Travel company abandons young backpackers overseas

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As thousands of young backpackers stranded around the world are struggling to get safely back home, it’s such as shame to see that some of them are being abandoned by the travel companies they booked through.

Here’s a piece I wrote earlier for the Telegraph about how STA Travel is treating youngsters; some of its competitors have also been criticised for leaving clients overseas and many other travel companies are also refusing to issue refunds to passengers whose trips have been cancelled entirely, which is contrary to the Package Travel Regulations. However, STA Travel proudly claims to be the world’s largest youth travel specialist so its clients quite rightly expected better.

Those who’ve booked trips that have been cancelled or were aborted will have to be patient with travel companies desperately trying to deal with an avalanche of requests – in addition to trying to bring customers back home – but I hope that when this is all over, customers vote with their feet and support those travel companies that looked after their clients during the coronavirus epidemic, or at least did their very best, and avoid those who behaved appalling or were simply unable to cope with the crisis.

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My daughter and her friend arranged the whole trip as a package with STA. They were sold a Kiwi hop on hop off bus that was not fit for purpose. 6 weeks before they were due to leave they decided against this party bus and go with the National bus. They were charged £100 cancellation fee from the bus company and a further £50 by STA. I complained and got the STA fee back.

STA had them on Singapore Air. When Changi Airport closed because of the current Covid-19 issue, I had to get STA to move them onto a different flight. Thinking this was a transfer from Singapore to Emirates, when actually all they had done was simply book two seats at full price. The Emirates flight was booked on 22nd. FCO announced get home on 23rd and then Emirates cancelled their flights on 24th. I couldn’t wait for STA to reply to my emails so I booked BA myself at further costs of £1300.

Surely, STA have to have some responsibility for getting the girls onto a flight and home ?

I’ve been chasing STA about the Singapore and Emirates flights since 24th. I then received an email on 25th informing me they were not going to refund me money, but give me voucher s, when it’s a cash refund we need to be able to pay for the BA flights ??

Also outstanding is Greyhound bus to Cairns and Whitsunday trip.
They promote themselves as travel agent to students and yet they try and fleece those with least money and more importantly least travel experience.
We just want our daughter and friend home, but I wont be letting this lie until we receive the due refund.
Regards

John Miller

This is a very similar story to what I am hearing from many other people John.
In your daughter’s case, she booked a package holiday (defined as a flight plus another element) so her trip was covered by the Package Travel Regulations. This is significant because it means that STA Travel was responsible for ensuring that her trip could go ahead as planned and, when it was disrupted, even though it was in no way their fault, it fell to them to assist in getting her home once the Foreign Office advised travellers to return to the UK as soon as possible to avoid being stranded.
Obviously the coronavirus has caused chaos for travel firms worldwide so understandably they are struggling to cope, but they must still stand by their obligations – otherwise, why book with them?
Under the terms of the Package Travel Regulations (PTR) and ABTA guidance your daughter is entitled to a refund for the unused elements of her trip. She is entitled to this in cash within 14 days. Unfortunately, it’s not clear in your case what elements are ‘unused’ but I would argue that she should certainly get a refund for her original flight home, which was cancelled, the Greyhound bus and the Whitsunday trip.
Travel companies are dealing with a lot of cancellations and have few or no bookings coming in, so they won’t have the money to refund everyone. Many will collapse if they do. For that reason, ABTA has asked the government to suspend or relax the PTR to allow travel companies longer to refund clients and to allow them to give credit instead – but note the government has not yet agreed to this, even though STA are telling clients that it has. So, if you are offered credit you are still entitled to insist on cash. If you accept credit, ABTA is saying that this has the same financial protection as the package you bought in the first place – but as far as I’m aware, the government has not confirmed this. Until it does, I’m not sure it is wise to accept credit, especially as my understanding is that STA is insisting the credit is only valid for a limited period. If you paid for the package with a credit card, I would be inclined to ask your card issuer for a refund if STA doesn’t agree to pay a cash refund itself within 14 days – unless in the meantime the government confirms that credit issued by travel companies will be financially protected.
With regard to the additional flights you bought to get your daughter home, you could try making a claim on your daughter’s travel insurance if it includes cover for travel disruption or curtailment. Not all policies do. You should get a refund from Emirates for the unused ticket you bought – although like travel firms, airlines are also issuing vouchers instead of cash. Try to push them to give cash instead.
This is obviously a very complex situation and I do have some sympathy with STA Travel, who are dealing with thousands of customers stranded worldwide, and they’ll ultimately have to pay out a fortune in refunds, but, from what I can tell, some companies with similar problems are dealing with it much better.

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