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16 February 2023

Your accommodation booking rights after a natural disaster

We tell you your booking rights if you were impacted by cyclone Gabrielle.

Image of a hotel

I had accommodation booked but I can’t make it because of the cyclone. Can I cancel?

Check the terms and conditions of your booking. These should have been provided to you at the time you made your booking.

The terms will usually set out your rights if the accommodation can’t be used due to something outside the control of the parties, such as a natural disaster. The relevant clauses sometimes use the words ‘act of God’ or ‘force majeure’.

The company needs to make sure any cancellation terms that apply in these situations are fair. Otherwise, it risks breaching the Fair Trading Act.

In our view, a term that lets the company keep a sizable chunk or all of your money is likely to be unfair and open to challenge.

If the terms entitle you to a refund but your accommodation provider refuses, contact your bank to ask about a chargeback (a refund to your card) if you paid by credit or debit card.

If there’s nothing in the terms that state what happens in the event of a natural disaster like Cyclone Gabrielle, then you can rely on the Contract and Commercial Law Act. This act applies where a contract is “frustrated” – that is, it can’t be fulfilled due to events outside the parties’ control. It gives you the right to request a refund and limits what the company can charge to its reasonable administration costs.

The company says if I cancel, I have to pay a cancellation fee. Is that right?

It can only charge a cancellation fee if the terms and conditions allow for this – and the terms are fair.

Companies can’t just charge whatever they like. A term allowing a company to charge a steep cancellation fee risks being unfair and breaching the Fair Trading Act.

The same would apply if the contract allowed the company to cancel at any time without penalty but imposed a fee on the consumer for doing so.

Excessive fees may also be considered penalties under contract law and open to legal challenge.

If you’ve been unfairly stung, you may be able to get a chargeback from your bank. Alternatively, you can lodge a claim in the Disputes Tribunal for a refund.

Consider making a complaint to the Commerce Commission too.

I’ve decided to postpone my booking because it’s not a great time to travel. There’s an extra fee for changing my booking. Do I have to pay it?

The company can only charge extra to change the date of your booking if the terms and conditions allow for this (and they are fair).

You’re within your rights to question any additional charges that you weren’t told about when you booked.

I was never shown any terms and conditions when I booked, but the company is now quoting them to refuse a refund. Do they apply?

No. Terms and conditions only form part of the deal if they were disclosed to you prior to making the booking.

Providers can’t just make up terms to suit themselves when circumstances change. The terms need to have been in place at the time the contract is made. Any attempt to impose new terms on a consumer is likely to breach the Fair Trading Act.

What happens if the owner cancels my booking?

You’re entitled to a full refund. Some sites give you the option of transferring your payment to another property, but you don’t have to accept this offer.

Consumer advice line.

We know your rights

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