The oft-quoted but seldom understood idiom “The law is an ass” applies just as stringently when it comes to travel purchases. Even if the application of the law visibly runs contrary to common sense, it doesn’t lessen the consumer’s obligation to know it.
To wit, over the last two months, we’ve seen Israeli consumers calling for a boycott due to the high price of cottage cheese. We discovered that one of the most respected US advisory firms actually advised an Israeli company that raising the price over 15% would have a negligible effect on its sales.
Foolish they were, as consumers reacted strongly and forced manufacturers to beat a hasty retreat from their price increases.
Two recent e-mails from aggrieved travelers led me to review the consumer protection laws in the field of tourism in Israel.
The first e-mail was from Mira, who, when making a reservation for a ticket, was told in writing by her travel agent that the ticket must be purchased within 48 hours – not an abstract two days, but 48 hours from the minute the reservation was made.
The following day, she asked for one more day to decide, and the travel consultant, despite what had been written, gave her until the following afternoon.
When she tried to purchase the ticket late the next day (two days after being given her 48-hour deadline), she was told that the reservation had fallen through and that if she wanted a new one, it would cost $120 more. Under the pressure, she acquiesced and paid for the new ticket.
She then took the intelligent step of explaining her exasperation in writing. She detailed that the instructions she had received were not clear enough, and felt she should be refunded the difference.
The savvy travel consultant, with very little soul-searching required, offered a Solomonic solution: he would cover half the difference. Here, the law was actually on the travel agent’s side; having put the terms of the original reservation in writing, he was following the law to the letter.
THE KNESSET, with the help of the Association of Travel Agents and the Israel Hotel Association, has passed a series of laws to protect consumers.
First and foremost, these laws cover all purchases done online through
an airline, hotel or travel agency site. Even if purchasing a
100-percent nonrefundable ticket, or making a hotel reservation (inside
Israel), you are permitted to cancel within 14 days of remitting payment
with the firm knowledge that you will get back the entire amount, minus
5% or NIS 100 ($30), whichever is less.
The two caveats are that the airline ticket or hotel stay cannot be set
for within seven days of payment, and that the request to cancel must be
in writing – via e-mail, fax or the old fashioned pen-to-paper letter.
Please note: It does not cover hotel reservations outside of Israel, so
if you’re told a hotel abroad has a one-night cancellation fee, you will
have to pay it.
The reasoning for the law is that even if you sought out a specific site
to receive a quotation for an air fare, the fact that the site exists –
i.e., that an advertisement or offer was made – is deemed a
solicitation for your business, and as such is considered grounds for
upholding the law’s provisions if you should cancel. This holds true
even if you looked up the phone number of a travel agency in the Yellow
Pages! Want to purchase a charter ticket for Rosh Hashana on Easy Jet?
Going to their website and wading through a waffle of information and
then an exhaustive search leads you to their “change and cancellation”
policy: “Unless you have purchased a ‘flexible fare,’ you are not
entitled to change flight reservations once confirmed, except the names
of passengers or flights (subject to space being available) which may be
changed prior to check-in for the original flight on payment of a fee
per passenger per flight.”
Fares are non-refundable. The fare will be payable by the purchaser if you fail to use the space booked.
Now book the same flight, at presumably the same fare, on the site of
Arkia or Daka90. The conditions are identical; payment is made at the
time of the booking, and like the EasyJet site, you sign a declaration
that all that you’ve submitted is correct.
And if you decide that being in London in September is no longer your cup of tea? No problem.
Write them an e-mail informing them you’re canceling, without the need
to provide a reason, and your payment will be returned, minus the paltry
sum of NIS 100.
WHILE I applaud this legislation in principle, consumer pressure needs
to be placed on the Transportation and Tourism ministries to enforce it
on all the non-Israeli charter airlines that fly to and from Israel.
When Bob wrote to me recently stating that he had purchased a ticket to
Rome on an Israeli airline via their site and been told there was a
hefty cancellation fee, I was taken aback. Politely explaining the law
to him, I suggested he speak once more to the agency’s representative
and explain ever so slowly that he had requested to cancel well within
the 14 days and nowhere near seven days before the flight date, and that
it would be in her best interest to refund the money. Surprise,
surprise, the travel agent quickly agreed to make the cancellation and
refund his payment.
Like most consumer protection, the law was written to protect those
purchasing from afar. Walk into a travel agency, even if you received a
direct solicitation, and you’re not protected. It is designed solely to
cover private consumers.
No protection is given to business clients. A professor at Hebrew
University whose trip is being paid for by the institution has no
protection. Planning to take your hard-working employees on an incentive
trip to Cyprus? Unless you paid from your personal account, you, too,
have no protection. Agreements and contracts made between two companies
are completely exempt from this legislation.
In concluding, the point I want to reiterate is: Always know in advance
what the terms of changing or canceling your purchases are. The law may
not be perfect, but there is no reason you should be treated like a
donkey.The writer is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem.