Flight Centre ‘beats’ price by $1, adds on $49 fee

DOES "$1 cheaper" actually mean "$48 more expensive"?

It does according to this Flight Centre customer, who has accused the travel giant of misleading behaviour in slapping an "optional" $49 fee on top of its "beat it by $1" price match guarantee.

Michael, who asked not to use his last name, has filed a complaint with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission over the incident.

"Their lowest price guarantee is a consumer rort," he wrote in the complaint. "I called up to get a flight quote and do a price match. [The consultant] quoted $852 and I provided a Bestjet quote of $742. [He] then said, 'Flight Centre policy as of the new financial year is ... customers doing a price match have to pay $49 on top.'

"He said, 'Many of our customers pay this $49 to guarantee the lowest price up until their flight.' At no point did he mention this $49 payment is voluntary. My question is, how many customers wishing to do a price match have been misled by this and paid the $49?"

On the Product Review website, a customer named Alan reported a similar experience. "Requested a flight ticket to Thailand today at my local Flight Centre, to which I submitted a printout of an online quote [for] $600.32," he wrote.

"The consultant informed me that they would match the price, but I had to pay a booking fee on top at a price of $49 ... [The] consultant said [Flight Centre] would better the price by $1, but I was required to pay a $49 booking fee.

"I was given no choice to opt out of paying this fee, therefore that made the price $48 more expensive than I was quoted at another site.

"I have [been] dealing with my local centre for probably the last six or seven years, but I am afraid they have lost me. I always try to purchase locally, but this smacks as a rip off. I went home and purchased the ticket online for $600.32. Not happy."

But a spokesman for Flight Centre said it was "not true", and that the additional "Captain's Package" fee was an "add-on product"."The Captain's Packages are unique value-added bonuses that customers can choose to include with our airfares," he said.

"They deliver additional benefits that our people and many of our customers value, including things like Price Drop Protection, Rapid Refund, $150 credits towards accommodation bookings (which is part of the $99 package) and a lower travel insurance excess.

"Customers often choose to add them to their flight bookings because of the great value they deliver. They are not required to though and we regularly re-enforce this to our people. The customers' ability to choose a package is also highlighted in the promotional literature and in numerous public announcements that we have made."

A spokesman for the ACCC could not comment on the Flight Centre complaint, but said under Australian Consumer Law, "businesses are not allowed to make statements that are incorrect or likely to create a false impression".

"This rule applies to a business' advertising and any information provided to customers by their staff," he said. "While there are no specific requirements regarding the information businesses are required to disclose, there will be situations where a business must provide information to avoid engaging in misleading or deceptive conduct.

"When deciding if conduct is misleading or deceptive, or likely to mislead or deceive, the most important question to ask is whether the overall impression created by a business' conduct is false or inaccurate. In this way, conduct may be misleading by silence or omission.

"The ACCC would expect businesses to explain important information that would affect a consumer's decision to purchase a product or service.

"For example, if a business wishes to charge consumers a fee for a service they are providing, the business should explain to consumers if the fee is voluntary or not so they can make an informed purchasing decision."

In December last year, the competition watchdog won a long-running legal battlewith Flight Centre over price fixing allegations. The Federal Court initially found in favour for the ACCC, but on appeal found for Flight Centre.

The ACCC then appealed to the High Court, which found the travel agent had blocked Australians from accessing cheap fares directly from Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines and Emirates.

In 2005, the ACCC forced Flight Centre to stop using its "Lowest Airfares Guaranteed" slogan for five years, and take out "corrective advertising" to inform the public.

News Corp Australia

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