Refunds Not Full on Voided Trips to Tokyo

Up-front payment to Japanese tourism providers by Israeli travel agencies means travelers will be unable to receive full refunds on canceled trips to Japan, says travel agency.

Travelers who cancel trips to Japan will get back only part of their money, said one of Israel's largest travel agents yesterday. But some airlines such as Lufthansa and Austrian Airlines announced full refunds to passengers who booked tickets before March 11 for flights before April 30.

"The Japanese, as opposed to other tourism providers, demanded their money in advance," said the travel agent. "We cannot refund the full payments for Israeli group trips who canceled their trips."

Travel agents offer travelers the opportunity to postpone trips. Those who prefer not to will get their money back minus a certain amount, said the travel agent.

The amounts that will not be refunded are not considered cancellation fees, but rather money needed to cover expenses already paid by travel agents for the trips. The travel agent said it was necessary to find a balance between customers' interests and travel agencies' ability to continue operating.

About 15,000 Israelis visit Japan a year. Industry sources say about 1,000 have already canceled trips to Japan for the next three months, mostly tourist groups. Drahim Travel, a leading firm for tourism to Japan, said it has 500 to 600 people signed up for Japan in the March-to-May period.

The price of an economy class ticket to Japan via Seoul is between $1,250 and $1,800. Business-class tickets are around $3,000.

Many airlines have changed routes out of fear of radioactivity. Swiss has stopped putting up its air crews in Tokyo.

Other airlines are now landing in other Japanese airports instead of Tokyo. Lufthansa has changed its destination from Tokyo's Narita to Nagoya and Osaka. It has also added a stop in Seoul to change crews and refuel to reduce the time its planes spend on the ground in Japan. Lufthansa has added two flights to Japan - largely to meet the demand of people wanting to leave.