Recent research shows that 67 per cent of Ontarians have booked at least one trip online. To make sure you are protected when purchasing travel services over the Internet, the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO) offers the following advice:
Benefits of booking online with an Ontario registered travel agency.
When purchasing travel services online, remember to ensure that you are dealing with a TICO-registered travel company, as these companies must adhere to Ontario’s very strict consumer protection laws. Ontario’s Travel Compensation Fund reimburses consumers up to $5,000.00 per person if the travel services purchased from a TICO-registered travel agent are not provided due to the bankruptcy or insolvency of either a registered Ontario travel retailer or travel wholesaler, or cessation of an airline or cruise line.
TICO-registered travel agencies must also disclose the terms and conditions of the reservation and advise the customer about the travel documentation required for each person traveling. They are also required to follow invoicing and advertising requirements, which are in place to protect the consumer.
Know who you are dealing with.
Look for the TICO registration number on the website. Ontario travel retailers are required to display their address, phone number and registration number on their website. If you are unsure, read the “About Us”, “History” or “Our Company” section on the website to learn about the travel company. If in doubt as to whether the travel agency online is registered with TICO call 1-888-451-TICO (8426) or visit TICO’s website at www.tico.ca.
Know where your credit card payment is going.
When making an online purchase, find out who you are paying and who will be charging your credit card. Some websites are only “search engines” or booking agents for other service providers. When you confirm your travel services and make a payment, you may be directed to a site hosted by an airline or another company which may or may not be registered in Ontario. Find out how your credit card payment will be processed. Consumers are only protected through the Ontario Travel Compensation Fund to the extent of the amount of money paid to or through Ontario-registered travel agencies.
What documents should be provided?
Ontario travel agencies which sell travel services online are required to provide the same documentation and information to consumers as they do when a booking is made in person or over the telephone. Once you have made payment, the online travel agency must provide you with a detailed receipt outlining information such as what travel services were purchased, payments received and travel documents required for each person travelling.
Read the ‘Terms and Conditions’ of your booking.
Before you confirm your travel services online, make sure you read and understand the Terms and Conditions of the travel services being purchased. Many websites will not allow you to continue a booking until you acknowledge reading this section. Most of us quickly click through and accept the Terms and Conditions without reading them. You may not plan on cancelling or making changes when you purchase travel but unexpected events happen and you should be aware of what fees or penalties apply to your booking in the event you have to cancel or make a change.
Always consider purchasing insurance.
Ontario travel agencies selling travel services online are also required to offer trip cancellation insurance and out-of-province health insurance at the time of the booking. Your receipt from the travel agency must specify whether or not this insurance has been purchased or declined.
Keep a record of all your transactions.
When you are purchasing travel services online, it is recommended that you keep a paper copy of all transactions, correspondence, confirmations and anything else related to your online booking such as the description of your hotel and the services and amenities to be included. This is proof of your online booking.
Other things to consider:
What currency are the prices quoted in?
Ensure you are clear on exactly what the cost will be. Ontario travel agencies selling travel services online are required to disclose the total price of the travel services. This would include any service fee or consulting fee that will be charged. Be sure you know what the total price is before you make a commitment.
Ensure that the website is secure before making credit card payments.
Secure websites are designated with the prefix https:// in the URL box (or website address box) and usually have a lock or key symbol displayed on the bottom of your browser window. If you don’t feel comfortable giving your credit card number online, some sites may allow you to fax or call in your credit card number.
Do your research.
If you are not familiar with a particular destination, check to see if the online travel agency has information about your destination to help you make the right decision. Always remember that different standards of living and practices may exist outside of Canada.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Online travel agencies should have a Customer Service contact number that consumers can call to ask questions or request further information.
Consider checking whether there are any Travel Advisories or Reports on your destination.
Check the website for the Department of Foreign Affairs at: http://www.voyage.gc.ca. You may be required to print off your own vouchers from the website for your hotel accommodations or transfer to/from the airport. Without these documents, you may not receive the services once in destination.
Once in destination, where do you call if you run into problems?
Find out what type of customer support service the company offers in destination. Most tour operators have destination representatives to assist travelers with any issues that may arise.
For more information and tips for planning a successful vacation visit www.tico.ca where you can also enter a “Win a Dream Trip” contest until March 31, 2011, or contact the Travel Industry Council of Ontario at 1-888-451-TICO (8426).