Flight Centre Stoush Highlights Why Booking Online Saves Money On Flights

Flight Centre Stoush Highlights Why Booking Online Saves Money On Flights

The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) is taking Flight Centre to court, alleging it tried to get airlines to ensure that prices quoted on their sites didn’t beat what it was offering. Whatever the outcome, it’s a reminder that booking directly via airlines is almost always the best way to score cheap fares.

Picture by lukasbenc

The ACCC alleges that over a four year period Flight Centre sought to ensure that it would not lose commissions through competition from online sales:

The ACCC alleges that, on six occasions between 2005 and 2009, Flight Centre attempted to induce international airlines Singapore Airlines, Malaysian Airlines and Emirates to agree to stop directly offering and booking their own international airfares (including over the internet) at prices less than Flight Centre offered.

Flight Centre is defending the case, which won’t hit court until April 13.

Flight Centre offers a flight guarantee deal where it will match fares found online. That’s a good way of trying to reduce the loss of customers to the web, but makes for an unprofitable business if selling at those fares effectively eliminates its commission (which is part of the fare it quotes to customers). For any travel agent, trying to undercut the cheapest fares offered by airlines on their sites is a tricky task, which is why buying direct from airlines usually results in the lowest fare.

While going direct makes sense when you have a simple return flight in mind, using a travel agent is still a good idea in some circumstances. When booking round-the-world tickets, for instance, I’ve always found travel agents can dig up better deals than airlines, which often lack flexibility when planning routes if they even offer the option at all. But when that happens, I’ll have a planned list of preferred routes and maximum acceptable prices before I go to the agent. For more hints on how to score flights cheaply, check out our 10 best tactics for scoring cheap flights.

Ensuring competition in air fares has been an area of increasing focus for the ACCC. In its most recent action, it took Air Asia to court over misleading prices. It has also strictly enforced rules requiring full fares to be disclosed in advertising, and taken both Qantas and Tiger to task over refund conditions when flights are disrupted.



    • I usually use Expedia.com and Expedia.com.au then the air line websites to check prices. Then I book with an agent and get them to match it which they always do.

  • I’m surprised it got to this. I used to work for a company where if we published prices that were lower than our channel resellers, we’d have a huge shitstorm on our hands. Completely different industry though, obviously, but still surprising to hear that suppliers are undercutting resellers. I mean, if that situation was to keep up, ultimately you’d end up losing the channel, and the value-add that reseller services bring.

    • Spot on Caesar – if the ACCC is serious about keeping the airfares competitive, they will allow the distribution channel to ensure that all customers have access to the cheapest fares.

  • Word to the wise: STA actually use expedia and webjet. I found this out when our accommodation was booked wrong and they tried to pass the buck to expedia.

  • I would recommend ONLY booking flights directly on the airline’s website rather than using travel websites especially when travel websites are offering fares slightly cheaper than the airline itself.

    While travel websites generally do not charge a booking fee, they often have significant amendment and cancellation fees.

    Example, I booked an Emirates fare for 2 people to Bangkok return through travel.com.au because it was $20 cheaper than what Emirates was charging themselves. When I went to cancel my tickets (I had other plans), travel.com.au wanted to charge me a $250 cancellation fee PER PERSON (not per booking) even though Emirates did not impose a cancellation fee on the ticket. So if I had booked directly with Emirates, I could have cancelled with no penalty/fee.

  • Last time I flew to Melbourne, I looked up the flights on Webjet I believe, then took the flight numbers from there, and plugged them into the Virgin Australia site, and booked that way… saved me from paying commisions for the same thing.

  • 7 years ago, i tried booking a flight from AUS to USA on webjet, using my dads american credit card, they called me back a few hours after i booked saying they cant accept international credit cards because of fraud risk,, due to that, i ended up booking directly at Qantas, saved $300 and webjet has lost around 10 AUS to USA flights since then.

    The only time i would go via an agent these days would be if i had a complicated flight plan.

  • I agree Caesar. Once the airlines have everyone dealing direct they the service will get even worse. My last booking I made with a cheapie from Perth to Bali was a disaster to try and change. Worst customer service I’ve ever had. I did the opposite and went back to my local travel agent. At least she could understand me and I didn’t have to wait on the phone for 6 hours. Every other business that distributes a product or service gets paid a commission, I am happy to pay my local agent rather than someone in Asia or America.

  • My recent experience with Flight Centre was a huge disappointment. Based on their advertised policy that they would price match any flight deal, I visited the store twice, and called them once, to book two tickets to BKK.
    I asked them to match the price that our two travel companions had just purchased. The agent flatly refused to price match, saying the flights were not available at that price. She even got angry at me when I insisted that they were available.
    We left the store very angry that we had wasted so much time with them. We went home and booked the tickets online 10 minutes later.
    We saved $800!!!!!
    I guess it is pretty obvious why they did not wish to price match.

    • In the interests of fair play, I called Flight Centre this morning to pass on feedback about what had happened. Sadly, I had to talk to 3 people before I got to speak with someone with authority. Really, I just wanted to pass on feedback, and get their response about what happened in my case, before I slandered them too much on the net.
      I have just had a call from someone in authority with a sincere apology. They took pains to explain that it should not have happened, and an undertaking that it should never happen again. They have also made an offer of a store credit should I choose to give them another opportunity. So I guess I’m happy with that. I’ll give them another chance and time will tell. Being an entertainer, I would like to be able to delegate the responsibility of booking air travel to someone I can trust to give me the best value options available at the time.

  • The problem is that FC and other retail agencies have the dregs of the travel industry, a bunch of clueless types with nfi about anything except some resorts with Phuket. A professional with excellent route, fare and ticketing knowledge can save you money…but they all work in the corporate travel management sector.

    • Not entirely true. At Jetset Travel Toorak, our staff are all seniour with many years of Leisure and Corporate Travel experience , are not order takers , are innovative lateral thinkers and provide options that others don ‘t consider.. I welcome you to contact myself directly for your next international Leisure or Business trip. Kind regards Mark Koffman Managing Director

  • Just in case you haven’t heard of it, adioso.com is brilliant! Finds the cheap flights like Webjet does, but there’s no commission or anything. It simply takes you to the airline’s page. Definitely recommend it.

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!