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The Act is a series of laws, which first took effect in 1995, that provide certain protections to consumers. In the past, a "seller of travel" provided or arranged air or sea travel. The law has been expanded to include sellers of travel who provide or arrange land and water vessel transportation services that exceed $300.
The Act applies to all purchases made from sellers who are located in California, as well as purchases by persons located in California from vendors who sell or offer to sell from locations outside the state. It includes both retail and wholesale transactions, and covers sales to tours operators, consolidators, and wholesalers. Airlines and cruise lines themselves and lodging establishments that book travel for their guests and accept no money for doing so are also not covered by the Act. Some motor clubs have to register, but otherwise are exempt from the Act's requirements.
There are several:
Registration - All sellers of travel must register with the Attorney General's Office, Seller of Travel Program, before they can operate lawfully within the State of California or market to persons, businesses, or retail vendors located within the state. Registration requires, among other things, disclosure by the seller of business addresses, fictitious business names (dba's) used, identifying information as to principals and owners, relationship with the airlines, the location of a trust account or information about a surety bond (if one of these protections is required). Registration is not the same as licensing which usually involves some review and approval. So long as the seller discloses the necessary information in its application, a registration number will be issued to the applicant. However, in the event a seller does not provide the tickets or lodging, and the purchaser is having difficulty locating that seller, information in the registration file will assist in determining who actually made the sale. One of the purposes of registration is to have sufficient information about both reputable and crooked sellers to be able to locate them should anything go wrong.
The registration number must be clearly and conspicuously displayed by the seller of travel on all advertising materials including newspaper advertisements, flyers, mailers, television and radio broadcasts, faxes, and websites.
When first contacting a seller, ask for the registration number and expiration date of that seller's current registration. Registration is good for one year and must be renewed annually. Do not deal with any seller who does not disclose its registration number in advertising materials, or who declines to tell you the number and expiration date. While registration does not mean that the seller is reputable, you should avoid any seller who has not taken those simple safeguards required by law to protect your payments, as revealed in its application for registration to the Attorney General's Office.
Keeping payment in trust - Some sellers of travel are required to deposit all payments received into a trust account or to obtain a surety bond on behalf of their customers. Others are not required to maintain either a trust account or post a bond. All sellers, however, who receive a payment from one passenger may not use that money to buy travel on behalf of another passenger or to pay for rent, overhead, or any personal use, until such time as it has delivered to you the goods and services that you have purchased.
If a seller tells you that it is not able to obtain travel that you have purchased because your payment has been spent on some other trip, or for business or personal purposes, immediately contact the police, your local District Attorney, or the Attorney General's office. Such taking of your payment may be prosecuted as a felony.
Restitution Fund - If you are located in California and purchase from a registered seller of travel whose principal place of business is also in California, and you do not receive what you have paid for, you can file a claim with the Travel Consumer Restitution Corporation ("TCRC"). which operates the Travel Consumer Restitution Fund. Registered California sellers and out-of-state sellers whose stock is nationally traded are required to pay an annual assessment to TCRC. If a seller is not registered, it cannot be a participant in the fund.
A person in California who purchases from an unregistered seller will not be able to obtain restitution from TCRC should anything go wrong. The restitution fund was created by law to pay out on claims arising from the seller's failure to provide the contracted for goods and services owing to its own wrongful taking of your payment, bankruptcy filing, or closure of business. It does not cover the cessation of an air or sea carrier or a failure by another registered seller to which your seller has forwarded your funds. For more information about the Restitution Fund and how to make a claim, see Consumer Refunds.
Automatic Refund - In the event that there is a cancellation not in accord with your contract, you are entitled to receive a prompt and automatic refund. You do not have to request a refund. The obligation is on the seller to make one. Under law, any "material misrepresentation" by the seller requires that a refund be issued.
Written Disclosures - Prior to or at the time of receiving any payment, even a partial one, a seller of travel must provide you with various written disclosures including its name, business address and telephone number, an itinerary, a statement about its cancellation policy, the total amount to be paid, the amount paid to date, the date of any future payment, the purpose of the payment made, an itemized statement of the balance due, if any, whether it has a trust account or surety bond, whether your payment is protected by the Restitution Fund, and how to make a claim to TCRC. If a seller fails to provide you with its cancellation policy in writing, it cannot later impose penalties in the event that you cancel.
Quick Ticketing - Once full payment has been received by the seller, it must promptly deliver to you any tickets that you purchased.
You may want to check beforehand with your local Better Business Bureau or Department of Consumer Affairs which may tell you how long the seller of travel has been in business, whether there have been any law enforcement actions brought against it in the past, and the nature of consumer complaints it has received, if any. The Attorney General's Office does not disclose what consumer complaints it may have received.
The seller is required to provide you with a written statement along with copies of bank records showing that it in fact disbursed your payment to the airline or cruise line or to another seller of travel, and if the latter, proof of registration of that seller of travel. Once it has done so, your claim is now directly with the airline or cruise line.
There are several ways that affected passengers can obtain information about air carriers that have ceased operations or filed for bankruptcy and the various avenues which are available to obtain refunds, file claims in bankruptcy, or have other carriers honor their tickets (assuming that such arrangements have been made).
For airlines, which are regulated by the United States Department of Transportation (DOT), these are:
Aviation Consumer Protection Division
400 7th St. SW, Room 4107
Washington, D.C. 20590
Write to the Federal Maritime Commission:
Complete the Consumer Complaint form from this office. Upon receipt of your complaint, we will forward a copy to the involved seller of travel. While the Office of the Attorney General does not represent individuals, when possible we will forward your complaint on to the company, and file actions against sellers of travel who violate the law. You also should send a copy of your complaint to the District Attorney's Office where you are located and/or where the seller of travel is located. If you believe that your payment has been misappropriated, you may also wish to contact your local police department. Unfortunately, many police agencies which are unfamiliar with the specialized laws in this area believe that such conduct is "civil" in nature only and does not involve any violation of criminal statutes. If you run into this response, please contact our office by calling (213) 897-8065.
By paying with a credit card, you have a right under federal and state law to obtain, in certain circumstances, a reversal of charges in the event that you do not receive what you have purchased. For an explanation of the time limits and procedures for doing so, check with your card-issuing bank. This protection is not available when you make a payment with a check, money order, or cash.