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Youth travel company Topdeck has been arbitrarily booking customers with credit vouchers on new overseas trips on random dates in the middle of a global pandemic, without their knowledge or consent.
In the early stages of the pandemic, Topdeck came under fire for suddenly changing its refund policy and applying it retrospectively to deny refunds to customers whose trips were cancelled.
It instead began offering credit for future travel, plus an additional $100, which was to expire in December 2021.
Guardian Australia has learned that the company recently began booking some customers who have credit vouchers on new trips without their knowledge.
Unwitting customers are being placed on tour dates of Topdeck’s choosing, despite the global crisis, widespread border closures, and restrictions on travel in and out of Australia.
“Having to postpone your 2020 Topdeck trip-of-a-lifetime totally sucked. We know the feels… Lucky for you, we’ve sorted all the pesky logistics and have saved you a seat on the next available trip,” the company told one customer. “Get excited as you’ll be revelling the Road Trip USA trip in September 2021.”
“Now that I’ve booked your 2021 trip, you can kick back and relax – we don’t need full payment until 60 days before your departure.”
Maddens Lawyers, which has been assisting Topdeck customers, has described the conduct as “alarming and unscrupulous”.
“We are aware of a number of Top Deck customers who have requested refunds only to have a voucher provided as an alternative, and then unknowingly have a trip rebooked on a future tour by Top Deck with new dates and thousands of dollars of costs,” the firm’s class action principal, Kathryn Emeny, said. “This is alarming and unscrupulous corporate conduct.”
Topdeck insists it is providing refunds to customers who request them.
But it also confirmed it has been telling those with credit vouchers that they have been “tentatively booked on a new departure”.
“Late last year, the company communicated with other customers who have funds on file (to be used towards future trips) and advised them they had been tentatively booked on a new departure to avoid price increases that would otherwise apply,” it said in a statement.
Topdeck said it had offered customers the choice to adjust the dates of the new trip, if it was not suitable.
Topdeck provided the Guardian with an excerpt of its communications with customers, which said:
“This date doesn’t suit you? Or want to talk options with me? Reply to this email with your questions, jump on our Topdeck website chat or pick up the phone and give me a call.”
Topdeck said most customers had elected to keep the new trip or hold on to their credit voucher. A minority has asked for a refund after the latest communication, which they were entitled to, Topdeck said.
“We apologise for any confusion caused in this instance, but believe that this approach has generally been well received by customers,” a spokesperson said.
But Maddens Lawyers provided an anonymised statement from one of its customers, saying the conduct was “outrageous”, given there was no indication the borders would be open in 2021.
“This was also done without my permission and the company didn’t apologise or acknowledge my concerns after I had reached out to them to question the move,” the customer said. “They even went to the point of insinuating that I should be thankful for them doing this to give me something positive to look forward to in the future.”
The Covid-19 crisis has been a catastrophe for the travel sector, causing mass cancellations, redundancies and cost-cutting.
But the actions of some in the industry prompted warnings from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which told companies they must honour the terms and conditions in place at the time of booking.
“Informing consumers that they have no right to a refund when in fact they do is likely to constitute misleading conduct in breach of the Australian consumer law,” the ACCC said at the time.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Topdeck customers rebooked on tours without their knowledge and despite border closures | Business