CHOICE membership

COVID-19 running up against limited business flexibility

In October of last year, I booked a return ticket from Sydney to Canberra on Murrays Coaches. Knowing that there might be issues, I paid extra for a “Fully Flexible” ticket, thinking that it allowed for any number of changes.

The COVID-19 situation worsened and I was advised that, travelling through Sydney (my journey beginning in the Hunter Valley), I would pose an unacceptable risk to my relatives in Canberra. I ended up flying from Newcastle. It cost a bomb, but I got to see family again. I changed my Murrays booking to travel in the middle of this year.

The planned mid-year trip has also fallen through (family wants to wait until everyone’s fully vaccinated), so I tried to change again. Murrays system wouldn’t allow me to rebook more than twelve months beyond the date when I made the first booking. So, I emailed:

The answer came back:

The information about limited flexibility is probably on the Murrays site somewhere, but it isn’t obvious to the casual consumer. What is the law in such situations? It’s quite likely that the only way I’ll get to Canberra this year is by air, so the coach booking will probably go unused.

Cancelling travel, which you appear to have indicated as you have chosen you no longer want to fulfil the purchased travel (which would be a change of mind under the ACL - see I wish to cancel my travel booking due to health and safety concerns about COVID-19. What are my rights in this situation?), the terms and conditions associated with the ticket come into play. These being:

4.6 Cancellations to Bookings

In the event that you are unable to travel or change your mind, we do not offer refunds or credits. If your fare category permits bookings to be changed, you may make changes up to 60 minutes prior to the original scheduled departure time on your Ticket (fees may apply – see fare conditions in section 2).

If government imposed measures prevented travel (which doesn’t appear to be the case as travel was still possible but you decided it was impracticable for you at the time), the the ACCC states:

  • In general, whether consumers are entitled to a refund for travel bookings cancelled due to government restrictions will depend on the terms and conditions of their booking.

and

  • Terms and conditions will vary between travel providers, and in some cases consumers might not be entitled to a full, or any, refund of their booking. Some terms and conditions may provide for the ability to re-book, or credit notes, rather than refunds for cancelled bookings.

In both scenarios, the terms and conditions associated with the booking apply.

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In the T&C

3.2 Ticket Validity Period

Fully Flexible and Frequent Traveller Pass Fares can be open dated for 6 months from the date you purchased your ticket. Travel must be completed within the 6 months of the original purchased date or the ticket will be forfeited

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Not the case. I’m quite willing to further delay. Murrays appears to be saying they won’t allow that.

In a pandemic, is that fair & reasonable?

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See @PhilT post above in relation to rescheduling travel conditions.

I am sympathetic with @Drop_Bear if only because of the constant, repetitive, lockdowns and travel restrictions that are causing so many of us to reconsider or cancel near term travel, with little confidence of if or when.

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[sigh] As I said, it isn’t obvious to the casual consumer. Like those novel-length click-throughs on some software & services. The online booking system alone is complicated and confusing enough. Is that even the issue?

I’d say it’s questionable under normal circumstances. More so in a pandemic.

Is it reasonable to refuse to refund even part of the fare? Is it reasonable to refuse rescheduling?

Probably an issue for Choice to address as resources allow.

You could call them and see if they are willing to do another reschedule for the booking, even though doing such is outside the T&Cs.

They might be willing to do it as good will, especially since there has been ongoing travel disruptions which make forward planning of travel difficult.

I suspect that they won’t be willing to offer good will in relation to a refund from their response in your OP.

Yes, see the ACCC website. As you can’t fulfil the travel, it is different to the carrier or government preventing or rescheduling the planned travel. It isn’t a really a COVID-19 issue per say. Prior to Covid-19, many tourism operators had no-refund policies for change of mind cancellations, especially if such cancellations occurred close to the date of travel/service being used.

I see lawyers having a picnic with that one.

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From the perspective of the business, in the current climate, I suspect it is trying to hang on tight to every penny it can get! This may be short term gain and long term gain, but a travel company over the last year has to be doing well just to still have the doors open.

This is one of those situations where I think everyone loses. You can’t travel, the travel company may not be able to afford refunds, and the money you have paid is irrecoverable. I cannot see any sensible means of reform that will not create as many problems as it solves.

I did a quick check for Murrays Coaches annual report, but it appears that the company is private and so is not required to publish such information. Regardless, I suspect it has been suffering financially over the last eighteen months.

QANTAS, for instance, managed a loss pre-tax of $2.7 billion in 2019-20 (over 18% of its gross revenue), with a drop of $4 billion in revenue - most of which the Chairman states occurred “within three months”. He goes on to state that passenger numbers in those three months “were down 98 per cent”. I cannot see other travel companies doing much better - Flight Centre’s revenue dropped from $3.1 billion to 1.9 billion!