Elderly couple's $47,000 holiday nightmare leads to a ban from Flight Centre

Everyone knows that travel can sometimes have its hiccups. Delayed flights, lost luggage, booking issues—we've heard it all. However, the story we're about to share truly takes the cake, showing us that even a trip worth $47,000 can go horribly wrong.

Avid travellers Mary and Cliff Johnson—aged 79 and 81, respectively—found themselves in a distressing situation when the tours they booked were cancelled, which led to an unexpected ‘ban’ from Flight Centre.

The Johnsons, who have been loyal customers of Flight Centre for about a decade, had planned an extensive four-month trip to Canada, the US and Turkey, which cost $47,000.

However, the cancellation of the latter two tours left them stranded in unwanted locations for extended periods of time. The couple had to scramble to make alternative arrangements, adding stress to what should have been a relaxing holiday.

Mary and Cliff Johnson booked three tours costing $47,000 with Flight Centre, but two were cancelled. Credit: Vidar Nordli-Mathisen/Unsplash

Flight Centre initially informed the couple that they had opted for 'non-guaranteed departures' for the tours, which meant they were 'accepting the risk of the tour being cancelled by the tour company'.

However, Mrs Johnson vehemently denied this, stating they had 'no idea' about this risk and were 'never told'. She added that they would not have spent $26,000 on tours that weren't guaranteed.

The trip was a 'very big disappointment' for the Johnsons, and the subsequent months were filled with stressful negotiations with Flight Centre to secure refunds.

But, the real shock came in October when they received an email from a senior member at Flight Centre Tweed City. The email suggested it would be 'best for all parties' if the Johnsons used their credit at another store.

The email read:

Hi Mary,

I hope you and Kip are well. I have processed your refund, and once you complete the details, it will be in your account within 5 days. We feel it’s best for all parties that you use your credit at a different Flight Centre, so unfortunately, the team at Tweed will be unable to help [with] any future bookings.

I will be more than happy to recommend another store for you, though.

Kind regards,
The email was an 'absolute surprise' to the couple, who hadn't visited the store since returning from their trip in August. All their communication with Flight Centre had been via email and phone. Mrs Johnson felt that she and her husband were being discriminated against.

The situation took a turn when journalists approached Flight Centre for comment. The Johnsons received an email from another senior member at the Tweed City store, retracting the decision not to assist the couple with future bookings.

‘I’m sorry if there was any confusion on you being able to book in-store with us—we thought that you would prefer to deal with another store, but we would love the opportunity to help you with your next booking,’ the email stated.

However, the Johnsons were left confused when the team member introduced themselves as the travel agent who helped them book their last trip to New Zealand, a country the couple had never visited.

In a statement, Flight Centre Australia General Manager Brent Novak apologised on behalf of the staff member who had directed the Johnsons to book their future travel with another Flight Centre store.

‘This is not our company policy, Flight Centre would only bar people from a store in exceptional circumstances. We regret that this communication was made and the hurt it understandably caused the Johnsons,’ he said.

Adam Glezer of Consumer Champion, advocating for the Johnsons, said he had 'never seen anything like this'. He criticised Flight Centre for only reaching out to the Johnsons when contacted by a news source and found it 'disconcerting' that the store workers claimed the Johnsons had been confused.

‘Treating anybody like this, let alone elderly people is unconscionable,’ Glezer stated. ‘They have spent a significant amount of money on a trip, and all they wanted was answers.’

He added: ‘They have been loyal to the Flight Centre store for 10 years and out of the blue were told they were not welcome, for no good reason.’

Glezer urged the company to conduct a full investigation on the matter.

The Johnsons' ordeal raised several questions about the travel industry's practices and how they impact consumers. How common are 'non-guaranteed departures'? What rights do consumers have when tours are cancelled? How can travel companies improve their communication and customer service? These are issues that deserve further exploration and discussion.

Key Takeaways
  • An elderly Australian couple were told not to return to their local Flight Centre after a $47,000 trip was filled with issues.
  • The couple booked three tours across Canada, the US and Turkey, however, the latter two were cancelled, leading to other arrangement issues.
  • The couple received an email in October 'banning' them from booking future trips at their local store.
  • After a news source approached Flight Centre for comment, the couple received an email from a senior member at the store reversing the decision and offering to help with their next booking.

What are your thoughts on this situation, members? Have you ever experienced something similar? Share your experiences and insights in the comments below.
We have travelled long distances world cruises etc until Covid came. At that time we were booked on a 77 day cruise that was cancelled. I had made the bookings myself. Princess Cruises offered two different options and we received a full refund but they also offered an extra amount to be used at a later time, unfortunately, this expired as we could not leave the state. we had travel insurance as we were both over 80 years old and we made an application to our insurance company for a refund of the insurance and received that too so that only left the Qantas flights that had to be cancelled. We still have a voucher for one way that will expire by this December, When I tried to use this last year twice it could not be used for the different flights kept saying nothing available. Have tried for a refund but takes so long on the phone I have given up. so will now not travel with Qantas again.
I will never use a travel agent again they rip you of ever way they can.
use a computer and book on line, a lot cheaper and you know what you are paying for.
We must be the luckiest senior travelers in Australia. We rely on our Flight Centre consultant for all our overseas trips and they haven't let us down yet. The Flight Centre Narellan (NSW) team are fantastic. They deliver great service, great advice and recommend the trips, tours and hotels that will give us the best experience and the best bang for our buck. They go far beyond our expectations of what a travel agent should do.
Ask for Deb and tell her "Les sent you". 🛫 🛳️ 🏝️
I always wait for the guaranteed departure before I pay. This was on a bus trip through Europe and Also a River Cruise. If Flight Cente did not advise them that there was not a guaranteed departure that is really amiss of them.

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