Australian Media has reported about a Victoria couple that got entangled in a legal dispute with Qantas over a purchased Airport Club Membership that was, for some reason, issued with a lifetime validation.
Several years after the purchase and conferred membership credentials highlighting a lifetime validity, Qantas backtracked and claimed an error, revoking the membership.
After some fruitless communication with the airline, the customers involved the Australian aviation ombudsman for mediation and later took the airline to court in an attempt to litigate the matter towards a positive outcome.
As reported by the Sydney Morning Herald it didn’t go their way after the couple turned down a settlement offer made by Qantas.
When Catriona Wilson opened the mail and received her new Qantas Club membership card, it included an unexpected – and welcome – detail.
In the section where the expiry date was listed, next to the join date of January 2002 and below the famous flying kangaroo logo, the word “lifetime” was clearly printed in silver, capital letters.
As a loyal customer, Catriona figured she had been given some kind of reward by the airline.
Her husband, James, said he called Qantas soon after the card arrived in December 2018 and was told it was the result of a lucky draw. He didn’t receive a lifetime membership but was happy for his wife. …
It would later turn out that the lifetime membership had been issued in error. But for several years, Catriona said she was able to access the Qantas Club without any problems.
That changed in May 2021, when Catriona was not allowed into the lounge at Melbourne Airport while travelling to South Australia to visit her sick father because her membership had lapsed.
While trying to explain the situation, Catriona said she became upset and distressed. Staff allowed her into the club with a guest pass, but she didn’t know why her lifetime membership card wasn’t working. “It was very embarrassing,” said Catriona.
It wasn’t until they lodged a complaint with the Airline Customer Advocate ombudsman that Qantas informed them the lifetime membership was “not something that they have in place”.A customer service representative said there were no records of any promotions for lifetime membership when the card was issued.
“They just kept saying: ‘We don’t do this’,” said James.
Rather than restoring the lifetime membership, the Wilsons were offered the chance to rejoin the Qantas Club at a 20 per cent discount with the joining fee waived.
Believing the offer wasn’t very fair, James asked for a two-year membership for his wife at no cost. When that wasn’t accepted, they took their case to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.They sought for the lifetime membership to be honoured, or alternatively, the equivalent value in frequent flyer points. The market value was estimated to be $9975.
At the VCAT hearing, a representative for Qantas said that lifetime membership to the Qantas Club had not been available for purchase since 2007. They were unable to say how the Wilsons were sent a lifetime card or whether it was a one-off event.
On the day of the hearing, James said Qantas offered his wife a four-year membership and some frequent flyer points.
“They wanted a confidentiality agreement to say we wouldn’t say anything about it,” he said.“By that stage, we were in so deep that it was double or nothing. We decided we were in boots and all. It was all about the principle and abominable customer service.”
The Wilsons thought the hearing went well, however VCAT member Susan Burdon-Smith sided with Qantas. She said Catriona had paid for a Qantas partner membership and had not expected to receive a lifetime card.
“This is not a situation where the respondent offered a benefit or service and failed to supply it. It was a windfall,” she wrote.
“As such, the applicable law is that which applies to a benefit obtained in error or through a mistake. The mistake vitiates any intention on the part of Qantas to give the benefit to the applicant.”The Wilsons believe the matter was handled poorly by Qantas, which was compounded by a request to cut up the card and send a photo to the customer service team after the case was dismissed.
They ignored the request and sent the card back to Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, telling him that their family intended to fly with another carrier. They didn’t hear anything back.
“They are an arrogant airline to deal with,” said James.
It’s quite obvious that Qantas fouled up here on many levels and that this situation should have been handled more professionally from the beginning.
The customer, indeed didn’t purchase a lifetime membership and was actually confused as to why she got it. After allegedly contacting Qantas about it they were told the lifetime membership was “part of a lucky draw”. At least that is what the husband claims happened, and there is no way to prove or disprove that at this point. A written correspondence would have probably been best.
There were 2.5 years in between receiving the “Lifetime” membership card and eventually being told the membership had lapsed. Coincidentally, the years in between were pretty much covered by the pandemic except for the first year of 2021. It’s unclear if the passenger would have been told much sooner the membership had lapsed, but with Australia’s strict lockdowns in place, I doubt they even did a lot if any air travel from spring 2020 to May 2021 when this became an issue to confront.
Qantas then first ignored all customer service requests and only reacted to a filing with the ombudsman denying that they ever intended to issue a lifetime membership to the customer. Though they could also not offer any explanation as to how it happened or why the customer was told it was part of some raffle. According to the article, they didn’t deny that the employee stated that either.
Qantas didn’t offer any sincere compensation at first with a simple reduced joining fee. The customer has a point when he states that Qantas’ approach and demeanor is rather arrogant. After all, it was their fault and I always found the airline rather confrontational in its customer service both on the ground, in the air and through customer care.
When it came to the lawsuit Qantas provided the customer with a settlement offer that sounded reasonable to me. A four-year Club Membership and some unspecified amount of Qantas Frequent Flyer points which I’d estimate probably between 50,000-100,000. I would have taken that offer and to accept a settlement often includes a Non-Disclosure agreement.
They should have taken the offer. I’m not sure if they had any legal representation by an attorney or just (like a small claims court fashion) represented themselves. I find it hard to believe an attorney would have told a client to risk a judgment if the company provided a solid settlement.
The customers, however, felt they wanted to ride the case all the way based on principle and eventually lost as the court wasn’t sympathetic. This was a clear case of gambling too high and losing. Such things happen in life, especially if you put principle before the eventual outcome.
The judge or magistrate in this case, unfortunately, did a poor job with her reasoning as it clearly didn’t take all things into account that happened in this case. Qantas could have told the customer immediately they made a mistake, corrected the error, and basically, that would have been it.
Instead, their representatives allegedly came up with a weird story about a lucky draw (IF that conversation ever took place). That the membership was first honored for some years isn’t unusual since the customer had indeed paid for it, and then came the pandemic as we all know. It was only in May 2021 that issues first came up.
It would have made more sense had the court stated that they didn’t believe the customer was told by Qantas they won this membership based on clear indicators that there was never any written record or communication that proves a raffle ever existed.
Qantas did sell lifetime memberships in the past. What could have happened here is that someone who is a lifetime member ordered a replacement card, and this customer with a regular membership had her card printed afterward, with the employee just making an honest mistake and not resetting the expiration date. Don’t believe that everything is 100% automated.
I have gotten some weird membership cards over the years that contained errors. One time I even received a credit card from Chase with an incorrect first name on it.
A Qantas customer pursued legal action against the airline after their Qantas Club issued a lifetime membership card to the client rather than the regular membership she bought, claiming it was the result of a raffle. Two years later, Qantas let the membership lapse, and the passenger was denied access to the Club and instead had to purchase a guest pass, after which customer care and legal proceedings followed in which they didn’t prevail.
Personally, I have problems believing the story of the lucky draw and the phone conversation. If this would have been a published promotion to drive membership sign-ups, then yes, it would make sense. Why offer something like this without a PR benefit to the company?
There are only two options, either the Qantas agent on the phone made that up, or the customer’s husband just invented this story, and the phone call where he was told the Lifetime membership was a prize of a raffle. Usually, a prize comes with a letter congratulating the winner and not just a plain card in the mail.