A couple who used a popular online payment service to pay for more than $10,000 worth of Qantas flights are warning others of the risks after their money ended up “lost in a void”, with no flights to show for it.
On July 10, Giacomo and Nikki Lichtner booked flights to the UK for Nikki and their two children through the Qantas website. Giacomo had booked his flights separately, as he was traveling for work.
The Wellington-based couple made the $NZ10,894 ($A9853) payment using POLi – a service which enables customers to transfer money directly from their bank account to the merchant.
While the money left their bank account, the flights were not issued. The couple contacted their bank, which advised the transfer would likely go through the next working day. But as they had used a third party – POLi – the bank was unable to use its usual tracking process.
In the meantime, the couple contacted Qantas, which said it would hold the flights.
When the Lichtners contacted POLi through an online form, they received a response confirming there had been an error with the payment, and the status of the transaction was “receipt unverified”.
POLi sent through a screenshot, and advised the couple to share it with Qantas so the airline could confirm receipt of the payment, and either process the transaction or provide a refund.
On July 14, the couple again phoned Qantas, and were this time telling their flights would be cancelled, with a refund to be issued within 14 working days.
Assuming a refund was on the way, the couple went ahead and booked new flights, this time through a travel agent, at a cost of $NZ9871.
However, in a subsequent call, Qantas told the couple they had no record of a refund being actioned, and they would need to contact POLi.
But POLi insisted Qantas had the money, and said they had no involvement in the refund process.
Nikki Lichtner said they were left feeling “frustratingly helpless”, and couldn’t understand how their money could just be “lost in a void”.
Following enquiries from Stuff Travel, a Qantas spokesperson said the refund had been approved and the funds had been expedited to be returned to the Lichtners.
“We are looking into what’s happened with these payments and will work with POLi to avoid this happening again.”
But the couple believed others should be aware of the risks when using POLi to book flights.
“If an error occurs during the transaction, both parties can point the finger at each other, the responsibility for finding the money leaving with the customer,” Nikki Lichtner said.
Giacomo Lichtner added it had been next to impossible to get answers, with Qantas being particularly difficult to engage with.
“The thing that really left us stranded was the lack of acknowledgment and any responsibility.”
Other Qantas customers have reported issues with receiving refunds from the airline after paying using the POLi system.
Nelson couple Simon Rutherford and Lisa Keenan waited more than 12 weeks for a refund after the airline canceled their flights. The couple was told POLi was holding their payment, however, POLi denied this.
The couple were eventually refunded after the New Zealand sales manager for Qantas stepped in following the publication of Stuff Travel’s story.
POLi has yet to respond to requests for comment.
What is POLi?
POLi offers a way of making online payments that uses your internet banking information, instead of a credit or debit card.
The Australian company is owned by a fully-owned subsidiary of Australia Post.
Using POLi’s portal, a customer logs in to their internet banking. It is free, with no further registration needed.
However, most banks advise against customers sharing passwords and login details with any third party, and doing so may breach their terms and conditions.
Banking Ombudsman Scheme policy & systemic issues manager Erica Penney said POLi did not fall within their jurisdiction, as they only looked into the actions of the banks.
However, if funds went missing during a payment – whether it be a credit card payment, an internet banking payment, or a payment initiated by a third party like POLi – their expectation would be that the bank would assist the customer to try to trace and recover the funds to the extent they were able.
“At the end of the day if there is a dispute between the person who sent the funds and the agency that received them, the resolution of that issue falls outside the banking relationship, and the customer might want to seek some legal advice about what options are available to them if a merchant they have paid funds to deny receiving their funds, or hasn’t provided the service they’ve paid for,” Penney said.
“The more parties you have involved, the murkier the waters get. If a third party like POLi and the merchant are pointing the finger at each other, that can be really confusing for consumers.”
See also: Right now, Australia hates Qantas. But it won’t last
See also: Couple ‘seething’ after Qantas cancels flight, rebooks baby on separate flight