Booking.com denied flight cancellation refund

I booked a flight ticket for travelling from Brisbane to Queenstown (17 Dec) through booking.com on 28 Oct 2022 and cancelled it on 10 Nov 2022. A total amount is 3320$. When I did call for cancellation booking.com, their agent said I can cancel my ticket by paying cancellation fee of 80$ per ticket (320$ for 4 tickets). At that time, I also checked with the Virgin Australia about cancellation fee. So, I accepted to pay cancellation fee and cancelled my flight booking. Until last week, I was waiting for my refund from booking.com. However, on 17 Nov, I received an email saying that my ticket is non-refundable, and I can get refunded nothing, and the agent said it is the Virgin Australia’s cancellation policy. Meanwhile, I indeed did speak to one of the employees at Virgin Australia and she confirmed that our ticket is classified as refundable and flexible. She told me that once the agent sends the refund request, Virgin Australia will process the refund because it is the purchase through third party. I also found out booking.com has partnership with gotogate.com for their flight booking. I did read review about gotogate, there were a lot of people who couldn’t get their refund and waited for over 2 years. I should’ve known about booking.com’s partnership with gotogate on their flight booking before booking my flight.

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Welcome to the Community @puje

Your post reads as a statement of experience rather than a solicitation for advice or assistance. It appears you have acquired your evidence and are continuing to deal with booking.com for your refund. Is that correct?

Note that Booking.com is a Dutch company owned by Booking Holdings, a US company with many subsidiaries. The Australian contact number is listed as 02 9255 9200 (office hours) which may or may not be answered in Australia, but it may be a corporate number different from those that essentially hide the company from the customers, or could be the same switchboard.

Prior to booking flights, accommodation, or event tickets again you might be well served to search the Community for the seller prior to pressing ‘buy now’. The problems consumers have experienced can be eye opening and in cases eye watering.

Please let us know how you go.

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The T&Cs for booking.com on flights is worth reading…

They indicate they are not a contractual party and when booking flights through them, your contractual arrangements are with their third party aggregator (which you think is gotogate.com for your booking) and the carrying airline. Effectively they wipe their hands of any responsibility associated with a flight booking.

It also indicates that you should have been provided T&Cs from the third party aggregator, which you agreed to, at checkout/payment. What to these say about cancellations, ticket types and refunds? This might give some insight to what may be possible.

It is also possible the T&Cs of the third party aggregator will be different to the carrying airline. They might say any bookings through them in non-refundable, when the airline indicates differently.

I am not an expert on what terms and conditions would apply and which one you could rely on, but have a feeling the third party aggregator may have some weighting as this is who the booking is through. It might be worth obtaining legal advice if there are differing T&Cs about cancellations and refunds.

It might be worth trying to deal with the third party aggregator or airline directly in relation to your cancellation.

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There are a multitude of posts about dealing with these overseas based online booking sites, for travel, or accommodation, or car rental. Almost all bad.

Invariably it just complicates things when issues like refunds come up. And you cannot deal with them in the same way you could with a local ‘bricks and mortar’ travel agency with actual people.

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Bookling.com Australia (BCA) is a registered ABN in Victoria with shares held in Amsterdam. I am fed up with this garbage too and taking them to small claims, so they can pay court costs too.

Do let us know how you get on taking a company that operates out of the Netherlands, and owned by a US parent, to a small claims court here in Australia.
:rofl:

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“Booking. com” has this to say about “Legal

In its marketing it boasts it is supported international by 198 offices in over 70 countries. Whatever that sounds like read carefully,

It is the job of these support companies to provide in-country support for Booking. com. The support companies do not provide an online reservations service and they do not own, control, host, manage or maintain the Booking. com website (or any other website).

The ACCC maintains that companies based over seas but selling products and services in Australia are subject to the provisions of Australian Consumer Law. What’s possible?
https://money.usnews.com/investing/news/articles/2022-04-21/australia-fines-expedia-groups-trivago-33-million-on-false-hotel-rates

What’s involved in serving a notice on a foreign company?

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I was successful in VCAT, they did not appear or send notice. You need to quote “Facebook Inc v Australian Information Commissioner [2022] FCAFC 9 per Allsop CJ, Perram” - anyone in the Judiciary will understand that means they ARE carrying on business here. Also, “Valve Corporation v ACCC [2017] FCAFC 224; 258 FCR 190 at 235 [149]” ancillary operations here that support overseas business. File against: Booking.com (Australia) Pty Ltd ACN 130 562 097 which IS incorporated in VIC with a registered office IN NSW with 1 share issued which is held by Booking.com International BV incorporated in the Netherlands. Your argument over ACL is Frustrated Contracts Act (FCA) s7 (Promise not performed), s8 (Damages assessed after frustration), s12 (Return of money paid), s14 (Recovery of money as a debt) as the contract was frustrated under Force Majeure as COVID was extenuating circumstance. If they don’t pay the order, I can enforce it through the courts and they will pay double to send the bailiffs around. They are not above the law, just trying you out.

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For all intents and purposes, the contract is with booking.com. They collected the money and sold the services.

They advertise services on behalf of service providers and charge commission for the privilege. In some respects they are an agent of the service provider, like a travel agent that books on behalf of the booking party.

For Booking.com, how payment is made and its timing is set the by service provider (accommodation, attractions, car hire etc) and not by the booking platforms. A service provider can chose upfront payment, payment before arrival (say when the cancellation fee free period expires) or payment on arrival, with monies taken by the booking.com or directly by the service provider/business.

The service provider also sets up terms and conditions associated with the booking, within the framework provided for within the platform. Booking.com doesn’t establish terms and conditions for the service provider.

Booking.com can be used as a payment method - and with Booking.com it is optional and a choice of the service provider (it is commissioned by the by service provider to take payment on behalf of the service provider). This is possibly how platforms like Booking.com can argue they aren’t the contracting party… otherwise a credit card company would be the contracting party (or seller under the ACL) for any purchases made by a credit card.

It is also worth noting that Booking.com don’t issue tax invoices to anyone who books through them. The advice we have received is that the service provider is responsible for issuing tax invoices. This suggests that the booking party contract is with the service provider and not Booking.com. This is confirmed on the Booking.com website. It states:

When a guest books a property, the reservation becomes a legal agreement between the partner and them, and as a result Booking.com cannot send invoices to partners or their guests for reservations. Booking.com can provide receipts for proof of payment, but due to legal reasons it is always accommodation partners alone that can issue invoices for their guests.

Other booking platforms have different arrangements to Booking.com. Some have less flexibility in relation to payment options by the service provider, and in some cases don’t allow service providers the option not to use the booking platform to collect payment on behalf of the service provider. Some also issue tax invoices as their responsibilities are different. As a result, terms and conditions for each booking platform vary significantly both for the booking party and service provider.

My own opinion is this strategy is to avoid paying GST on their income/commissions to increase profits. They aren’t the only one which do. Service providers which advertise through platforms know this is common across the industry as invoices issued by many booking platforms don’t have GST.

Likewise their approach that the legal arrangement for a booking is between the booking party and service provider (partner) is to limit their liabilities. Again to maximise or preserve their income/commissions.

To challenge their structure would need significant funds and would require the likes of the Commonwealth Government to do so.

It is worth noting the Commonwealth Government Treasury is currently seeking information from service providers which use platforms in relation to their restrictions on setting prices. Those in the industry can lodge a submission or complete the survey on The Treasury website…

I would be seeking legal advice as it could be costly and there is potential the court may have a different finding/ruling to that of an Office of Fair Trading/VCAT if they appeal the decision.

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So still a dispute in progress then? Sounds like more to come in your journey.

VCAT rulings are non appealable on outcomes, they are only able to be appealed on points of law. So a person/business has 28 days in which to appeal a point of law.

The Magistrates Court is only to enforce the order and not to render judgement on the outcome.

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I hope not or they would be extremely stupid as they pay each re-attempt by the bailiff who can sell property, etc. The again, they have form…

phb, you mention several different scenarios to the one in the thread:

1/. If payment is made to booking.com then a contract exists between the payer and the payee as per Australian Contract Law. The would then remit the provider nett of any commissions and fees, so the provider cannot provide a tax invoice to a third party for a nett rate which is confidential. As per my experience at VCAT they cannot evade the contract fact, especially as they charge the credit card as the merchant which makes them implicit.
2/. If a provider elects payment at check-in, then of course they need to provide a tax invoice/receipt for that.
3/. booking.com provide a receipt which for all intents and purposes is a tax invoice if it meets the ATO criteria of having a company name and address.
4/. Point re GST and consumption, booking.com does not collect GST on domestic bookings (services consumed in Australia).

An audit conducted by the French Taxation Authorities (into booking.com’s relationship with its French subsidiary), covers the years 2003 to 2012 & resulted in assessment of tax & penalties of €356M for booking.com. The French have since opened further audits for the years 2013 to 2015 as the issue now in France as booking.com does not pay tax in any country or GST/VAT where applicable, except 5% on what it declares it made in the Netherlands. As a branch operation through a permanent establishment in Australia, booking.com should be collecting GST from its customers for payment to the ATO. Instead it has used its failure to pay GST to unfairly undercut Australian competition.

Its structure is tax driven. It’s clear is that booking.com’s ability to undercut the Australian market has to date been subsidised by its non-payment of GST & Australian income tax while claiming its income sourced in Australia is only exposed to tax in the Netherlands. This has given booking.com with advantages through the Dutch “Innovation box tax” regime. It has used these advantages & its evasion of legitimate tax costs to unfairly compete against its rivals, and the Dutch are implicit for accepting that assertion.

Booking.com talks of a loss of ‘benefit’ from the Innovation box tax treatment in the Netherlands to avoid paying tax on global income of US$5B, continuing to qualify for that treatment. To date booking.com has claimed to qualifying expenditure in relation to foreign sourced income, not just income from the Netherlands. If any of its foreign sourced income is found to be taxable at source, as income derived through a permanent establishment, it will be taxed at the applicable rate in the source country. The income may still meet the nexus test for the Netherlands Innovation box tax , but if the source country tax rate is higher than the Innovation box tax rate, the tax credit available from tax paid at source would wipe out any Netherlands tax obligation at the 5% rate. In the case of France, the tax rate would jump to the normal corporate rate of 33% for all income derived through the permanent establishment. In the case of Australia, it would jump to 30%. Any benefit from the Innovation box tax is therefore wiped out.

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The court cannot overturn a decision/order of VCAT, only enforce it.

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For clarity as @grahroll posted, it can only be appealed to the [state] Supreme Court on a matter of law, not the determination.

@EricRedKnight, thanks for posting your experience as you have. I look forward to reading how the enforcement goes. A similar VCAT case where the company did not show up was posted here but no followup as to the collection process.

Perhaps the ATO might rise from its slumber and have a look-see about GST?

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That is correct and also includes legal principles for ground of appeal. If an appeal is heard, the court can uphold the determination (inc. refusing the appeal at the application phase), the determination can be sent back to VCAT for a redetermination or nullified.

Information on VCAT appeals can be found here:

For enforcing a determination through the court - one should seek legal advice in relation to the process and what costs may be and the likely success of having costs awarded. It isn’t a foregone conclusion.

Couldn’t agree more. I think they should revisit it again. At the moment the service provider pays GST on the total rates advertised on the platform, while the commissions don’t have GST applied (no GST credits for commissions even though the booking originates within Australia on a overseas platform). A loophole.

But, if GST is applied to commissions, the commissions are likely to be increased by 10% and burden falls on the service providers - potentially increasing prices to the consumer. Hopefully the current Treasury Inquiry might provide clarity in relation to pricing flexibility so those platforms that have higher rates of commission could potentially have higher prices to cover the higher commissions.

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They paid within 28 days.

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