A Sydney grandmother of five has expressed her frustration with Qantas after trying to get her husband’s frequent flyer points transferred to her following his death.
Rhonda and Brian spent 52 years together after the electrician walked in to fix something in the office she was working in. The 72-year-old told Yahoo Finance she had come up against “frustrating” bureaucracy since his sudden death in May, including when she reached out to Qantas to have his 6,800 frequent flyer points transferred to her account so she could enjoy a trip away.
“I know it’s not a lot of points but it’s the principle of it because, damn, you get hardly anything out of it anyway,” she said.
“I just thought it would naturally come to me so, once I told them he passed away, I could’ve easily gone in and transferred them to myself without telling them but I wanted to do the right thing.”
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But instead of the compassion she needed, Rhonda received an upsetting rejection email.
“They said, ‘Sorry to hear about your loss and sincere condolences but we are unable to transfer the points in accordance with our terms and conditions’. They asked for his death certificate and closed the account straight away.”
Rhonda wrote off the points as a loss until she heard Qantas’s new CEO, Vanessa Hudson, address the airline’s battered reputation and the $80 million in profits being added to the $150 million allocated to repairing customer “pain points”.
“After everything blew up she mentioned this type of thing - if someone passed away, the points would go to the next of kin,” Rhonda said.
“Then I immediately wrote back and said that, ‘After hearing the news item, I was under the impression you were now looking at this’. I haven't heard a word back since. I don’t know if they’re just ignoring me.”
No clarity since backflip on controversial policy
In September, Qantas announced a change in the long-standing policy to cancel frequent flyer loyalty points when a member dies, stating a family member could claim the points within a year from October. Rhonda last made an inquiry on October 5.
The airline had faced criticism for the hard-line policy that stipulated members’ accounts would be immediately terminated and all points forfeited unless transferred before a person’s death.
But clarity about who was considered a family member, how the bereft should approach the situation or if the policy change would be retroactive wasn’t made clear.
Rhonda said she had been asked to produce a will in other situations and wasn’t sure if this was part of Qantas’s process.
“I’ve just had enough. Everywhere I turn there’s a barrier, and what’s 6,800 points to them? They are trying to keep their reputation intact and until I heard that announcement I was done with it,” she said.
“Now I still haven’t heard and I am cranky about it.”
The mother-of-two said, while the number of points “isn’t much”, she had hoped to be able to use the points when she takes a holiday to go on the Ghan next year.
“That would pay for a one-way ticket for the fare home from South Australia,” she said.
Yahoo Finance understands the terms and conditions are currently being updated and that executors or administrators of a member's estate can get a transfer if they have authority and proof of death.
Who is considered an eligible family member has not yet been made clear.
Status credits can not be transferred.
Since publication, Rhonda has been transferred Brian's points, but she said it was "ridiculous" it took going to the media to get them.
"We sincerely apologise to Rhonda for her experience and our customer team have been in contact with her to advise that her husbands’ points have now been transferred to her frequent flyer account," a Qantas Loyalty spokesperson said.
How do other airlines deal with loyalty points when a member dies?
The move to transfer points in the case of a member’s death brings Qantas in line with rival Virgin, which lets Velocity points pass on to a loved one, however it must be instructed to do so in a will.
“If the deceased member has left instructions for their points balance to be transferred to a beneficiary, we’ll let you know the next steps to complete this,” Virgin’s website states.
Most airlines have a similar policy of forfeiting points on the death of a frequent flyer because the points are not considered the member's property. Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, Etihad Airways and Emirates have discretionary policies that may allow points to be transferred.
What has Qantas promised to change for customers?
Hudson admitted the embattled airline had "let you down in many ways" but promised to improve aspects of the following:
Better contact centre resourcing and training
An increase in the number of seats that can be redeemed with Frequent Flyer points (more on that here)
More generous recovery support when operational issues arise
A review of longstanding policies for fairness (including the transfer of points in the case of death)
Improvements to the quality of in-flight catering
Backlash came to a head in August this year when Qantas revealed $2.47bn pre-tax profit after a marked drop in the quality of customer service.
There's been a class-action lawsuit over refunds during the pandemic, an ACCC investigation they've hit back at over selling cancelled "ghost flights" and $2.5bn in government subsidies the airline has refused to pay back.
Qantas was found to have illegally sacked 1700 workers during the pandemic, a Federal Court decision that was upheld in the High Court in September.
Just last week, Qantas enforced an average fare hike of 3.5 per cent for travellers as fuel costs have increased in the face of the Middle East conflict and a weak Aussie dollar.
Up to four directors on the Qantas board face the axe today as they face shareholders at the airline’s annual general meeting