How to Lose a Loyal Customer in 5 MinutesIt takes years to build customer loyalty, but just a few minutes to destroy it.

Max Samuels is a Qantas Platinum member who has been loyal to the airline for many years. But in a recent incident, a Qantas staff member was so rude to this member, who also holds lifetime Gold status, that they decided to try Virgin Australia… and loved it.

This member had purchased a Business class ticket from Melbourne to Brisbane on the Qantas website. As it happens, they unexpectedly arrived at the airport five hours earlier than planned so enquired about changing to an earlier flight. Despite holding a paid Business ticket, the request was denied by a rude and dismissive customer service representative. Max Samuels was advised that he could pay $500 to change to an earlier flight. Alternatively, he could cancel the ticket for a full refund (as it was a Business ticket) and re-book in Economy.

Technically, it appears that the Qantas staff in the Business Lounge were applying the rules correctly. There were plenty of Business seats available on the earlier flights, but none of these flights had availability in the same fare class as that originally booked. As such, Qantas was asking for the fare difference.

The Qantas agent’s attitude made a once very loyal customer feel belittled and angry. But there’s more to this story. During the interaction, this agent lectured Max Samuels because he had not purchased a more expensive Business ticket…

The really rude customer “service” guy in the lounge told me (almost verbatim) “you’ve bought the cheapest business class ticket and the next flight with that fare class (I) isn’t until Saturday morning”. I paid $650 for this ticket – which apparently is a 28-day advance ticket, but which is also fully refundable.

The trouble is, it is not actually possible to buy a more expensive ticket on the Qantas website! It does not display the fare class at the time of booking, so customers are unaware of what fare class they are actually booking. Furthermore, it only displays the cheapest fare available at the present moment. So even if a customer wanted to buy a more expensive ticket, there is no way for them to do this on Qantas’ own website. This seems rather counterproductive.

Of course there will be people who say “the rules are the rules”, but we all know QF can be a bit inconsistent with how they apply them. But from a process point of view, Qantas has a real problem here where their own sales portal doesn’t allow someone to buy a full-fare ticket even if they wanted to. One is merely presented with a price, at a point in time, for each of the 3 (Red e-deal, Flex, Business). Once again, a fully refundable ticket (incl no-show!) gives one the impression that it is also flexible! However the thing that gets me the angriest is the way they talked to me. So rude. Didn’t care. Really dismissive. The guys just stared at me with a blank “computer says no” face. And here I was thinking that as a “valued” customer they would take me seriously! Wow did I learn a lesson that day.

Instead of paying an extra $500 to Qantas, this member decided to take the refund and buy a ticket on Virgin Australia. This was the result…

Anyway, after I was humiliated enough I headed outside to ticketing, cancelled my ticket, walked across to Virgin, and purchased a one-way business class ticket for $799 – sure it cost me $150 more in the end but there was a point I needed to make.

In my opinion, Qantas loses in this situation in 2 ways. Firstly, they lost $650 in revenue for no real reason. But more importantly, they enabled (or forced) a normally very loyal customer to experience the competition – and I loved it! Not only was VA’s price about $500 cheaper, the product was much better.

Max Samuels did submit a complaint to Qantas. To their credit, somebody from Qantas did call very soon after to apologise about the way the situation was handled.

Qantas has been contacted for comment.

Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: QF domestic 28-day advance purchase Business Class – not worth the pain


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Matt Graham
The editor of Australian Frequent Flyer, Matt's passion for travel has taken him to over 60 countries… with the help of frequent flyer points, of course!
Matt's favourite destinations (so far) are Germany, Brazil, New Zealand & Kazakhstan. His interests include economics, aviation & foreign languages, and he has a soft spot for good food and red wine.

You can contact Matt at [email protected]