LIKE many people her age, Louise Pye, 25, had travelled extensively without ever setting foot in a travel agency.
So, when it came to her six-week honeymoon in Asia, the tax office employee and Ngunnawal resident chose to book all her accommodation and flights – as she usually did – online, through various holiday websites.
One of the purchases she made was through Asian daily-deal website Jigocity, for four nights in a Seminyak resort in Bali.
But a few days before her flight was due to leave, Louise received a brief email from the resort.
“It stated that they were cancelling our accommodation, despite us confirming twice with Jigocity that it was still okay,” Louise says.
“We believe there was a mix up between Jigocity and the resort. But we couldn’t get on to Jigocity at all to query why this happened; it was impossible to reach them.
“We didn’t even get a reason for the cancellation, it was just ‘sorry, there’s nothing we can do’. It meant we had to scramble around looking for another place at the last minute, in peak season, causing a lot of unnecessary stress we didn’t need when we were already planning a wedding.”
Jigocity closed its Australian operations in April, announcing it was “going through a period of consolidation”.
Louise says she will continue to use websites for holiday deals, purely for the convenience – “but only ones I’m sure are reliable, and I’ll definitely be more careful next time.”
And Louise isn’t alone – according to travel analysis company PhoCusWright, Australia has the highest online travel penetration rate in Asia Pacific, and travel websites represent one of the most visited internet categories in the country.
The online share of the market is expected to reach 38 per cent this year, up from 28 per cent three years ago.
And while most website purchases run smoothly, thousands of dollars can be at stake if things go awry.
The Office of Regulatory Services reports that in the last four months, they received three enquiries and one formal complaint relating to online accommodation bookings from ACT residents. Common issues involved cancellation and refund policies, as well as changing dates previously booked.
Chloe Holland, of Palmerston, was one of the unlucky locals who encountered problems when booking a holiday online.
With a mortgage and part-time university fees, the public servant was keen to get a good deal when she was asked to be a bridesmaid for her friend’s destination wedding in Phuket, Thailand, in January 2013.
Through daily deal website Living Social, Chloe purchased a $999 deal for return airfares and five nights’ accommodation at a resort, with the conditions stating bookings must be made through Asian budget travel site, Travelsmoove.
“I thought I had come across a great opportunity,” she says.
“But after purchasing the deal, I tried to redeem the vouchers to travel in January, and the Travelsmoove site said there were no available allotments for that month – it suggested to try another date.
“I phoned Living Social, who advised me that even though we could only travel in January, we would not be entitled to a refund as there still should be dates available that we could travel instead. But when I phoned Travelsmoove, I was told there were no available dates at all, and that we should have booked earlier.
“After many follow up phone calls, they finally agreed we could travel in April with an extra $200 fee to pay because we ‘booked outside the allocated allotment period’. This obviously was no good to us, given we had to attend the wedding in January. So we ended up having to book two trips – one of which we didn’t actually need.
“What made it more difficult was also that Travelsmoove were a foreign, virtually uncontactable company. I definitely wouldn’t book with an online deals website for any overseas trips again.”
“CityNews” tried to get in contact with Travelsmoove for comment numerous times without success.
Deputy Secretary of Digital Economy and Services at the Department of Broadband Communications and the Digital Economy, Abul Rizvi, says travellers should “take extra precautions” if booking online this holiday season.
“People should avoid using payment methods such as money transfers, direct debit or providing bank details in an email,” Abul says.
“Only make bookings on a secure website – one that has an ‘https’ address or a locked padlock in the browser.
“Travellers should always ensure that the prices quoted are in Australian dollars so that their holiday is not more expensive than they expected… there could be additional charges.
“There is a risk that a cancellation will result in the loss of a deposit or the full payment, so it’s important to read all the fine print when making bookings and to keep copies of all receipts.”
For more tips on staying smart online, visit www.staysmartonline.gov.au/summer_holidays.