It has long advertised its guaranteed lowest airfares. But is Flight Centre actually charging consumers, who approach the agency with prices FLT says it will beat, more?
In a complaint to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), a customer accused the travel agent giant of misleading marketing by adding an ‘optional’ $49 fee on to its ‘beat it by $1’ price match promise, News.com.au reported.
The consumer, identified only as Michael, called the lowest price guarantee a “consumer rort”.
“I called up to get a flight quote and do a price match,” he wrote in the complaint.
“[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?”
Apparently, another customer shared a similar experience on the Product Review website.
“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,” the man called Alan 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.”
A Flight Centre spokesperson said the additional Captain’s Package fee of $49 was an “add-on product” for “unique value-added bonuses that customers can choose to include with our airfares”.
“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,” he told News.
“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.”
Commenting on Australian Consumer Law in general, an ACCC spokesman said businesses were “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.”
In related news, Flight Centre this week announced that it would buy two New Zealand travel firms for an undisclosed sum.
Following the purchase of Travel Managers Group (TMG) and Executive Travel Group (ETG), FLT shares soared to a 17-month high.
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