Couple slugged $59k for cancelled trip

A Melbourne couple have been slugged nearly $59,000 in cancellation fees after their dream European cruise was called off because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scenic Australia denied Michael Butler and Melinda Manley’s request for a full refund this week after their May 15 trip was cancelled 42 days out.

Correspondence seen by NCA NewsWire showed the luxury cruise and travel operator was only prepared to refund the Altona couple $9439, while their remaining $58,877 was deemed the “total cancellation fee”.

Scenic Australia did offer future travel credit for 2021 and 2022, but Mr Butler said his partner, a frontline healthcare worker, could not travel so long as COVID-19 remained a global threat, and could not take up the offer.

Scenic Australia then directed Mr Butler to his travel insurance provider instead.

“I’m 67 years old and have never been overseas in my life, this was something I’ve been saving up for for years and years,” Mr Butler said.

“It’s the most absurd cancellation fee I’ve ever come across – we entered into this agreement in nothing but good faith and Scenic haven’t showed us any good faith in return.”

Mr Butler purchased a home in Eltham shortly after his ideal trip was cancelled, thinking “if I can’t travel then I’d have money for a home instead”.

But the $58,877 blow has left him with financial debts.

“Our money is being held for a ridiculous reason, not even a breakdown was provided and now we’re left without a holiday and debts to figure out how to pay,” Mr Butler said.

“We booked a year and a half in advance – well before the pandemic and before Scenic had time to change their terms and conditions – we should be owed a full refund.”

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission COVID-19 guidelines state it’s expected consumers will receive a refund or other remedy, such as a credit note or voucher, when travel is cancelled.

In some cases, consumers will have the right to receive a refund, rather than a credit note or voucher, depending on the terms and conditions at the time the travel was purchased.

Consumer advocate for Travel Industry Issues – The Need For Change for Australians, Adam Glezer, said Mr Butler and his partner were owed a full refund as they had no control over the trip’s cancellation.

“The fact they are being charged close to a $59,000 cancellation fee is unfair, unethical and beyond comprehension in my opinion,” he said.

“I don‘t understand how they can hold such a large amount of Michael’s money. In what other industry can a company hold close to $60000 of a customers money when they haven‘t provided the service paid for at the time promised.”

Scenic Australia was contacted for comment, but did not respond.

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