I bought tickets from an online travel agency for a 9am flight from Bangkok to Singapore for my partner and me. I purchased them from a “.com.au” website and was physically in Australia when I booked the flights. When we got to the airport it emerged that the flight time had changed to 6am. We didn’t get any communication about this from the agency or the airline.
We missed the flight, so we had to pay a lot more for tickets with another airline. I successfully filed a chargeback for the original tickets despite the agency fobbing off my complaints. But can I get compensation for the more expensive tickets? Would the ACCC care about this, since they’re an overseas company?
– Caitlin, Victoria
Firstly, great work on initiating a chargeback. Banks generally have very strict time limits on when you can file a chargeback, which are triggered by the purchase date rather than the date a service was provided, so acting fast was in your best interests on this one.
It’s absolutely frustrating that not only was your flight canceled without communication but you then had to pay for more expensive flights. In a perfect world you shouldn’t have to wear any of this.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. The reality is you can certainly pursue a claim for compensation, depending on how much the difference between the flights was, but it might not be worth your time and energy (note that I say this as someone who would pursue a complaint that’s totally not worth it “on principle”).
The good news is that because you bought the tickets while you were physically in Australia, the purchase falls within the jurisdiction of the Australian Consumer Law, and therefore the ACCC.
The complicating news is that the company does not appear to be registered with an ABN in Australia, and it’s generally tough to get overseas companies to comply with Australian law. And the bad news is since the company has already fobbed off your complaints, it seems unlikely they’ll take you seriously if you throw the book at them.
Since you shared the name of the company you booked with, I looked up their terms and conditions, which are at odds with the Australian Consumer Law. Their terms expressly state they are not responsible for cancellations. However, under the law consumer rights apply even to third party booking sites – which include flight cancellations. Got a headache yet?
This is where the airline comes into it. While most conditions of carriage won’t include a guarantee that flights will run on time or at all (recent Qantas legal trouble springs to mind), the ACCC says that “airlines should be proactive and truthful in telling consumers the reason a flight is delayed or canceled”. It also notes that you might be able to claim compensation for loss or damage that is both caused by a “failure to meet a consumer guarantee” and “reasonably foreseeable”.
Because you didn’t receive communication from the airline or the booking company about a material change to the flight time (a consumer guarantee), any person off the street would reasonably expect that this would cause you to miss your flight, as the changed time was earlier than the time on the ticket you bought. Because of this, you may be entitled to compensation for the cost difference between the original and rebooked flights. The ACCC sets out the steps for a compensation claim.
In your case I’d say it would be useful to contact both the airline and the company you booked through, explain what has happened and ask for compensation. If neither is responsive you can pursue further action, such as making a complaint directly to the ACCC or getting professional legal advice about next steps.
While the Australian law might entitle you to compensation, I have a suspicion that because you’re dealing with an international business, it might not be easy to get them to comply. You might end up sinking more resources into this than is worth it – unless, like me, you’re a dogged adherent to principles-based justice.
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