For Hugh Selby, paying $628 for a two-night stay at a beautiful Hawaiian apartment with stunning beach views was almost too good to be true.
Unfortunately for the Canberra barrister, the exquisite beach accommodation he booked turned out to be exactly that.
When Mr Selby arrived with his family at the Rocky Point Beachfront on the island of Oahu on 17 April 2018, he found a dilapidated basement with no picturesque view of the beach or summer sunsets and in such poor condition that he refused to stay there.
The family trip, which he had booked in January through Wotif – one of Australia’s biggest holiday booking providers – was left in disarray.
“We had gotten off an international flight dog-tired, and then we had to travel a couple of hours to the accommodation. When we got there, we thought we must have had the wrong address,” Mr Selby told Region Media.
“Unfortunately, we had the right address but it was nothing like that we had spent our money on. The building had maybe four or five apartments in it and the owner wasn’t there but they had left a key for us but when we went in, our place was still full of people’s belongings.
“We tried contacting the owners with no success so we got out of there and left that disaster.”
Mr Selby demanded a full refund for the holiday accommodation. Wotif initially refused but after further correspondence between the parties, Wotif offered a $150 credit coupon to the applicant, which Mr Selby refused.
Wotif then offered a $95 refund “for the inconvenience”, which he refused. After further correspondence between the parties, Wotif offered an increased refund of $125.67 “for the inconvenience”.
Unhappy with proposed refunds, he decided to take Wotif’s parent company Expedia Australia Pty Ltd to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT), where he would be protected from having costs made against him.
“I would love to say it was a matter of principle, but they just made me so angry,” he said. “I took up this case because I was just so angry at the way they behaved. I always thought the company would just pay me the $600 but the best they offered was just over $125.”
Mr Selby told ACAT he had relied on statements published on the Wotif website when he booked the accommodation, like “book with confidence” and “stay with peace of mind” which is advertised on the opening webpage. The website also said it was an “online travel company with heaps of local knowledge”.
ACAT said the company engaged in “misleading and deceptive conduct” and ordered Wotif’s parent company Expedia to pay the man $628.34 in damages plus the cost of the tribunal filing fee and an ASIC search fee for a total of $709.34.
“I think this little tiny victory is of interest to people because it demonstrates that if big corporations make promises that they don’t mean which costumers rely upon, well they will get in trouble,” he said.
“It started out as a nightmare but it turned out fantastic.”