OFT forces Air Miles to alter 'unfair' terms

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Air miles, the biggest free flights scheme in the world, was yesterday ordered by consumer watchdogs to make sweeping changes to the small print in its contracts.

Air miles, the biggest free flights scheme in the world, was yesterday ordered by consumer watchdogs to make sweeping changes to the small print in its contracts.

The Office of Fair Trading ruled that a host of terms and conditions imposed on collectors of Air Miles were potentially unfair and threatened to infringe consumer rights.

John Vickers, chairman of the OFT, said it was particularly concerned about contract clauses which gave the travel loyalty company the arbitrary right to close a customer's account, pay compensation in air miles rather than cash and levy surcharges on travellers.

A total of 12 terms imposed by Air Miles were objected to by the OFT. Of these 10 have been amended substantially and two have been abolished altogether.

The action follows a 12-month investigation by the OFT in response to complaints about Air Miles from consumers and local trading standards departments.

The company, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of British Airways, has 6 million members who clock up free air travel and other leisure perks either by flying with BA or spending money with companies ranging from NatWest, Shell and Tesco to House of Fraser, the RAC and Homebase. Last year 1 billion air miles were redeemed.

One of the terms imposed by the company gave it the right to withdraw a customer's Air Miles if they were earning or spending them "in a manner detrimental to the company or their distributors". The clause has now been changed so that Air Miles' right to terminate an account must be exercised "reasonably".

A clause entitling the company to compensate customers entirely in air miles has been deleted entirely. The company has also been forced to reduce cancellation charges where car hire or hotel bookings are withdrawn with less than 14 days notice. Previously, it was able to impose a 100 per cent charge.

An OFT spokeswoman said that it could have taken Air Miles to court had it not agreed to the changes in its contract terms. Mr Vickers added: "Holidaymakers must be able to book travel with confidence that their rights will be protected."

Air Miles said it tried to keep its terms and conditions as up-to-date as possible and submitted them to the Plain English Campaign for approval.

Comments