Flight Centre has now capped its controversial cancellation fees at $600 per booking and extended the validity of its credit vouchers. But this may not be enough to stem the enormous customer backlash over the travel agency’s COVID-19 policy.
Flight Centre has come under fire for charging $300 per passenger in its own cancellation fees – on top of any airline or supplier charges – to customers requesting refunds for international flights that had been cancelled by the airline. As Australian Frequent Flyer reported three weeks ago, these fees are even being charged if the airline itself has provided a full refund. The policy prompted an ACCC probe after complaints that it could violate Australian Consumer Law.
One family even complained that Flight Centre wanted to charge them $2,100 to cancel a hotel booking worth $1,600. The family-of-seven was stung by Flight Centre’s policy of charging $300 per person to cancel international flight, cruise or hotel bookings. A smaller fee of $50 per person applies to domestic and trans-Tasman bookings.
Flight Centre has now capped its cancellation fees at $600 for international bookings, or $100 for domestic and trans-Tasman travel bookings of 2 or more people.
Customers can also choose to obtain a Flight Centre credit voucher, which will now be valid until December 2021 (rather than July 2021). Flight Centre won’t charge any fees if customers accept the voucher offer, although it will still pass on any airline or supplier fees.
While this new Flight Centre policy is an improvement, it’s little help to customers such as those that have been asked to pay $600 to get a refund on a $600 cruise deposit.
Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Flight Centre refunds for cancelled flights
Businesses cannot alter refund policies, ACCC says
It comes as the ACCC reminds businesses that they cannot retrospectively change their refund policies due to COVID-19. Travel companies must honour the original terms and conditions that applied at the time of booking, and Australian consumer protections still apply.
An AFF member recently ran into this problem after cancelling an Oman Air booking. After nickykim was promised a refund – as per the original fare rules – Oman Air later changed its mind and decided it would only offer a credit. This member has now submitted a credit card chargeback.
Intrepid Travel is another of many travel companies that have been caught out backtracking on their refund policies. AFF members too have had difficulties getting refunds from Intrepid Travel.
STA Travel fined for misleading advertising
Meanwhile, STA Travel has just been fined $14 million by the ACCC for making misleading claims about its “MultiFLEX Pass” product between 2014 and 2019. This particular case has nothing to do with COVID-19.
“Consumers were misled into purchasing the MultiFLEX Pass on the representation that they would not have to pay anything further for date changes to their flights, when, in fact, STA often charged consumers hundreds of dollars for changing their flights”, ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said.