It’s high season for travel, and a good time to refresh your travel knowledge. CHOICE offers a few choice tips.
Hotels and holiday rentals
More and more people are booking their holiday accommodation online these days, but convenience can come with a catch or two. If you’re picking a place to stay via the web, taking a few extra steps to make sure you don’t get taken for a ride.
- Don’t take a star rating as evidence of a good hotel. Always check reviews before making a booking.
- The difference between booking sites isn’t just in their prices – it pays to read the fine print. Some sites allow refunds or cancellations to certain bookings, while others do not.
- Breakfast at your hotel can be an expensive convenience. If you’re on a budget, consider a room-only rate and have breakfast on the run.
- Scammers have been known to haunt classified sites such as Craigslist, and apartment rental sites including FlipKey. Check websites directly, and if in doubt, confirm the third party is actually affiliated with the hotel/apartment you’re looking to book by calling them directly.
- Got a dud room? Ask to see an alternative. Hotels often have several types of rooms available at the same price, and may be willing to move you to a different one that’s more to your taste.
- Cut out the middleman. Some hotels and other holiday accommodation may offer to match or even beat prices available on third-party websites if approached directly, as this means they save on commission. And the booking conditions may be more favourable if booked direct, with greater flexibility for date changes.
- If you’ve already booked a hotel with one site but found a cheaper rate elsewhere, see if your booking was covered by a best price guarantee. If it was, the hotel booking site may (subject to its terms and conditions) refund the difference, or even beat the price.
Frequent flyer points
It’s generally not a good idea to go chasing after frequent flyer points unless you really fly frequently. The main issue is that the airline controls the value of the points as well as how and when they can be redeemed.
A CHOICE investigation found that flyer points are worth about one cent a piece and that it would take 19,800 Virgin Velocity points, for instance, to earn a mere seat upgrade on a flight from Sydney to Perth and back. For holiday travellers, it makes more sense to find the cheapest fare, despite the frequent flyer hype coming from the airlines.
- The carry-on baggage allowance for the major Australian airlines for domestic or international travel is 7kg. If you exceed this you could end up with an extra fee, or you may need to check in your baggage.
- Government regulations restrict the amount of liquids, aerosols and gels you can take on board international flights. This means that containers must be no bigger than 100ml and all containers must be sealed in a transparent zip-lock bag (which can’t be more than 1L). Only one zip-lock bag is allowed per passenger.
- Prohibited items include sporting goods, kitchen utensils, tools and other objects with sharp edges/points capable of injuring someone.
- Previously prohibited items like umbrellas with metal points, knitting and crochet needles, pointed metal nail files and nail clippers, corkscrews and racquets used in sports like squash and tennis can now be taken through security screening points within Australia.
- Don’t leave your baggage unattended and always do your own packing. A lock is one way to deter thieves.
- If you have to carry hypodermic needles, you’ll need to present documentation and identification at check-in.
- The best measure to keep your luggage safe is to pack your valuables into your carry-on luggage.
- It’s also a good idea to take out comprehensive travel insurance, in the event that you need to replace any lost or stolen items.
The industry-founded Airline Consumer Advocate (ACA) takes complaints from customers of airlines that participate in the scheme. At the moment they are Qantas, Virgin Australia, Jetstar, Tiger and Regional Express (Rex).
The ACA will take complaints about a range of service issues, but only if you’ve lodged a complaint with the airline first and given it time to respond. These include:
- flight delays or cancellations
- telephone or internet reservations
- customer service at the airport or inflight
- baggage services
- fees and charges
- safety and security
- airport lounge facilities
- frequent flyer program terms and conditions
- discrimination and services for customers with specific needs
- requests for refunds
Qantas says it will respond to complaints within five business days, though it doesn’t set a timeline for resolving complaints and disclaims in its customer charter that “every case is different and some more complicated matters may take longer to resolve”. Virgin says it will respond to complaints “within 15 business days where possible, pending the complexity of your situation”.
If you think an airline is taking too long to resolve your complaint about any of the following service issues, you should lodge a complaint with the ACA.
In 2012, the ACA accepted 424 complaints, with cancellation and refund requests topping the list, followed by flight delays and cancellations. Jetstar generated the most complaints in the second half of 2012, followed by Tiger. The ACA has yet to publish more recent stats.