ACCC and Flight Centre headed to High Court

flight-centre-462x275The long running $11 million price fixing dispute between Flight Centre and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is headed for the High Court.

The ACCC has been granted leave to appeal the decision of the Federal Court, to overturn a ruling favouring the retailer, which the ACCC accuses of breaching the Trade Practices Act 1974, now called the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.

The case will go to a full hearing of the High Court later in the year.

Flight Centre in 2015 successfully appealed a 2013 Federal Court decision that it had breached the Trade Practices Act by allegedly insisting airlines could not offer prices direct to customers that were lower than those available to the travel retailer.

The High Court has now granted the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission leave to appeal that decision, which secured Flight Centre a refund of an $11 million fine.

Flight Centre managing director Graham Turner said the retailer would continue to vigorously defend its position.

“We are disappointed that the ACCC chose to continue this long running test case, following the clear and unanimous judgement in Flight Centre’s favour in July last year,” Turner said.

“Given that it is now some six years after the ACCC first requested information from us, we look forward to this matter finally being resolved in the High Court.”

ACCC chair Rod Sims said they are pleased the matter will be considered by the High Court.

“This case raises important issues for the application of competition laws in Australia in the future, as online offers are increasingly being made directly to consumers by both agents and their principals,” said Sims.

The 2015 Federal Court decision in Flight Centre’s favour included a finding that distribution and booking services for consumers were not in competition with direct sales by airlines.

Meanwhile, Flight Centre has today announced the acquisition of Dutch corporate travel agency Business Travel Development (BTD), marking its first acquisition in continental Europe.

It did not specify the value of the deal, but said BTD had reported revenue of 10.3 million euros ($A15.21 million) for its 2015 financial year.

“Having a company-owned presence in the Netherlands strengthens our proposition for national and multi-national clients and gives us a platform for further growth in the country and in Europe,” managing director Graham Turner said.

The new business will be overseen by Flight Centre’s UK business.

The BTD deal follows the company’s recent acquisitions of youth travel business Studentuniverse.com, low-cost online travel agency BYOjet.com and aircraft charter and logistics specialist Avmin.

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