emptive steps can travellers take to avoid disruption? Experts from Club Travel Corporate weigh in on traveller rights and share some preventative measures jet-setters can take to lessen the burden of uncertainty.
Club Travel was established in 1987 with the simple philosophy of always giving customers the best deal. The company has grown from a single branch into an award-winning travel agency which includes owned offices, branded and non-branded franchises, a corporate and executive travel division and over 100 independent travel consultants.
Industrial strikes, inclement weather, technical faults, insolvency and much more; today, travellers face a multitude of dimensions that have the potential to ruin an expensive trip, business event or holiday. Often, these catastrophes remain out of the traveller’s control and can prevent people from boarding a plane, getting to their destination, or returning home.
1. Appoint a professional travel agent
In the Internet age, fewer people are turning to travel agents to help them plan and manage trips. Even so, there is still a lot to be said for having a professional “human” travel asset in your corner. The things that determine a travel agency’s level of professionalism are broad, however, there are several universal factors business and leisure travellers can look out for when appointing a professional. Start by looking for accreditation. In most countries, legitimate travel agencies are members of an industry body that holds its members to a professional standard. In South Africa, affiliation with an organisation like ASATA is an indication of a bona fide travel agency.
2. Local is better
There’s no substitute for engaging the services of a travel professional who speaks your language and identifies with your context. Find a professional, get to know them, build a relationship, and you won’t regret having a competent travel adviser to call on when things go awry.
3. Exercise your rights
In South Africa, The Consumer Protection Act protects consumers against overbooking and over-selling of goods or services. According to the CPA, airlines are not allowed to overbook flights because the CPA doesn’t permit a service provider to accept payment for goods or services that don’t exist. Under the CPA, passengers who are denied boarding as a result of overbooking are entitled to a full refund, plus interest at a prescribed rate. Moreover, airlines are responsible for compensating passengers who incur additional expenses as a result of overbooking.
4. Pay with your credit card
Most credit cards come with a host of consumer protections that people don’t even realise they have. When it comes to travel, paying with a credit card puts you in a much safer position if a supplier ceases operations and declares insolvency. You can ask your bank for a chargeback. Your bank reverses a disputed transaction back to the merchant’s bank in accordance with card scheme rules set by Visa, MasterCard or American Express. This means the money goes back onto your credit card. There are time limits imposed on your bank by these card schemes, so act fast if you realise something has gone wrong.
5. Check your travel insurance covers insolvency
Some travel insurance policies cover “insolvency of a travel provider”, but you’ll need to check the fine print as not all insurers cover this situation. Look for an insurer who will cover you if your journey, or a portion of your journey, is cancelled before your departure due to the financial insolvency or liquidation of the travel supplier you booked with.
6. Keep documentation
You’ll be in a much better position to recover funds if you’ve kept documents pertaining to your trip. Even if a travel agent books your trip, and you make payment to them, make sure that you have proof from your agent that they have settled payments with end suppliers (such as the airline or hotel) in full.