The new Consumer Protection Act came into effect from the 1st April 2011. To quote from the DTI website : “I know my rights. Do you know yours? you have rights as a consumer. understand them. enforce them.”
On the plane on Friday night I read in the paper (don’t remember which one, think it was one of the Cape local papers) that as consumers we now have the right to cancel an advance booking, and that the supplier may deduct a fee if we do so, but that they cannot refuse to provide a refund. Over the weekend I was looking at airline tickets and found that Travelstart have a policy which is in contravention of this. Simply put, unless you pay extra for a “Cancellation policy” you cannot get a refund for a ticket cancellation. This appears to me to be in contravention of the Act so I mailed them as below :
email sent to TravelStart :
Your booking information (and FAQ) says that if you don’t take the insurance option then there will be no refunds for cancellations. This is in contravention of the consumer protection act which came in effect on the 1st April. I recently booked a ticket and paid the extra because I did not want to end up in a situation where if I cancelled there would be a problem, however, I do feel aggrieved that I am being made to pay extra for a right which is guaranteed to me under the consumer protection act.
your right to cancel advance reservations, bookings or orders
• Consumers have the right to cancel any advance reservations, bookings or orders.
• Suppliers are entitled to request a reasonable, advance deposit for reservations, bookings or orders, depending on the nature of the business and specific circumstances.
• Suppliers are entitled to impose a reasonable charge for the cancellation of reservations, bookings or orders, depending on the nature of the business and specific circumstances.
Your response is appreciated. Regards
A very prompt, friendly and efficient reply was received from Barbara at Travelstart, a (slightly) abbreviated version of which appears below, in which Travelstart provide an explanation of their policy, and offer a refund.
Many thanks for your email and for raising this concern. We value all feedback.
We have been working on changes to our products for the past few months, especially with the aim of ensuring that we are in line with the new Consumer Protection Act. We will be making the necessary changes to our products, booking processes and communication, in a patch, scheduled for this month. In the meantime, we will gladly refund the R279 that you paid for our Cancellation & Refund product. This amount will reflect on your credit card account within the next 3 working days.
Kindly note that should it become necessary for you to cancel your flight, Emirates Airlines fare rules and regulations will apply to your reservation. Their cancellation penalty on the fare you purchased is R2000 and our refund processing fee will be R 600. How we aim to add value to our customers with our Cancellation & Refund product, is that Travelstart will cover the full refund of your ticket and taxes, in the event of death or hospitalisation, even if the airline will not.
I still had some questions and comments regarding the reply as I didn’t completely understand the difference between what the CPA was saying were my rights and what they seemed to be saying were the benefits if this policy. The reply above also appeared to still be in contradiction to the act (in my layman’s opinion). A follow-up mail was sent as per below :
Thanks for the prompt and personal reply, much appreciated.
Having the explanation of your policy in a bit more detail does help in understanding the thinking behind the product. You may still run into some problems as the act doesn’t differentiate between yourselves and your supplier (Emirates), as my contract is between myself and you. The cancellation fees could be considered reasonable, so from that perspective it is fine. The issue around illness or death is specificallty covered in the act :
(5) A supplier may not impose any cancellation fee in respect of a booking,reservation or order if the consumer is unable to honour the booking, reservation ororder because of the death or hospitalisation of the person for whom, or for whosebene?t the booking, reservation or order was made
This would apply to both Travelstart and Emirates.
The key difference then seems to be the level of fees then applied in the event of cancellation ?
Thanks for the excellent service provided by your website, it really does make booking international travel a whole lot easier than it would otherwise be.
I again received a prompt and friendly reply with some more detailed comments and explanation.
With regards to our website, we are currently developing a new platform which will further improve our customer’s online booking experience. Launch is planned for later on this year, so watch this space!
Yes, it is fact that the Act states that a supplier is not allowed to charge a cancellation fee in case of death or hospitalization. This is one of the points that we are waiting to be finalized as strictly speaking the travel agent is not the supplier in this case but the airline. In your case it is stipulated in the airlines’ fare rules that they will not charge the fee in case of death but they do charge it in case of illness. We are also waiting for information if international airlines like Emirates need to apply the South African Consumer Protection Act, when they are already governed by various international conventions and/or protocols applicable to the airline industry like the Montreal Convention, the Hague Protocol and the Warsaw Convention.
So there are still a good few grey areas surrounding the airlines and the travel agencies, but we hope to iron out all of these questions shortly and apply the relevant rules and information on our website.
Have a lovely day.
Just after receiving this mail I also received notification from Travelstart that I had been refunded the insurance fee. I am quite happy with this – and delighted with their rapid response, and feel that the coverage I am receiving from the Consumer Protection Act is close enough to that being offered by the Travelstart policy. I have to agree with Barbara (Travelstart), there are still grey areas with regard to the implementation that are going to take a little while to clear up, and, while I personally believe that the act will apply to the big boys and international (such as Emirates) it may take a while longer and perhaps even a few complaints to be lodged with the relevant authorities before the act is duly respected. I do feel for the little suppliers when they are effectively resellers for the bigger guys. If Emirates don’t play ball, then what? I would regard Travelstart (or any agency) as my supplier so they would be the first port of call when dealing with complaints, issues or refunds for that matter. They could take a severe dent in profits or even go out of business if their suppliers weren’t providing the required refunds. Otherwise, prices will have to go up to cover the implied insurance now provided to the consumers. I know from reading all the articles around I expect a better quality of service and more customer satisfaction, however, when reading those I had not considered the increased cost that may well result from the implementation of the act.
As consumers we know have a whole lot more power before, it really is up to us to know our rights and question things when we believe we may be treated in a manner inconsistent with those rights – while at the same time not abuse the new found power for personal gain when it is not justified.
Big up to Travelstart for the rapid response to my questions, fair rectification of the matter, and plans to get their site and products compliant with the act in the short term. Hope to see it all pan out shortly for them and I look forward to using the new improved site (the current one is great, I find it much easier to use than any of the local airline’s websites).
You can find more online on the CPA here :
- The Consumer Protection Act – a heads up (Michalsons)
- Know your rights (DTI)
- The consumer protection act explained (Independent Online)
- The Consumer Protection Act (DTI) – The actual act
- The Consumer Protection Act made Easy
- Mail and Guardian – What you should know about the CPA
- MoneyWeb – What the CPA will not cover
- Wendy Knowler – A glitch in the CPA
** Extracts from emails with Travelstart are published with their consent