I guess it’s nice to see that people being overly litigious isn’t just limited to the United States?
In this post:
Qantas’ accidental lifetime club membership
The Sydney Morning Herald has the story of an interesting case that was recently heard in court. In December 2018, an Australian woman named Catriona Wilson received her Qantas Club card in the mail, after purchasing a Qantas Club partner membership. However, rather than listing an expiration date, the card listed “LIFETIME” under the “EXPIRY” section.
Qantas hasn’t sold lifetime lounge memberships since 2007, so naturally this caused some confusion. Wilson assumed that as a loyal Qantas customer, she had been given some kind of a reward.
Wilson’s husband reportedly called Qantas following this, and was informed that the lifetime membership was the result of a lucky draw. Wilson thought she hit the jackpot:
“I thought, ‘this is great, very exciting,’ it’s one of those things – you don’t win raffles or prizes. For something like that to come in the mail is pretty exciting.”
Wilson managed to use her membership without issue for nearly three years, until May 2021. At that point she tried to access the Qantas Club at Melbourne Airport, and was informed that her membership had lapsed. The staff ended up allowing her in with a guest pass, but Wilson describes the situation as embarrassing, and says she was upset and distressed.
Following the incident, Wilson tried to contact Qantas to have the system updated to reflect her lifetime membership, only to not hear back. At that point she filed a complaint with the Airline Customer Advocate. Only after that did Qantas inform her that a lifetime membership was “not something that they have in place.” A customer service representative clarified that there were no records of any promotions for a lifetime membership at the time that the card was issued.
Qantas offered Wilson a 20% discount on a Qantas Club membership, but refused to reinstate the lifetime membership that she believed she was entitled to. She responded by asking for a two year membership at no cost, though Qantas wouldn’t budge.
At this point the traveler took Qantas to court
With Wilson not getting anywhere, she made the decision to take the case to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT). Wilson requested that the lifetime membership be honored, or alternatively that she get the equivalent value in frequent flyer points (an estimated market value of $9,975).
When the case was heard, a Qantas representative claimed that a lifetime Qantas Club membership hadn’t been available for purchase for over a decade, though wasn’t able to explain how this card was issued.
On the day of the trial, Qantas allegedly offered Wilson a four year Qantas Club membership and some frequent flyer miles, in exchange for a confidentiality agreement.
As Wilson describes it, at this point she was “in so deep that it was double or nothing,” and that “it was all about the principle and abominable customer service.”
In the end, the VCAT sided with Qantas. As was written in the decision:
“This is not a situation where the respondent offered a benefit or service and failed to supply it. It was a windfall. 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.
After the case was dismissed, Qantas requested that Wilson cut up the card and send a photo of it to the customer service team. Instead Wilson sent the card to Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, informing him that her entire family would fly other carriers going forward.
My take on this Qantas Club controversy
This is quite a story.
On the one hand, assuming the facts are as presented, I don’t think Qantas handled this situation very professionally. The airline did indeed issue a card suggesting it was valid for a lifetime, and the couple reportedly called Qantas and was told that this was correct. Once Qantas clarified that this wasn’t accurate, a 20% discount on a membership isn’t exactly generous, especially if you want to keep a disgruntled customer. Furthermore, Qantas still hasn’t clarified how this actually happened — how was this card accidentally issued?
On the other hand, I also think that it crosses the line to try to sue an airline for something that you never paid for, and were never entitled to. Yes, Qantas absolutely provided bad customer service here, and I think it would be fair to go to the media about this incident, because it’s an interesting story of bad customer service, if nothing else. But to sue over this, and expect that you’re entitled to it? That crosses the line, in my opinion.
Frankly they should have taken the offer they were given on the day of the hearing, where they could have gotten a four year Qantas Club membership and some frequent flyer miles.
Somehow Qantas accidentally issued a lounge membership card that indicated that a membership was valid for a lifetime, even though the airline hadn’t issued these kinds of memberships in over a decade. While a traveler managed to use this membership for nearly three years, at that point she was informed that this was an error, and that she didn’t in fact have a lifetime membership.
The traveler decided to take Qantas to court over this, and ultimately lost. Even if Qantas handled this situation poorly, it was ultimately an error, and nothing more…
What’s your take on this lifetime Qantas Club story? Who is in the wrong?