A class action is on the table for customers who have been strong-armed into accepting travel vouchers instead of refunds for travel plans disrupted by COVID-19.
According to class action law firm Slater & Gordon there are thousands of Australians that have been short-changed by major airlines, travel agents and tour companies that implemented a voucher scheme.
According to Slater & Gordon group leader Andrew Paull affected customers may be able to participate in a class action against travel companies that put in place travel voucher schemes that the law firm believes are anti-consumer.
Paull says the firm has spoken with holidaymakers who have been left thousands of dollars out of pocket and holding vouchers that they may never be able to use.
Other respondents said that they did manage get back a portion of their fares, only to be hit with hefty cancellation fees.
"We understand that everyone is doing it tough at present, including the major airlines and travel companies, but that doesn't give them an excuse to take advantage of their customers," says Paull.
"Nor is it acceptable for Qantas shareholders to treat the money it owes to ordinary Australians like its own.
"We believe cash refunds should be returned to customers, who almost certainly need that money right now, rather than in bank accounts gathering interest for airline shareholders. We call on businesses like Qantas and Jetstar to do the right thing and honour their obligations to their customers. If they won't do so, then it's only reasonable for those customers to look at recovering their money through a class action."
Slater & Gordon's proposed class action will allege that issuing travel vouchers instead of cash refunds might be a breach of the airlines' conditions.
Further, Slater & Gordon says airlines have been relying on blanked 'no refund' clauses despite having been warned by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) that the clauses will not always be binding.
The firm also says airlines may have misled customers by convincing customers to exchange tickets for travel vouchers.
"The airlines have presented this as an act of generosity, however many customers will have had greater rights if they had held on their ticket, than if they exchanged it for a restricted travel voucher," says Slater & Gordon.
The proposal from Slater & Gordon comes after travel agent group Flight Centre announced it would be refunding customers that were slogged with expensive cancellation fees.
The travel operator will refund thousands of customers who, from 13 March, were charged $300 per person to get a refund for a cancelled international flight or $50 for a domestic flight.
Business News Australia