Holiday accommodation and your rights

What rights do you have under Australian Consumer Law if there's a problem with your holiday accommodation?

Booked the hotel from hell?

No one wants their hard-earned holidays ruined by hotel booking dramas or a room that doesn't pass muster. So what rights do you have if things don't go to plan with your holiday accommodation?

Tips for hassle free accommodation

  • Paying by credit card can provide you added protection in the form of chargebacks, but be wary of additional fees.
  • Book your travel insurance at the same time as you book your accommodation, as some policies cover cancellations.
  • Find out if there are any penalties for cancellation.
  • Find out if there'll be any extra costs, such as if they charge for Wi-Fi or for parking.
  • Specify at the time of booking any additional requirements you may need, such as a quiet room or a cot for your child.

Your rights

Many of your rights will be outlined in the terms and conditions of the accommodation supplier. Australian Consumer Law also provides some protections through consumer guarantees, as well as protection against unfair contract terms and unfair practices by businesses. Your rights under Australian Consumer Law will be most applicable for travel within Australia or purchases made within Australia, for example through a travel agent.

Read more about your travel rights overseas below.

Your consumer guarantees mean that accommodation services must be provided:

  • with due care and skill,
  • so that they are fit for any specified purpose, and
  • within a reasonable period of time (if no time was set when booking).

In addition, the hotel or accommodation itself must:

  • be safe and of acceptable quality,
  • match the description provided when you booked it, and
  • be advertised in a manner that is not false or misleading.

Most importantly, none of these rights can be diminished, even if the hotel or accommodation supplier tries to do so by agreement or through terms in a contract.

But what does all this legalese mean when you're on holiday? You'd rather be relaxing right?

Accommodation trouble-shooting guide

I wasn't told about the credit card fee/ It costs more than the advertised price

I've booked accommodation – what happens if I need to cancel?

What cancellation fees can be charged?

What happens if my accommodation or travel plans are cancelled due to a natural disaster or other crisis?

The room I was given is different to the one I booked

I'm having trouble redeeming a deal from a group buying site

My belongings were damaged or went missing from the hotel – what can I do?

My credit card was charged without my permission

I booked through a travel agent or third-party booking website. Who do I complain to if there's a problem?

What to do if I have a problem with my accommodation

I wasn't told about the credit card fee/It costs more than the advertised price

Any extras such as credit card fees or breakfast should be disclosed to you before being charged, and should be avoidable if they weren't included in the initial advertised price.

Hotels and other accommodation providers need to advertise their prices and fees in a transparent way. This means that businesses can't do what's called 'drip pricing', where they advertise a price that's only part of the total known costs, and then add extra inescapable fees throughout the booking process.

For example, if a hotel advertised rooms at $150 a night plus booking and resort fees, the total quantifiable price, which would include the booking and resort fees, would need to be advertised just as prominently.

If there's an unavoidable extra cost that can't be quantified at the time of booking – for example, the hotel requires you to buy meals at its restaurant – the amount doesn't have to be included in the total price but you do need to be made aware of it and given details on how the additional costs will be calculated.

I've booked accommodation – what happens if I need to cancel?

Your right to cancel a booking will be subject to the accommodation provider's terms and conditions, unless a major failure has occurred, so make sure you read the small print before you book. You can't just cancel because you changed your mind, booked the wrong product or found it cheaper elsewhere. If you do, you may be charged a cancellation fee. However, if the accommodation booking was made following an unsolicited sales attempt, you have 10 days to change your mind and cancel the booking without penalty.

Many hotels will allow you to cancel without charging a cancellation fee provided you do so within a reasonable timeframe, but check their terms and conditions, as not all do.

What cancellation fees can be charged?

The fees charged for cancellation shouldn't be excessive or they could be deemed unfair. Excessive fees would be anything beyond what your cancellation has reasonably cost the business. For example, if you cancel a long time in advance and there's a reasonable chance that the accommodation provider can re-book the room, it'd be difficult for the accommodation provider to argue for the imposition of a cancellation fee in excess of the costs already incurred.

If you've pre-paid for the room and need to cancel, the accommodation provider can usually only keep a deposit (the ACL guidelines suggest a fair deposit is 10%). However, we've noticed a trend where hotels offer cheaper rates if you prepay for the room and forgo your cancellation rights.

To cover yourself, it's a good idea to get travel insurance at the same time you book your holiday. This means that provided your travel insurer covers cancellations due to unforeseen circumstances, you won't be short-changed.

What happens if my accommodation or travel plans are cancelled due to a natural disaster or other crisis?

If authorities advise that the area you're planning to visit isn't safe to enter, or that it will be closed, both you and the accommodation provider may be released from the contract. This would make cancellations without a fee possible through what's called a frustrated contract under general law. A frustrated contract happens when it becomes impossible to carry out a contract due to events beyond the control of all parties involved.

The room I was given is different to the one I booked

Accommodation service providers can't make any false or misleading representations about what they're offering. They also need to provide products and services that are fit for a specified purpose.

This means your room should match any representations made about it when you booked. Neither the text nor pictures used to represent the accommodation should mislead or deceive you with regard to price, the amenities available, view or location. For example, if it says "beach view room", the room needs to have views of the beach.

If the room is significantly different to what you booked or doesn't meet the needs you specified and can't be fixed in a reasonable period of time, it's likely to be deemed a major failure. A major failure would entitle you to choose between a refund or to continue with the contract and be compensated for the drop in value of the room.

If the problem with the room can be fixed in a reasonable timeframe then the business can choose to fix the problem; for example, a cot you requested wasn't there on arrival but staff could fetch one for you.

Read our story on hotel review sites such as TripAdvisor for tips on how to avoid fake reviews.

I'm having trouble redeeming a deal from a group buying site

Group buying sites often sell vouchers or coupons for accommodation and may be offered on the basis that a minimum number of people take up the deal. The accommodation vouchers will usually need to be used within a certain period of time, for example a 12-month period. While deals may be subject to expiry dates, businesses can't bait customers without having a sufficient supply of the services. This means that if an accommodation service can't reasonably fulfill your request within the timeframe, you're entitled to a full refund.

For example, if you try to book a room a month after you purchased a voucher which had a 12-month expiry period, and the hotel has none of the advertised rooms available before your voucher expires, you're entitled to a refund. And you don't have to accept an alternative room that may be charged at a higher price.

It is, however, a good idea to book your accommodation as soon as possible after you purchase the deal, as it may be unreasonable to expect a hotel to provide the service at short notice close to the expiry date.

My belongings were damaged or went missing from the hotel – what can I do?

Most states and territories have legislation outlining the liability of accommodation providers if something happens to guests' personal belongings during their stay. The amount the accommodation provider is liable for is usually limited (depending on the state or territory) unless the loss is as a result of a fault on the accommodation provider's part. But this protection won't necessarily apply overseas, so it's a good idea to consider travel insurance for expensive items.

My credit card was charged without my permission

If a hotel or other accommodation service takes your credit card details for a booking, or at check-in, they need to inform you of any charges that may be placed on the card such as a cancellation fee or charges for unpaid mini-bar treats. If you aren't advised, it may be considered an unauthorised transaction under ASIC's ePayments Code. If you have no luck sorting it out with the accommodation provider, contact your bank.

I booked through a travel agent or third-party booking website. Who do I complain to if there's a problem?

If you choose to book through a third party and there's a problem with your booking, your channel of recourse is through the site or agent you booked with, not the end service provider, so make sure that whoever you book through is legitimate. While plenty of booking sites are legit, not all are. One CHOICE member told us about losing their money when they booked accommodation through a site called If you've been scammed, you can request a credit card chargeback through your bank.

What do I do if I have a problem with my accommodation?

If you run into trouble, try first to resolve it directly with the accommodation service provider or booking agent. If that fails, you can make a complaint to the ACCC or your state-based consumer affairs body. If you believe money has been incorrectly debited from your credit card, you can contact your bank to request a chargeback.

Travelling overseas?

If you're travelling overseas it helps to know what your rights are within that country. Here's a list of resources from our sister organisations and various consumer protection bodies in the UK, New Zealand and the US. For other countries look up the 'Need to know' travel guide for your destination.

United Kingdom

New Zealand

United States