In recent years, online booking of various entertainment and leisure activities has become a popular mode of consumption. Some platforms offer personalised and exclusive product solutions or allow consumers to redeem tickets with points, providing not only convenience, but also diversified choices. However, the Consumer Council has received a number of complaints in recent months about booking tickets, redeeming products or participating in events through online platforms and found that the sales practices were possibly misleading, with many terms and conditions involved as well as a lack of proper communications, which could easily put consumers in a disadvantageous position if disputes arise. Some platforms required the use of points for redeeming products or event tickets. However, while the number of redeemable products or event tickets was limited, it was still heavily advertised without making known the redemption quota, which might create unfairness to consumers. Besides, some platforms did not actively communicate with consumers about the follow-up arrangements when the event did not take place as scheduled. In another case, tickets purchased on the platform were not valid on the selected date, causing not only disappointment but also financial loss.
The Council urges online booking service platforms to improve their sales practices and provide clear and transparent information to enable consumers to make informed choices. Although the platform may not be the main event organiser, it is still the responsibility of the selling party to follow up and communicate with consumers in the event of unforeseen circumstances leading to changes in the event. The Council also reminds consumers to read the terms and conditions carefully when booking, redeeming products and tickets, or registering for events through these platforms, in particular, to be vigilant if there are any specific clauses or restrictions, and to retain relevant receipts and records to safeguard their consumer rights.
Case 1: Redeeming Concert Tickets to Promote Points Sales, but Quota Lacked Transparency
The complainant redeemed her concert tickets for $4,800 on subscription platform A. Despite noting that platform A did not respond to consumer enquiries left on its social media account checking on the quantity available for ticket redemption, the complainant believed there should be a good number of tickets available as the platform was still touting concert tickets the day before redemption started, tempting consumers to purchase points for redemption. However, when the complainant accessed the event link on the redemption day on time, the system indicated that all tickets had been redeemed. Platform A subsequently expressed that there were only about 200 sets of tickets available for redemption. The complainant was dissatisfied that Platform A did not announce the quota in advance and queried that the number of points sold during the promotion period clearly exceeded the number of tickets available, yet Platform A continued with its aggressive promotion. The complainant considered the practice unscrupulous, hence lodged a complaint with the Council.
Platform A replied that the complainant had successfully redeemed 2 tickets in the second round of ticket redemption. However, the complainant pointed out that the tickets redeemed in the second round were in zones C or D which were further away from the stage thus required fewer points. Therefore, she requested the platform to refund the remaining points. The Council conciliated with the platform again, but the platform replied that the rewards page had stated that “No cancellation or refund is allowed” for the points and therefore refused to issue a refund, stating that the complainant could redeem the points for products and discount coupons to offset the amount paid on the next purchase.
Case 2: Nearly a Year after Registering for the Run
Date Changed Several Times Without Explanation
The complainant signed up for a cartoon character-themed run via Platform B in November 2021. The event was originally scheduled for mid-January this year but was postponed to mid-April due to the pandemic. The organiser said that participants could either choose a refund or a reserved place, and the complainant chose the latter. However, just a month before the event, the organiser said it had to be postponed again. The complainant did not receive any further information from the organiser since then and had tried to contact the organiser via social media and WhatsApp, but failed to receive any reply. The complainant tried to contact Platform B, but again to no avail. The complainant sought help from the Council as the event had been delayed for over 6 months.
Platform B replied that its role was only to provide online registration services, and since registration had closed, the cooperation with the organisers had also ended. The platform further stated that it could not interfere with the event planning and organisation which were the sole responsibilities of the organiser whereas the organiser explained that all arrangements for the event had to be approved by the copyright owner before they could be released and that whether the event could be held as scheduled was subject to many factors, such as venue booking, weather, pandemic situation, and the Government’s approval, etc. hence there was no choice but to postpone the run again. The organiser also explained that the runner’s pack would normally be distributed 1 to 2 weeks before the event, but in response to the request, it would discuss with the copyright owners whether the runner’s pack could be distributed in advance or refunds be made, with a hope to inform the complaint of the decision within August. However, the organiser remained silent throughout August, and it was only till October that they announced that customers could collect their runner’s pack and additional special gifts, and they could also opt for place reservations or submit refund applications within 2 weeks. The Council opines that whilst it is understandable that event has to be postponed due to unforeseen circumstances, such as the pandemic, it is unsatisfactory that the organiser repeatedly failed to update the participants on the latest arrangements and did not respond to their enquiries.
Case 3: Event Plans Purchased According to Platform Recommendations Became Unavailable with Dates Classified as “Non-applicable”
The complainant purchased theme park tickets through Platform D and first selected the date of 27 November. The platform then recommended several options for the complainant to choose from. The complainant purchased the appropriate discount plans and checked that the information was accurate after receiving the order confirmation notice. On the day of entry, the theme park staff said that the presented ticket could not be used as it was not valid on Tuesdays, theme park rest days and specific dates. In order to continue the journey, the complainant had to purchase a separate ticket for admission on the spot. The complainant subsequently attempted to seek a refund from the platform, but the platform refused to do so on the grounds that the terms and conditions had been specified on the applicable dates. The complainant believed that as the date had already been selected at the time of booking, the platform should not recommend unavailable dates nor allow consumers to complete the transaction. She hence lodged a complaint with the Council.
The platform replied that the details of the plan had specified that the tickets could be used on any day within the validity period, except for some days that were not applicable, including 27 November listed. However, the platform understood the customer's feeling of failing to use the ticket and for the sake of good customer service, it managed to arrange a full refund with the theme park to settle the matter.
Consumers may refer to the following advice when using online platforms to make bookings on entertainment activities:
- When making bookings on products or services recommended by the platform, remember to read the usage restrictions, such as the expiry dates, the non-applicable dates, whether a separate booking with the service provider is required, whether service providers charge a separate service fee, and whether the arrangement of outdoor activities is affected by weather and related arrangements, etc;
- Keep an eye on ticket-related information, including the contact details of service providers and whether emergency contacts outside office hours are available;
- Some major events have terms and conditions stating that in light of the pandemic and relevant Government policies, changes to the event formats, such as changing the run to “Online Run”, cannot be ruled out. Before enrolling, consumers are advised to consider carefully whether they would accept the change in mode, whether there are refund options and how souvenirs will be distributed, etc;
- Platforms that offered entertainment bookings may also be licensed travel agents registered in Hong Kong. Consumers can check whether a platform is a registered travel agent on the Travel Industry Authority (TIA) website. For complaints involving registered travel agents, consumers may contact the TIA to follow up.
Download the article (Chinese only): https://ccchoice.org/553complaint
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