Aussies fight Melbourne travel company over sudden $20k bill month before holiday

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Two Australian couples are fighting to get more than $15,000 back from a Melbourne-based travel company for a holiday they never got to go on.

Kerrie and Troy Colmer from Sydney and Paul and Michelle Cox from the Gold Coast booked a 20-day tour in Vietnam and Cambodia with Asia Vacation Group back in December 2019 for the following October.

They booked the $2799 per person trip through Webjet and paid a $1000 per person deposit. They then upgraded their flights to business class directly through Asia Vacation Group for $2826 per person, plus bookings fees.

That meant, between the four travellers, more than $15,000 had been paid and $7196 was still owed.

Then came Covid, which of course halted all holiday plans, and for the couples, marked the beginning of years of stressful back and forth with Asia Vacation Group.

Ms Colmer told news.com.au the first sign of trouble was having to post on Asia Vacation Group’s Facebook page in 2020 to get their attention after many failed attempts to contact the company.

The group wanted to know their options given they had paid more than $15,000 for a trip that was no longer happening.

The post seemed to work and the group was re-booked for October 2021, but Covid lockdowns got in the way again.

Mr and Ms Colmer, and Mr and Ms Cox, were finally going to get their trip post-pandemic in October 2023 – but that would never eventuate.

“We were so looking forward to this holiday because we had booked it three years prior and we were just devastated,” Ms Colmer said.

The month before their trip there was no sign of their airline tickets and requests for an invoice to pay the remainder of their tour – $1799 per person – had been ignored.

“[We were] going backwards and forwards asking for an invoice so we can pay the rest of our tour,” Ms Colmer said.

“[They] just kept going back ‘this is what you owe’ and I’m like ‘yes I know that but can you please send us an invoice, we need to pay it’. This just kept going on and on.”

On September 18, Asia Vacation Group confirmed in an email to the group, seen by news.com.au, their remaining balance was $2199 per person – a $400 per person inflation fee had been added. It meant the group owed $8796.

But just two days later on September 20 – 34 days before their trip – they received another email telling them the price of their business class upgrade had increased to $6350 per person – meaning the remaining balance was now $10,646 per couple ($21,292 between the four).

“All this time, all along they’d never said to us there was going to be extra money,” Ms Colmer said.

“We had to find thousands of dollars extra we just didn’t have.

“There would have been no way that we could get another $8000 to pay for something we’d already paid for.”

In an email, Asia Vacation Group acknowledged the group had already paid for a business class upgrade, but claimed the “price increased very very fast due to Covid-19” and it was “quite easy” to see why the fee was much higher than previous years.

According to Asia Vacation Group’s own terms and conditions, the final balance of travel arrangements is due no later than 120 days prior to the confirmed tour departure date.

A furious Ms Colmer and Mr Cox allege the company ignored their repeated requests for an invoice to pay the balance.

Mr Cox told news.com.au the shock price increase meant a month out from the trip he and his wife suddenly couldn’t afford to go.

“We haven’t had a holiday for four years, which we’ve really wanted and with the amount we’ve paid, we were really looking forward to it,” he said. “We want that money back so we can book another holiday.”

Mr Cox said months later they were still waiting on a refund.

“They haven’t made any contact whatsoever. When we ring them up as soon as you say your name, they must know our phone numbers, they either hang up or say [they’re not available],” he said.

Adam Glezer of Consumer Champion told news.com.au he stepped in to advocate on behalf of the couples because they felt like they were “banging their head against a brick wall”.

He said it was “shocking” Australian travellers were still fighting for Covid-related refunds.

“I think it’s horrifying that people are still trying to get back their hard-earned money from travel providers that have just been holding onto their cash,” Mr Glezer said.

“The travel agent industry is in desperate need of regulation and that is something I have been pushing for since 2020.

“Travel agents are getting away with ripping people off and are not facing any consequences.”

Mr Glezer said it was not the first time he had encountered an issue with Asia Vacation Group and said all travel companies that have not paid back their customers should be held to account.

“$15,000 is a lot of money to have held back from you and for some people, it’s a life-changing amount of money,” he said.

Asia Vacation Group did not respond to requests for comment.

Webjet told news.com.au the initial deposit paid through its website in December 2019 for the tour was forwarded to Asia Vacation Group, and additional modifications or upgrades were settled directly with Asia Vacation Group by the customer.

The online travel agency said Mr and Ms Colmer, and Mr and Ms Cox, reached out to Webjet in September last year with concerns about Asia Vacation Group having not provided any travel documents for their upcoming October trip.

“Upon our follow-up, AVG indicated there was a remaining balance which was due to be paid by the travelling party that had not been paid, however, importantly an invoice was not supplied to actually make that final payment and thus this AVG error caused issues with the booking to the extent tickets were not issued and the travel could not proceed without payment,” a Webjet spokesperson said.

“As we understand the initial credit is still available for future travel however the travelling party has become quite frustrated with the circumstances listed in the aforementioned and we would like to see AVG refund the customer accordingly.”

Webjet said it had not partnered with Asia Vacation Group since 2020 and while it normally works to support customers with issues that remain from Covid interruptions, it said in this case Webjet was not privy to the upgrades to business class as these arrangements were made directly between the travellers and Asia Vacation Group.

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