An online flight booking company with links to collapsed budget airfare company Bestjet has left travellers thousands of dollars out of pocket after it entered voluntary administration just days after customers say they handed over money to the firm.
Sydney-based Fly365 appointed a voluntary administrator on Friday, wiping both its website and Facebook page and leaving customers who believed they had secured flight bookings through the company with little information about how to recoup their money.
The company is just one of a number of online flight-booking agencies to collapse in recent months, and its demise raises questions about the adequacy of self-regulation in the industry.
Among the hundreds of Fly365 customers to have potentially lost money from the company’s collapse are James Price and Steven Somers, who spent $11,000 booking flights to Europe for themselves and family members on Friday, 14 February.
The couple booked the trip after Somers was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in January. “We decided that with a host of potential travel issues in the future we’d go while we still could, we wanted to travel with our family to Europe,” Price said.
The money was withdrawn from their account five days later, but when Somers attempted to choose seats on the flight he discovered the booking reference number didn’t work.
The couple attempted to contact Fly365 on Friday, only to receive a one-line response stating the company was “no longer trading”.
“Please be advised that Fly365 Pty Ltd is no longer trading. Please contact your airline directly regarding bookings you have made,” the email seen by the Guardian read.
After finding out the name of the liquidator and being added to a list of creditors, Somers set up a Facebook group to see whether others had also lost money making bookings with the company.
24 hours later the group now has more than 250 members, with some saying they made bookings with the company only the day before it entered voluntary liquidation while others have been unable to receive refunds on flights cancelled due to the spread of the coronavirus.
But Fly365 is just the latest in a string of online booking companies to go belly-up. In January last year the collapse of online booking site Bestjetleft travellers who booked flights through the company thousands of dollars out of pocket and searching for answers.
Bestjet was founded by Rachel James, the wife of former Air Australia owner Michael James, just weeks after the budget airline’s high-profile collapse in 2012.
The company’s former general manager, Scott Mayne, is also a director of Fly365, according to documents lodged with the Australian Securities and Investment Commission.
Unlike Bestjet, however, Fly365 was accredited with the Australian Federation of Travel Agents, the organisation charged with the self-regulation of travel agencies in Australia.
On Monday Afta’s chief executive, Jayson Westbury, said in a statement that the organisation would give “serious consideration” to reviewing the way it applies its travel accreditation scheme, known as Atas, to online travel agents.
“This is a very regrettable situation and Afta strongly believes that contributing circumstances beyond the control of Afta and the Atas scheme have resulted in this outcome,” Westbury said.
“Afta does all that it can to monitor and review travel businesses who hold Atas accreditation and for the most part this has enabled Afta to predict certain outcomes – but on this occasion, unfortunately, Afta was not in a position to either provide advance support to the business prior to its failure or predict this outcome.
“While the liquidation process will need to run its course, a much deeper review of the situation is being undertaken by Afta and a further review of the Atas scheme will be given serious consideration as it applies to online travel agents in Australia.”