Qantas Faces ACCC Investigation Amidst Misleading Airfare Accusations

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Qantas, Australia’s flagship airline, is under scrutiny by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) following allegations of misleading conduct related to its advertised airfares. 

The ACCC has investigated a complaint asserting that Qantas breached Australia’s consumer protection laws through deceptive advertising practices.

At the heart of the matter are promotional return economy airfares from Sydney to London’s Heathrow airport, which Qantas presented as one of its “top offers,” with prices starting at $2,455 per adult. However, customers have reported significant difficulties in securing these fares for their desired travel dates, raising concerns about the accuracy of the airline’s advertising.

The advertised offer came with specific terms and conditions, including a travel window limited to flights departing between September 1 and October 1. Notably, the terms did not specify a window for return travel dates. 

Customers like ‘Dave,’ whose experience has been cited in the complaint, scoured the Qantas website but could not find flights matching the advertised price on their preferred dates.

“I tried and tried, but meeting all the conditions, I could not achieve it with the default dates or indeed any date combination,” said Dave.

In Dave’s case, after unsuccessful attempts to locate the advertised fare online, he contacted Qantas’ sales line for assistance. According to Dave, the salesperson acknowledged the unavailability of the offered price and did not provide any alternative solutions. Dave subsequently filed a complaint with the ACCC, asserting that Qantas used misleading advertising tactics, specifically labelling it as “bait and switch.”

The ACCC distinguishes “bait advertising” as the promotion of prices on products available in very limited quantities. However, it also notes that such advertising may not be considered misleading if the business is upfront about the product’s scarcity.

Qantas has responded by denying the allegations of misleading advertising. In a statement, a Qantas spokesperson defended the offer, indicating that while the specific fare Dave sought was unavailable, other customers had successfully booked flights at the advertised price. The airline cited a set of alternative dates returning a price of $2,463, only $8 above the advertised fare, albeit with a longer travel duration into November.

Consumer advocates have stressed the importance of the ACCC’s investigation in ensuring that advertised prices are genuinely attainable. Gerard Brody, chair of the Consumers Federation of Australia, emphasized the need for regulatory scrutiny given the limited consumer protections within Australia’s aviation industry.

If Qantas is found to have violated consumer protection laws, it could face significant penalties, including fines equivalent to three times the financial benefit obtained from the alleged misleading conduct or 30% of turnover during the breach period, whichever is higher.

Qantas, which received the highest number of consumer complaints to the ACCC in 2022-23, faces growing pressure as the investigation unfolds. The airline is expected to announce a substantial profit, further intensifying the focus on its advertising practices

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