ASTA: Suppliers Retroactively Changing Policies “Egregious,” “Unethical”

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The American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) recently addressed the need for airlines to make changes to their existing rules governing refunds and cancellations as a result of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. It reports that progress is being made on that front, albeit slowly. One sign of this progress was the notice issued earlier this month by the U.S. Department of Transportation clarifying that airlines remain obligated to refund passengers whose flights are cancelled by the airline, even when the flight disruption is outside of the carrier’s control. Many carriers are now easing other policies where ASTA says it has pushed for change. 

In addition to airlines, many travelers and travel advisors are suffering financially as a result of tours, cruises and other ground- and sea-based travel that are cancelled by the supplier for myriad reasons associated with the global pandemic but completely outside of the travelers’ control.

“While this is painful enough, what is far more egregious from ASTA’s perspective is the growing number of suppliers that have elected to change their refund, cancellation and commission policies retroactively, overwhelmingly to the detriment of advisors and consumers alike,” ASTA said in a statement. “Withholding or denying refunds in breach of the terms and conditions that were in effect at the time of booking breaks the supplier’s contract with the consumer. Similarly, withholding, delaying or denying outright an earned travel agency commission in breach of the policy in effect at time of booking is a violation of the contract with the advisor as well.”

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On a call with media Thursday morning, ASTA president and CEO Zane Kerby said they are working with any such companies that are ASTA members behind the scenes; however, the “ground swell” of similar incidents by suppliers made it necessary to make a public statement.

“The supplier’s failure to honor its own cancellation, rebooking and refund policies also unfairly exposes the travel advisor to legal liability from the advisor’s client and, in many cases, constitutes a clear violation of state and federal consumer protection laws,” the statement continues.

ASTA adds that “nearly every day since the crisis began,” it has learned of cases where tour operators were retaining traveler deposits, withholding agency commissions and limiting compensation to credit for a future trip—"one that, in many cases, will never be taken.” It also notes that some tour operators and consolidators are flat-out refusing to refund travelers the cost of air tickets for flights that were cancelled by the carrier and already refunded to the supplier.

“We recognize that many suppliers, particularly the smaller ones, are facing unprecedented financial stress due to the crisis and ASTA is not unsympathetic to their plight. That being said, the practices being reported are simply unethical, and the outrage and frustration felt by both the traveling public and travel advisors in response is intense, and rightly so,” ASTA said.

ASTA is calling on all travel suppliers globally to:

  • Ensure that all travel components are fully refundable and not merely credited for future travel
  • Honor the original agency commissions on all bookings if the travel is rebooked and, if the travel is refunded, consider a partial commission payment
  • Honor agency commissions at time of deposit and/or at time of final payment
  • Forgo the practice of assessing cancellation fees on rebooked or refunded itineraries and ensure that travel credits are at least equal to the price the customer paid
  • Set no time limit on any credit issued for cancelled bookings when taken in lieu of an offered refund or, alternatively, make the credit good for a minimum of two years from the original departure date

The following travel networks/agencies co-signed the statement:

ASTA Corporate Advisory Council Palm Coast Travel
BCD Travel Signature Travel Network
Cadence TAMS (Travel Agency Management Solutions)
Christopherson Andavo Travel TerraMar Travel Inc.
Cruise Planners Travel Experts Inc.
Ensemble Travel Group Travel Leaders Network
GIFTED Travel Network Travel Planners International
KHM Travel Group TRAVELSAVERS
Leisure Travel Alliance Travel Quest Network / WorldVia Travel Group
Leisure Travel Alliance Central Uniglobe Travel Center
MAST Travel Network Valerie Wilson Travel
NEST Virtuoso
Nexion Travel Group Western Association of Travel Agencies
OASIS Travel Network Your Travel Center / Montecito Village Travel

ASTA’s statement concluded, “For those suppliers who have already chosen to do the right thing at this most difficult time, again, we applaud you, and we are confident that your actions will be richly rewarded by loyal consumers and advisors alike when the crisis finally abates and we are all able to start traveling once again.”

This article originally appeared on www.travelagentcentral.com.

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