Flight Centre: Australian High Court finds agent competed with principal and breached cartel laws

January 9, 2017

(by Julie Clarke[1]) On 14 December 2016, Australia’s highest court (the High Court) determined, by majority, that Flight Centre, a travel agent, competed with airlines for the supply of airline tickets and that, as a result, its attempts to induce the airlines to lower their direct-to-public ticket sales constituted unlawful price fixing. Flight Centre markets itself as offering a ‘Lowest Airfare Guarantee’. In attempting to induce the airlines not to discount tickets sold direct to the public, it was found to be in competition with the airlines and therefore subject to a per se prohibition rather than a full effects analysis. The treatment of travel agents and other similar arrangements falls into somewhat of a grey area in Competition Law.  Are the agents competing horizontally with their suppliers in selling to consumers, or are they better seen as vertically related retailers, or even as de facto employees?  This is important because horizontal cartels are almost universally per se illegal, often with criminal sanctions, vertical price fixing (e.g. RPM) has a much more mixed and nuanced legal position, and employees are completely exempt (a firm is free to set prices that all its salesforce must implement). In Europe, genuine ‘agency agreements’ fall outside the scope of Article 101 TFEU, even though they may contain clauses that can produce anticompetitive effects, such as minimum pricing.[2] This blog analyses the significance of recent developments under Australian Competition Law. Read the rest of this entry »