Situation: Travellers hire a campervan for a holiday and are asked to put up a bond against damage to the vehicle.
Complication: Two weeks after the vehicle is returned, the money is still missing from their credit card.
It's a real scenario, involving members of my family, who hired a campervan in north Queensland and were asked to put up a A$3000 ($3431) bond.
When they rang the hire company to ask why the money had been taken off the credit card and not refunded, they were told it takes five to 15 working days from the date the vehicle is returned; in other words, up to three weeks.
As they had returned home and had plenty of room on their credit card, it did not cause them any great hardship, but what if you needed that money for onward travel?
Or if the bond maxed out your credit card, causing you to pay penalty interest or have your card rejected by other merchants?
Surely once the vehicle is returned undamaged, the bond should be released on the spot?
Hotels are another place where you can expect to be asked for security up front, to cover the cost of the room and other services in case you skip town.
However, this is usually only a pre-authorisation on your credit card, with the funds not leaving your account (although the amount may be temporarily "unavailable" to you).
The Accor hotel group says the funds are "held" by the hotel and deducted from your credit limit but not transferred to the hotel, so when you check-out and pay the bill, the pre-authorisation is immediately cleared from your card.
If hotels can release your funds on the spot, why can't others?
Apollo Motorhome Holidays, which holds bonds of up to A$7500 ($8578) for campervan rentals, says it is standard in the motorhome hire industry for companies to actually process a credit card transaction for a bond.
With some hire vehicles worth more than A$100000 ($114374), Apollo's insurance company requires that bonds be debited rather than just held as a pre-authorisation.
Apollo says it can take up to 15 working days to refund bond money due to delays with banks and credit card companies, or due to discrepancies over the condition of the vehicle upon return.
It says it does its best to process refunds as soon as possible but customers are told at the time of hiring the vehicle that it could take up to 15 working days.
What are your rights in this situation?
Fair Trading NSW says consumer rentals such as campervan hire, car hire and holiday lettings are covered by general consumer laws and there is no specific legislation in relation to the payment of bonds.
"The trader can set the terms and conditions, including whether a bond is required and the payment methods, and must ensure these terms and conditions are made clear to consumers," says a spokeswoman.
"Consumers must ensure they read and understand all the terms and conditions ... and are clear on any conditions for receiving a refund of any bond paid."
Fair Trading says there is no time period stipulated for the return of bonds and the definition of "reasonable time" depends on the nature of the product.
In the case of a dispute, travellers can lodge a complaint with Fair Trading, which will attempt to intervene.
If this is unsuccessful, consumers are provided with options for pursuing the matter further; this could include lodging an application with the Consumer Trader and Tenancy Tribunal.
If you are concerned about paying a bond or how long it will take to get it back, take the time to shop around and compare terms and conditions as well as prices.
While it may not be possible to avoid paying a bond on certain products, the amounts can vary significantly, along with the fine print about getting the money back.
Apollo says travellers who are concerned about paying a bond also have the option of a "liability reduction option" that reduces the bond, for an extra fee per day.
This payment, which can be up to A$44 ($50) a day, can also provide extra coverage in the event of an accident.
Travelling without a credit card can be difficult, with plastic now used for everything from hotel pre-authorisations to cashless bars on flights.
Accor Hotels says a guest who does not have a credit card with sufficient credit would be deemed a credit risk and asked to provide cash as security.
If you can't or don't want to get a credit card, a debit card from a credit card company such as Visa or MasterCard is a good alternative.
These cards are accepted like credit cards but use pre-loaded funds, so you are only spending money you have.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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