A Sydney woman has been locked in a three-month battle with Qantas after seeing her bank account hit with multiple rounds of double direct debits and frozen funds over a simple transaction, including one totalling more than $40,000.
Carroll Johnson’s three-part fight raises questions about how airlines have screwed up deals so many times
Speaking to news.com.au, Ms Johnson said the process of reversing the error was “torture”.
“It’s like Groundhog Day over and over again. Every day,” she said.
“People say: ‘How can we be stressed and upset about doing this?’ But until it happens to you, you realize it’s just a slow ordeal and you don’t know if you’re going to get an answer.”
Part 1: Account owed $16,357.33
Ms. Johnson’s struggles began on March 15, when she booked five flights for herself, her husband and her son in the United States for $16,357.33.
Two days later, her bank account was repeatedly debited for 11 transactions ranging from $30 to $1,996.92 for a total of $6,363.73. Two days later, on March 19, she was charged another $9,993.60 for a total of $16,357.33. She didn’t find out until her card was rejected when she was buying coffee.
News.com.au understands the double charge was caused by an external issue that also affected Qantas and other merchants.
The double debit of $16,357.33 took five days to reverse, meaning the family’s “everyday” accounts were frozen and they were unable to access the funds or pay living expenses.
However, Ms Johnson said her main complaint was Qantas’ “stressful” customer service process.
“I’ve been on the phone these days. I get up at three or four in the morning and I’m put on hold for four to five hours,” she said.
Part II: Account Freeze $40,294.44
After delaying and canceling her initial overseas vacation, Ms. Johnson made a second attempt on July 26 to buy two business-class tickets to Honolulu, Hawaii, for a total of $13,431.48.
Nine days later, on August 4, she received an email from Qantas saying the company had “difficulty processing” her recent payment.
A call to the airline showed the payment had been declined and she would have to pay again or risk losing her ticket.
Following the airline’s instructions, Ms Johnson paid for the ticket again using her husband’s debit card, which was processed while she was on the phone with a Qantas customer service representative. Although the payment appeared to have been made, Ms Johnson was again told a few days later the payment had been declined.
Ms Johnson will make two further attempts to buy tickets from different debit accounts. At one point, she had three $13,431.48 hands pending on three different cards for a total of $40,294.44.
Finally, on August 19, a set of transactions was cleared and the frozen funds returned to her account. Ms Johnson estimates that this is seven to eight days away.
While Ms Johnson can afford not being able to withdraw more than $40,000 from her bank account, she admits that not everyone is so lucky.
“If the same thing happened to my son, they wouldn’t have survived. They would have had such a big conflict,” she said.
“Luckily we have the money and we’ll get our money back eventually, but it’s stressful.
“Why do we have a duty to fight for our money when they take our money without our authorization?”
Part 3: “Cherry on the Top” after 44 days
While Ms. Johnson and her family believed their conflict was over when the Honolulu flight was finally released, her debit account was double-debited for $13,412.68 on Sept. 8. An email confirmation indicated that the amount was related to her original flight on July 26.
Once again, the couple was unable to access their daily trading accounts, this time taking 12 days to release the funds.
Ms Johnson described this as “the cherry on top”. Although she contacted Qantas “immediately”, she said she still received no explanation.
“It happened suddenly. When I woke up, our account was overdrawn by $13,000,” she said.
“I got a call from Qantas right away. I still don’t know why this happened.”
In a statement to news.com.au, a Qantas spokesperson said the airline had apologised to Ms Johnson over the booking and admitted it was wrong. News.com.au understands incidents involving double charges are very rare.
“She should not have been charged twice in August and September and we returned the funds to her as soon as we found out,” they said.
“Purchase authorization is the responsibility of the credit card provider and Qantas has worked with them to resolve the issue and reimburse customers.”
‘They put us through hell’
While Ms Johnson is no longer out of pocket for double debit payments, she believes she is entitled to lifetime Gold status on Qantas’ frequent flyer programme.
The Sydney woman said she wanted “a little luxury for all the misery that Qantas has caused”. The upgrade also gives her priority phone service in Australia, which she sees as a major benefit given her recent experience.
Negotiations remain unresolved, with Ms Johnson saying she is prepared to cancel the return flight with the airline.
In letters seen by news.com.au, the airline rejected Ms Johnson’s request for frequent flyer status. However, Qantas is prepared to honour Ms Johnson’s request for a free flight change, repay interest charges and offer the couple a “goodwill” Qantas travel voucher worth $2000.
“I’m not asking for money. I just want them to admit that they screwed up,” she said.
“They’ve put us through hell and we’re hoping for something substantial in return.”
Shame on Australia’s national airline
Ms Johnson wasn’t the only one angry about the Qantas booking system. In September, Sydney man Robert Manning shared with news.com.au that the company had received 31 calls, Resolved two mysterious unauthorized transactions totaling $718.82.
Over the next two weeks, he spent nine hours on the phone trying to reverse the transaction, the longest call lasting more than two hours.
“There’s nothing to suggest that the headache or the financial stress it can cause is going to make up for it or make up for it,” he said.
Looking back on the experience, Manning said his experience tarnished the Qantas brand he once held dear.
“I gave them a lot of opportunity to work it out. All I wanted was my flight and what I thought the customer was entitled to, and it turned out to be a 12-day battle,” he said.
“They talk about being ‘Australian spirit’ but it’s like they’ve lost their individuality.”
In response, Qantas said the amount of help in Mr Manning’s account was “an authorization, not a payment”.
“This was a mistake made by the operator in the complicated booking process and we are investigating what went wrong and how we can ensure it doesn’t happen again,” they said.
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