Flight Centre loses airline ticket price fixing case in the High Court

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The High Court has ruled against Flight Centre on price fixing of airline tickets.

The travel agency now faces penalties to be decided by the Federal Court. Previously it had paid, but was later refunded, $11 million in fines.

The consumer watch dog ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) today won a High Court appeal in relation to Flight Centre’s attempt to induce three international airlines to enter into price-fixing arrangements between 2005 and 2009.

The seven-year case revolves around air fares offered online by the airlines that were cheaper than those offered by Flight Centre.

Flight Centre has maintained that all it was doing was ensuring its customers got the same flight deals as those offered directly by the airlines.

“The company is not in the business of attempting to make airfares more expensive,” Flight Centre co-founder and managing director Graham Turner said last year.

The High Court today found the relevant market was for the sale of international airline tickets and that Flight Centre and the airlines competed in that market. This was found to be the case even though Flight Centre was an agent for each of the airlines.

“The ACCC welcomes the High Court’s decision today,” says chairman Rod Sims.

“At the core of the matter is the question of whether Flight Centre and the airlines are legally considered competitors. The ACCC has always maintained that they are in competition with one another to sell flights to consumers.”

The judgement today follows a decision made by the Federal Court in favour of the ACCC in December 2013 which Flight Centre successfully appealed in the full court of the Federal Court in July 2015.

The ACCC then appealed to the High Court.

Flight Centre says it is reviewing today’s judgement.