Qantas is facing an official investigation into customer complaints about a “potentially misleading and deceptive” flight credit scheme.
Qantas is at the center of a complaint lodged with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission amid claims the airline is placing “unreasonable barriers” for travelers trying to redeem credits or get a refund.
Consumer advocacy group Choice suggests the Qantas flight credit redemption policy might even involve “potentially misleading and deceptive conduct”.
Choice spokesman Dean Price said Qantas had made it difficult and confusing for their customers to use flight credits for canceled travel.
“This includes forcing many people to spend extra money, limits on available flights, problems with online services, unfair expiry dates and long wait times in their call centres,” he said.
“The Qantas flight credits system is currently unworkable for most customers.”
Mr Price said customers could only use credits for flights that cost the same or more than their original fare if they first booked after September 30 last year.
“Qantas revealed in its February 2022 half yearly market update that it was holding around $1.4bn in travel credits and advance sales,” he said.
“A simpler and more accessible system for re-booking flights and getting refunds would assist customers to get value from the money they have paid to the company — whether that is a flight or a refund.”
The Choice complaint was lodged in March, asking the ACCC to determine if the airline’s rules for flight vouchers amounted to unfair contract terms under the Australian Consumer Law.
“We’ve also asked them to investigate if Qantas’s communications to customers about flight credits could be classified as misleading and deceptive conduct,” Mr Price said.
A Qantas spokesperson said at the start of the pandemic the airline removed many rules around fares, offering more flexibility for flight changes and cancellations.
“Millions of our customers have been able to successfully change their flight or use their flight credit, with extra flexibility that wasn’t available pre-Covid,” they said.
“When a customer is looking to use their flight credit and wants to book a more expensive fare than their original booking, a fare difference will apply, as has always been the case.
“Importantly, if we cancel a flight, customers have a number of options including a cash refund, re-booking of an alternative flight to the booked destination if possible or a flight credit, which has additional flexibility.”
The spokesperson said Qantas did put some fare rules back last September.
“Customers can choose not to take a flight and still retain that value in a flight credit, but it does need to be used on a new booking of equal or higher value,” they said.
“These credits account for less than five per cent of the flight credits we are currently holding and still represent more flexibility than pre-Covid.”
Choice is running a petition calling for travel rights.
According to the group’s recent research, one in five people have been unable to use their vouchers after their flights were canceled due to Covid-19.
Among those who could use their voucher, 44 per cent were forced to pay more than the original cost of the flight.