SINGAPORE - Some Singapore Airlines (SIA) customers are upset with a new online booking feature that automatically includes travel insurance unless travellers opt out.
Once payment is made, asking for a refund is tedious, said those who realised they were charged for insurance only after their flight bookings were confirmed.
The feature was introduced last year in Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong.
Mr George Lim who wrote to The Straits Times said that when he asked for a refund, he was told to contact the insurance company.
"I protested as the payment was made to them (SIA)," said Mr Lim, who flies SIA twice a month. "I told them that if they don't get the refund for me, I will cancel all five tickets I purchased," he added.
Mr Allen Tan, who was also caught off guard, said in a letter to the Forum page: "While I understand that SIA needs to grow revenue, its senior management should work out proper ways of doing this, rather than slipping in surreptitious add-on charges such as this."
In its reply to Mr Tan, SIA said that it encourages customers to buy insurance to safeguard their travel plans.
"The inclusion of insurance is clearly displayed, the cost is reflected in the booking summary panel at the payment page, and customers can opt out if they do not wish to add the insurance to their booking," a spokesman said.
Those who wish to cancel, even after payment is made, can do so. In such cases, refunds will be credited to the customer's credit card within 10 working days, he added.
SIA said it will continue to review and refine its policies and practices to better serve its customers.
The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) frowns upon such practices, its executive director Loy York Jiun said.
"It is common for consumers to overlook that such options have been checked or ticked for them as they complete the transaction...This can lead to additional charges for extra services or items which the consumers may not be aware that they are purchasing."
Such options should be left unticked so that consumers have to consciously tick them if they wish to include them , he said.
Those who have issues obtaining their refunds should approach Case for assistance, Mr Loy said.
In Australia, Europe and the United States, consumer watchdogs had in the past warned airlines and other merchants not to engage in such practices.
In 2016, Virgin Australia stopped the pre-selection of travel insurance on its online booking platform following discussions with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
In Asia, it is also rare for full-service carriers to include such features, observers said.
This is not the first time SIA has upset some of its passengers.
Just two weeks ago, the airline said it would impose a credit card fee on bookings made by some travellers leaving Singapore.
The charge - 1.3 per cent of the total fare amount, capped at $50 - was to apply to those who buy its cheapest Economy Lite tickets, the airline said.
A day later, SIA said, without giving any reasons, that it had decided not to go ahead with the credit card fee.
SIA'S REPLY TO FORUM PAGE LETTER
We refer to the letter "Grow your revenue, but do it fairly" published on 20 January 2018.
Singapore Airlines encourages customers to take up travel insurance to safeguard their travel plans, and we refer to the benefits of insurance in our conditions of contract.
The "opt-in" default was implemented in some markets, including Singapore, last year. The inclusion of insurance is clearly displayed, the cost is reflected in the booking summary panel at the payment page, and customers can opt out if they do not wish to add the insurance to their booking.
Additionally, customers who have taken insurance but later change their mind may cancel the insurance without penalty prior to departure. In such cases, refunds will be credited to the customer's credit card within 10 working days.
As with all measures that we implement, we will continue to review and refine our policies and practices to better serve our customers. We have also been in touch with Mr Tan to expedite the refund process given his experience.
Senior Vice President Sales and Marketing