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Booking.com called out for ‘deceptive’ fee after Aussie's flight cancellation

"This seems like a small amount of money but how many people are they doing it to?" the passenger asks.

An Aussie traveller hit with a flight cancellation has spent months trying to get her full refund from booking.com, and described the organisation as "deceptive" and the experience "unacceptable".

On September 17 Sujanti booked a return flight through Booking.com from Brisbane to Medan, Indonesia to see family over Christmas. The $1,794.50 flight with Batik-Air, set to depart on December 22, was cancelled by the airline at the end of November and the customer service teams from both Booking.com and Batik-Air said a refund would be organised.

After not receiving a full refund, Sujanti said she tried to find out why some of the amount was missing. The airline said they refunded the full amount, but Sujanti claims Booking.com disputed this.

"I made a lot of phone calls and Booking.com kept saying they didn't get the full amount from the airline, they were trying to get me off the phone," Sujanti told Yahoo News Australia. "It's unacceptable, they thought they could just keep some of the money."

Left image is of Sujanti while on holidays, wearing a face mask. Right image is a screenshot of her original Booking.com flight booking.
Sujanti (pictured) has been trying to get answers from Booking.com for months. Source: Supplied

Booking.com partner admits to keeping a fee a month later

In December, Go To Gate, who are in partnership with Booking.com, sent an email to Sujanti stating "The airline refunded only part of the money, $1,710.05". However, after she claims to have consistently followed them up and disputed this, the company emailed again in January to "admit" the airline actually "refunded $1,784.32" and then Go To Gate in partnership with Booking.com "deducted" a further $73.82 for a "non-refundable discount".

"This seems like a small amount of money but how many people are they doing it to?" Sujanti questioned. "Non-refundable discount doesn't make sense, there were no discounts on the flights and then it took so long for them to admit it."

After reaching out to Booking.com to request an explanation for the deduction, Yahoo understands the organisation will be paying the amount to Sujanti.

Screenshots of emails sent to Sujanti by Go To Gate in partnership with Booking.com.
Screenshots of emails sent to Sujanti by Go To Gate in partnership with Booking.com. Source: Supplied

'Grey areas' mean little protection for travellers

Review sites like CHOICE and Product Review are littered with stories of Aussies struggling to get refunds for flight cancellations, or problems with the quality of the hotels they booked, but consumer expert Joel Gibson told Yahoo this is largely due to the Australian Consumer Law having "grey areas".

"There is no clear definition of what entitles you to compensation. Nowhere is it written down. Consumers are simply told it depends 'on the individual circumstances' of their booking and cancellation", Gibson previously wrote in an opinion piece for The Sydney Morning Herald. "It’s time we fixed consumer protection laws surrounding travel cancellations."

In Sujanti's case, Joel said "if there was something in the fine print about Booking.com or Go To Gate taking a booking fee regardless of cancellation", they could be relying on this. "I'd challenge it, though, because it seems unreasonable and contract terms need to be 'conscionable'," he said. "And also because the whole thing has been so badly handled too — it's not good enough and this alone should mean they give a full refund."

Joel's advice is, as a "general rule", if you've written to a business once and called once and still haven't received what you consider a fair result, it's best to "dob them in" and take it to a "third umpire" — letting the business know this is what you are doing to "light a fire under them".

Do you have a story tip? Email: newsroomau@yahoonews.com.

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