Consumer watchdog investigating Qantas flight credits policy

Qantas’s flight credits policy is at the centre of a complaint to the consumer watchdog, with reports some customers have faced difficulties using vouchers after flight cancellations during the pandemic.

Dean Price, a spokesperson for consumer advocacy group Choice, said these flight credits often come with “contract terms that cause a financial detriment to consumers”.

A March survey conducted by the group found more than one in five people who had received flight vouchers during the pandemic had been “unable to use” them.

“We’ve heard from way too many consumers about the real difficulties that they’re facing being able to use their flight vouchers,” Price said.

“It got to the point that these complaints were so common we made the decision that we should make a complaint to the ACCC [Australian Competition and Consumer Commission], and ask them to investigate whether the terms and conditions for people’s use of their vouchers are actually unfair contract terms under Australian consumer law.”

Choice hopes its complaint will help start a process of consumer reform across the entire industry.

“People currently have clearer rights for say, a $10 gift card than a $1,000 flight voucher that’s on hold from Qantas,” Price said.

A spokesperson from the ACCC said it is “looking into reports that some consumers are facing difficulties in using Qantas credits”.

“This has included seeking information over the past few weeks from consumers about their experiences using Qantas flights credits.”

Qantas, which was not the only airline that garnered complaints, said that 80% of customers had already successfully redeemed their flight credits online.

The requirement to book a flight of equal or greater value than the original flight is a crucial caveat that frustrates many passengers.

“It causes a lot of problems, particularly if people have had international flights booked,” Price said.

“It can be quite difficult to redeem a domestic flight for the same amount. Obviously, a return flight to London is a little bit more expensive than a return flight between Sydney and Melbourne.”

Qantas reinstated this rule on all vouchers received for bookings made after 30 September 2021. They said it only applied to 5% of the flight credits that they hold.

“At the start of the pandemic, we removed a lot of the rules that we had around fares and offered more flexibility for flight changes and cancellations than ever before,” a Qantas spokesperson 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. If we cancel a flight, customers have a number of options, including a refund.”

Many airlines, including Qantas, have longstanding policies against changing the name on a voucher. This can cause considerable disruption for passengers attempting to rebook, Price said.

Furthermore, he added, vouchers often did not include the new flight’s added levies and fees, meaning some passengers would end up paying them twice.

“People would have paid [the fees] on that first flight and then they will have to repay again on the next one, but not using the voucher. So they would have to pay them again.”

Across Qantas’s social media pages, it was hard to miss the growing anger of customers unable to get through by phone to use their vouchers.

Price said Choice had received many complaints about phone wait times and “redemption systems that don’t work”, forcing them to get on the phone in the first place.

Qantas apologised to customers for the wait times in a statement last week. The airline said its number of daily calls had increased from 7,500 to 14,000, taking on average “50% longer to resolve” due to increased complexity of itineraries as routes reopened at different times and flight schedules reshuffled.

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