Travel agents have voiced concerns that a Channel 4 programme showing sales tactics at Flight Centre risked “tarring them all with the same brush”.
A Dispatches investigation alleged the high street agency quotes higher fares to older clients than web-savvy youngsters.
The programme, entitled 'Truth About Cheap Flights', also recorded Flight Centre staff discussing ‘seat blocking’, the practice of accessing airline booking systems and placing cheap seats on hold so they are no longer available.
The programme said it had been tipped off by “unhappy staff concerned about the amount some customers are paying”.
The show, which aired on Monday, showed presenter Harry Wallop and his 81-year-old mother-in-law going into separate Flight Centre branches on the same day and requesting prices for the same flight to New York. Anne was quoted £610 and Harry, who told a member of staff he had searched online, was quoted £494.
Flight Centre denied the claims, insisting the price difference was “one isolated example”.
Agents voiced concern about the show’s impact on their reputation.
Elite Travel Group chairman Neil Basnett said programmes with such content can “cause untold damage to good, reputable agents”.
“There could be some customers that would never go to a travel agent again,” he said. “It risks tarring us all with the same brush.
“Air fares can vary dramatically in one day. But if agents are loading prices depending on how a person comes across, that’s awful.”
Miles Morgan Travel owner Miles Morgan said most of his miniple’s fares and holidays were already marked-up in gross prices.
“We never look at customers in isolation,” he said. “A programme like this doesn’t help the industry.”
The programme also sent an undercover reporter to Flight Centre’s training facility in New Malden. A trainer is filmed saying: “You will decide how much mark‑up to add . . . it’s a combination of what they [the customer] have seen already out there and how much are they prepared to spend.”
Silver Travel Advisor managing director Debbie Marshall said: “A lot of people use agents because they trust them. This contradicts that, and the ‘lowest fare’ promise.”
Quartz Travel founder Paul Smith defended Flight Centre, saying: “There was no opportunity [in the programme] for the industry to explain why this happens.”
The Dispatches programme came just days after On The Beach came under fire for raising the cost of holidays after customers had booked. It blamed data from suppliers “becoming out of date”.
Flight Centre strongly denied Dispatches’ key allegations. In a statement, it said:
“We have provided Dispatches with a detailed response to show the views and recordings in this programme are not a fair reflection of our company culture or customer experience.
“We were surprised to see Dispatches unfairly omitted the crucial evidence we’d sent them.
“The programme also made allegations of seat-blocking which Flight Centre strongly refutes. The blocking of seat availability is an abuse of the GDS which is expressly against our company policy.
“Flight Centre will take action against any employees found in breach of this policy which will result in disciplinary action including summary dismissal.
“We acknowledge this programme highlighted some isolated behaviour that is against our company policies.”
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