She is among many forced to abandon their holidays due to the coronavirus pandemic who were shocked to learn Flight Centre charges $300 cancellation fees, prompting complaints to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
Flight Centre Global Media Manager Hadyn Long said customers can leave their money on file to be put towards future bookings without being charged any fees by Flight Centre.
“These charges, which are outlined in our standard terms and conditions, reflect the fact that our people have performed the service requested of them in booking products for customers and the significant time involved in processing and securing refunds from airlines and other suppliers,” he said.
“If customers request a refund, charges do normally apply, although they are being waived or reduced in some cases.”
Earlier this month, Flight Centre introduced significant cost-cutting measures aimed at cutting $1.9bn in its annual operating costs from July.
The ASX-listed travel giant will also look to close more than 400 stores as the entire travel industry struggles for survival.
Government guidelines say travel restrictions can trigger a “frustration of contract” under general law entitling consumers to a refund or credit voucher minus the agent’s “reasonable expenses”.
Ms Calleja said Flight Centre’s suggestion that she pay $1500 for a refund on tickets worth $2200 was “robbery”.
“I was really there [at Flight Centre] for five minutes when I spent probably five months booking this holiday and planning this holiday and everybody else has been nice enough to just give me a straight-out refund with no fees involved,” she said.
“For them to make me pay $1500 to claim back a refund … when I actually paid $2200 for my tickets – that’s robbery”.
When pressed by another customer, Thomas Riddell, about why Flight Centre could charge he and his girlfriend $600, an agent told the Sydney lawyer the fee was for “the costs of services already provided”.
This included “facilitating a travel booking, providing advice and liaising with suppliers on your behalf” and for “facilitating the cancellation of that travel booking.”
This explanation, to Mr Riddell, didn’t make much sense.
“I never received any ‘advice’ from the agent nor a detailed itinerary, and all that occurred was a quick two minute phone call to facilitate the purchase of the return flights,” he said.
“It’s quite an unfair position they’re putting customers in. I fail to understand how $600 constitutes those services.
“I don’t know whether the restrictions will still be in place in a year. I don’t know whether I’ll be in a position to take a holiday in a year. I don’t know whether I’ll have a job in a year.”
Goya Dmytryshchak is a reporter for The Age.
David Estcourt works for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.