Consumer advocacy organisation Choice has filed a formal complaint with the ACCC after consumer surveys highlighted the “many obstacles” faced by Qantas customers seeking to cash in their flight credits.
Choice said its ACCC complaint calls out the “potentially misleading and deceptive conduct” in Qantas’ flight credit redemption policy.
It comes after Australian Aviation reported that ACCC had opened a public consultation seeking evidence that Qantas is raising prices on tickets purchased with flight credits accrued during the pandemic, and follows months-long allegations of price gouging of credit holders.
Choice revealed on Tuesday that over several surveys completed over recent months, many consumers have struggled to use the flight credits they were awarded in lieu of refunds for travel that was impacted by COVID-19, with a recent survey suggesting one in five customers have been entirely unable to use their credit.
One major obstacle for flight credit holders is that any booking that was cancelled, either by the airline or the customer, after 30 September 2021 was subject to new rules that meant that future bookings using the credit had to be of equal or more value than the original.
“For instance, if you have a $500 credit for a Sydney to Melbourne flight and the price is now $475, you wouldn’t be able to use the credit, even if you waived the $25 loss. Instead, you’d have to buy a new ticket and leave your credit untouched,” Choice revealed.
Choice said it ran a survey in January this year, which found that nearly a third of people trying to use flight credits to purchase new flights were forced to pay more than the cost of the original flight, and many also reported that paying with flight credit would cost them more than buying a new ticket on that same flight.
One customer said, “I was able to get a flight credit, but the flight ended up costing me about $200 more than if I had booked it outright. Very disappointing.
“How can Qantas get away with that?”
Another issue, according to Choice, is that anyone who received flight credit for an international flight is unable to use that credit to instead book multiple domestic flights, which is highly limiting for anyone no longer intending to travel internationally, particularly as the credit’s expiry looms.
Many customers report being unaware of such restrictions on their flight credit vouchers, and that these conditions were not flagged to them at the time of issue.
According to Choice, many customers have also faced difficulties obtaining or using their flight credits, even for fares that meet the above conditions, due to an ongoing issue in Qantas’ customer service phone lines.
One customer said they spent 10 hours or more trying to rectify an issue with their flight credit when Qantas initially double-billed them for the ticket. The airline refunded the double payment and offered a flight vouched for the original booking.
“When I tried to use the voucher 10 months later, it said it was not valid. I spent hours on the phone trying to talk to someone at Qantas about their error,” the customer said.
“No one could understand what had happened and [they] insisted I had already been refunded the fare.”
Meanwhile, many frustrated customers claimed it was near impossible to speak to anyone from Qantas due to tied-up phone lines.
“Qantas makes it so hard to access support that people just give up,” one customer said. “I believe this to be deliberate.”
According to Choice, as of late February this year, Qantas and its budget carrier Jetstar were holding a total of $1.4 billion in unused flight credits and future bookings.
According to the airline, only about 7 per cent of Qantas credit holders have used their credits. For Jetstar, the figure was about 19 per cent.
Qantas began making headlines earlier this year over its flight credit policy after A Current Affair revealed evidence of “price gouging”, forcing credit holders to pay more for a ticket than if they purchased the same ticket outright.
Customers at the time reported paying more than double the price for economy seats when paying with Qantas flight credits, over those paying with cash or card.
Qantas denies the accusation and has indicated any fare discrepancies are due to recent rules that restrict flight credit holders to only purchase tickets of the same fare class or higher.