Staff Reporters
Aug 22, 2023

Qantas accused of misleading advertising in promotion for non-bookable flights

The airline has been accused of misleading conduct after a customer was unable to book a flight to London for the advertised price.

Photo: Getty Images.
Photo: Getty Images.
Qantas has denied engaging in misleading behaviour despite advertising a special return fare to London on its website that its own sales staff were unable to book for customers.
A complaint alleging that Qantas violated Australian consumer law by advertising return economy flights from Sydney to London's Heathrow airport as one of its "top offers"—with costs starting at US$1,576 (AUD$2,455) per adult—is being looked into by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
Customers tried taking advantage of the promotion, which was prominently shown on the Qantas website's London section, but were unsuccessful at booking flights for the specified time period and for the advertised price.
According to The Gurdian who first reported the story, Dave—a consumer—claimed that he tried but failed to book flights for the advertised "top offer" price via the website, then calling the Qantas sales line for help. He asked if the operator could find any trip dates during the promotion’s window and assist him with the booking.
He claims the salesperson acknowledged there was nothing available at that price, and so he asked for the operator’s supervisor to consider the situation and offer to match the advertised price.
Hours later, Dave says he received a callback from a salesperson who claimed the supervisor had also been unable to locate dates when the advertised fare was available for booking. However, the supervisor did not make an offer to match the price.
“I tried and tried, but meeting all the conditions I could not achieve it with the default dates or indeed any date combination,” Dave wrote in his complaint.
“This is classic ‘bait and switch’ advertising,” he alleged. “It’s misleading, at best disingenuous, at worst illegal.”
Qantas vehemently denies any misleading conduct. When questioned by The Guardian if the advertised fare was actually available, a Qantas representative offered a range of dates that would result in a return rate of US$1,581 (AUD$2,463), which is $8 more than the advertised fare, but this required a trip lasting at least five-and-a-half weeks and returning in November.
“Any suggestion that this offer is misleading is not correct,” a Qantas spokesperson said. “While it’s unfortunate this customer wasn’t able to find a fare at this price to London on the dates they were looking to travel, many other customers have already snapped up fares at this price.”
"Bait advertising" is, in the words of the ACCC, "the practise of promoting prices, often 'sales' prices, on products that are... available in only very limited quantities." The watchdog did point out however, that it does not amount to misleading behaviour "if the business is upfront and clear about the product being in short supply."
If Qantas is found to have engaged in misleading conduct and the ACCC decides to pursue legal action against the airline, they may be fined up to three times the financial benefit received from the behaviour, or 30% of turnover during the breach period—whichever is higher.
Qantas continues to be the most complained about company in Australia. In 2021–22, The ACCC received 1,740 complaints involving Qantas, the most of any company, and 68% higher than the previous year.
It was also reported yesterday, that the airline is facing a class action lawsuit over its refund policy for flights cancelled due to the pandemic. Lawyers from Echo Law alleged the airline’s use of travel credits has resulted in them treating their customers’ money as more than “$1 billion in interest-free loans."

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