A consumer watchdog is urging the Travel Industry Council (TIC) to investigate possible unethical practices by travel agents in the run-up to the New Year holidays. The council received 278 complaints involving the cancellation of package tours from February 1 to 3, while complaints to the Consumer Council have surged this year. Throughout the holiday season last year, the consumer watchdog received 90 complaints, but this year it has received 129, most concerning tour cancellations. Last week, Morning Star customers who had booked in December were told one day after paying their deposits that tours were cancelled due to flight unavailability. With their five-day tour departing on February 13 cancelled, they were offered six-day packages for February 12 or 14 at $1,000 extra. The agent said it took bookings expecting airlines to put on extra flights, which did not happen. Agents are required to confirm prices 28 days prior to departure, but the council said the directive had not been breached as the new price was for a different tour. Agents who cancel and give less than 14 days' notice had to give a full refund, plus a three per cent penalty. The Consumer Council doubted whether some tours were available in the first place and said penalties might not be severe enough. 'If consumers cancel a tour, they forfeit their deposit, which is more than three per cent,' Kenneth So of the Consumer Council said. 'I think the TIC should consider increasing the penalty to deter agents from unscrupulous practices. 'Even if they pay the penalty, agents get more money from other people joining tours at a higher price,' Mr So said. 'The TIC needs to thoroughly investigate the reason for the tour cancellations.' He said new guidelines should be set to penalise all agents who cancelled without good reason.