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Flight Centre Waives Cancellation Fees Goodbye After Pressure From ACCC

The consumer watchdog has welcomed the announcement that Flight Centre will stop charging customers hundreds of dollars in fees in order to get a refund for travel cancelled due to the pandemic.

Flight Centre will now refund thousands of customers who, from March 13, were charged $300 per person to get a refund for a cancelled international flight or $50 for a domestic flight.

Flight Centre made the announcement on Saturday, after finally bowing to weeks of pressure from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), with the watchdog getting ready to take the travel company to court.

"To support Australians during this very difficult time, Flight Centre and our parent company FCTG has made the decision to completely waive our usual Cancellation Fees for bookings where the travel provider (usually an airline, cruise line or tour operator) has cancelled its service -- and you are unable to travel as a result," the company said in a statement.

Image: Getty Images

The waiver will apply retrospectively to bookings cancelled as a result of COVID-19 on or after March 13 this year for which a Flight Centre Cancellation Fee was charged.

The ACCC received an influx of complaints about Flight Centre’s cancellation fees from consumers via its Infocentre, website and social media channels.

“We are continuing to discuss issues in relation to refunds and cancellations with the travel sector, and encourage travel providers to treat consumers fairly in these exceptional circumstances," ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

The ACCC said its next step would have been court action if Flight Centre did not change its position.

This policy will also apply to cancellations fees charged by Aunt Betty, Travel Associates, Student Universe, Universal Traveller and Jetescape Travel (trading as Byojet Travel), which are part of the Flight Centre group.

"Please note this waiver applies to our fees -- we cannot waive fees or conditions that airlines and other third party suppliers impose," Flight Centre said.

Flight Centre is also offering a credit voucher of up to $200 per person to customers who choose to keep their money on file with them.

“While we know some consumers are very concerned about getting a refund or credit for their cancelled travel plans, we do ask people to be mindful of the significant impact that this pandemic has had on the travel industry," Sims said.

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The ACCC has received more than 6,000 complaints from consumers dissatisfied with travel companies’ refund policies and cancellation fees.

Thousands more contacted their local state or territory fair trading agencies trying to solve disputes.

The ACCC said many businesses -- especially small businesses -- are struggling to process the high number of cancellations.

“We ask consumers to remain patient and be mindful of the significant pressures on businesses at this time and, where possible, contact the business by email or website, rather than by phone,” Sims said.

Contact the author alattouf@networkten.com.au