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I recently read some news stories about an island that took advantage of travelers. During a holiday surge, boats and airlines made it difficult to buy tickets off the island. Hotels and restaurants greatly increased prices for all of the trapped tourists. Only a small number of airlines served the island and some were cancelling and refunded return legs of round-trip flights, forcing travelers to buy new tickets at huge markups around 8-10x the original price.

Though I have adjusted my travel plans to avoid this particular island, I've purchased round-trip international tickets for my whole family to the same country. We purchased in the winter when tickets were $2,000 per person, but know from last year's prices that the summer rates reach minimums of $12,000-$20,000 per person.

I'm wondering if there are any protections for international travelers against the "return" part of a round-trip flight being cancelled, stranding people in another country?

Update: I checked travel insurance companies, but they typically cover from $1,000-$2000 costs towards lost flights. What happens if the cost of tickets is $10k+?

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    Like, Travel Insurance?
    – Doc
    Commented Feb 24 at 15:39
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    Which island, BTW? Commented Feb 24 at 15:48
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    You really need to name names in a case like this and/or link to a news story, because it seems implausible.
    – Peter M
    Commented Feb 24 at 16:51
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    Maybe the place is Hainan? scmp.com/news/china/politics/article/3252098/… it doesn't seem like there was a concerted effort to screw tourists over, but of course the hotel and flight prices will be inflated around lunar new year in China (just like they are around Christmas/new year in Europe)
    – berdario
    Commented Feb 24 at 20:16
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    @berdario those people never bought return flights in the first place (since they were not sure when to go back). And this is not a regular occurence but it is nonetheless a scandal such that the state-owned airlines have added 194 more flights (33k seats) over the week.
    – xngtng
    Commented Feb 24 at 20:28

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You haven’t given any details about where this would have happened, so we can only get into generalities.

If the passengers had booked return flights, and there was no disruption then people have a return flight they already paid for, and there is no reason for them to pay extra.

If the passengers had only booked a one-way ticket and waited until they wanted to leave to buy a return, supply and demand will take its course. If for some reason people go there spread over several days but all want to get back on the same day, sure, chaos ensues. But this is the fault of the passengers for not planning ahead.

If there is some disruption, then it can become dicey. In many places (especially the EU and other countries covered by EC261 or equivalents), the airline has a duty of care: they have to get you back as soon as possible, and they have to pay for hotels for you until they can. There are some situations where finding enough rooms for everybody is difficult, but in a tourist destination facing travel disruption, if they can’t get people out, they can’t get people in, so except for the people who arrived exactly on the same day, there should be capacity. You still want to be at the top of the queue, and in some cases you may be delayed for several days, so you may not be able to return to work in time. Usually stories of people forking out tons of money are those who want/need to get a flight much earlier.

In countries where there is a lot less consumer protection, then you may be on your own. That’s where (good) travel insurance is useful. But beyond EC261, there are often a lot of other national or international rules which require airlines to take care of you.

Likewise, in cases when the airline goes bust, it can be quite complicated, but recent examples have shown other airlines and even governments trying to help by adding extra flights. Again, it may take a while, and in this case lodging is going to be an issue. Good travel insurance is also the answer here.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen an airline just cancel return tickets and asking passengers to fork multiple times the original price if they want to return home. They would just be heading to bankruptcy (and probably court) very shortly.

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