Travel Trouble

Wed, 22 Aug, 2018Over60

Flight Centre accused of "ripping off" customers and underpaying staff in "cult" workplace

Flight Centre accused of "ripping off" customers and underpaying staff in "cult" workplace

Australian travel giant Flight Centre is facing allegations of ripping off customers and underpaying staff, with some ex-employees dubbing the company as a "cult".

In a report by the ABC, former employee Olivia Little revealed that staff are encouraged to add hundreds and sometimes even thousands of dollars to customer bookings.

"In training, they are telling you that you can mark-up flights," said Olivia, who worked as a travel consultant at a Flight Centre store in 2016.

"It's not a secret thing."

She added, "Say the flight was $1,500 — they would mark-up and say, 'Oh the flight is $1,800'. Or if it's a huge business class flight they would mark up a couple of thousand."

According to Ms Olofsson, who worked at one of the company’s stores, the practice was encouraged by managers.

"It definitely wasn't hinted at. It was, 'This is how we operate. This is how you make money. This is part of your job'," she said.

"It wasn't uncommon actually that I would have a manager physically adjust the mark-up using my logins and on my customers."

In a statement to the ABC, Flight Centre said the extra cost to the customer was justified by the service provided, saying the company does not engage in “excessive marking-up”.

"A central team in Australia proactively monitors margins on individual transactions and action is taken if the margin earned is considered excessive. Action can and has included dismissal," a Flight Centre spokesperson told the ABC.

"The company strongly believes in a fair margin and refers to this in its philosophies."

One reason why Flight Centre staff are motivated to mark-up bookings comes from the company’s low and confusing method of paying staff.

The current base salary for full-time Flight Centre travel consultants is $33,500, with the rest of their salary made up of commissions.

However, staff claim the pay structure makes it almost impossible to earn a decent wage without resorting to marking-up.

"Towards the end of the month, if you're struggling to hit your target, you kind of have to pull the strings," a current staff member told the ABC.

"You have to do what you have to do to get you there."

If the staff fail to make enough commissions over a month, it is understood Flight Centre tops up their pay to meet the minimum industry award wage.

Former employees also criticised the company’s heavy party culture, with mandatory monthly booze-soaked “buzz nights”.

She said herself and another staffer would refer to the workplace as “the Flight Centre cult”.

"It works for people who want work to be their life — who only want to be friends with people from Flight Centre and date people from Flight Centre," she said.

"It's very culty."

Now, Flight Centre is under investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman for its questionable practices.

Flight Centre has started negotiations with staff over a new Enterprise Bargaining Agreement.

Wages, commissions, working conditions and the company’s price beat policy feature are all being reviewed.

A spokesperson from Flight Centre said: “At the moment, our people are having their say on what they feel are the key terms and conditions of employment that they would like to see included in the EBA. This is a normal part of the process and it's progressing well.

"We believe that we can deliver a better system that benefits both our people and the company's other stakeholders, through a tailor-made enterprise agreement."