Flight Centre has agreed to waive and refund cancellation fees on trips made redundant by COVID-19 lockdowns after the competition watchdog threatened legal action.
The virus-impacted retailer had been charging fees to consumers who had attempted to cancel trips booked prior to the coronavirus outbreak, and which had subsequently become impossible due to travel restrictions. After weeks of pressure from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Flight Centre agreed to retroactively refund affected customers.
ACCC chair Rod Sims said the watchdog has received a large number of complaints from customers impacted by the travel restrictions and resulting cancellations by travel providers.
“We are continuing to discuss issues in relation to refunds and cancellations with the travel sector, and encourage travel providers to treat customers fairly in these exceptional circumstances,” Sims said.
The policy change will apply to cancellations made across Flight Centre’s stable of brands, such as Aunt Betty, Travel Associates, Student Universe, Universal Traveller and Byojet Travel.
Flight Centre sent customers information regarding the move, stating it is processing these refund offers in date order and will continue on a rolling basis into the new financial year.
Customers also have the option of postponing their travel and leaving their spent money in Flight Centre as credit for future bookings.
“We hope that our steps to support our customers alleviate any ongoing concerns you may have with your travel booking,” Flight Centre executive general manager Allisa O’Connell said.
“The health, safety and support of our customers and people remain our top priority and we again thank you for your ongoing support and your feedback to our business.”
Flight Centre also indicated it will likely sell off its Melbourne head office property as a means to generate cash to further support the business.
In an announcement on Monday, the business said it is seeing lower one-off costs than it originally anticipated, and that additional government support initiatives will further bolster its cash position.
“There has been some ongoing activity in most countries and we are seeing a slight uptick in bookings in countries like China as travel restrictions ease,” Flight Centre managing director Graham Turner said.
“Given that domestic travel represents roughly half of the leisure tickets that we normally issue in Australia and the overwhelming majority of our corporate volume, we are well placed to play a positive role in the recovery.”