Travellers who booked flights through Australian budget airfare company Bestjet have been left thousands of dollars out of pocket after the business collapsed just days before Christmas.

Queensland-based Bestjet and its subsidiaries, Wynyard Travel and Brooklyn Travel, went into voluntary administration on December 18. The news has left thousands of Australians angry and unsure of whether they’ll ever see their money again.

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Neil Hall and his wife, Annette, paid A$10,600 (US$7,440) for two business class flights from Brisbane to Milan with Etihad on December 11. They had never flown business class before, and decided to splash out after Neil was made redundant.

The couple received a tax receipt and assumed the flight had been paid for – until December 22 when a strange email landed in their inbox.

Purporting to be from Bestjet, it was littered with spelling errors and accusations aimed at airfare ticketing consolidator CVFR Travel Group.

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The company’s administrator, Pilot Partners, sent an email to customers soon afterwards advising them to ignore any “unauthorised information”.

I was furious, it seems like a scam to me

Kate Ryder, Bestjet customer

This prompted Neill to contact Etihad, who confirmed a hold had been placed on the couple’s spot but that the ticket had not been paid for. Their booking was eventually cancelled by the airline on December 31.

“It was sort of a once-in-a-lifetime thing to celebrate the start of something new for us,” he said. “It’s obviously quite a large amount of money and not an everyday purchase, put it that way. It’s certainly hit us pretty hard.”

The circumstances around the company’s collapse are still unclear.

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Before being sold in November, Bestjet’s previous owner was the wife of the former boss of Air Australia – which collapsed in 2012, leaving thousands of passengers stranded overseas and creditors almost A$100 million (US$70 million) out of pocket.

New owners McVicker Investment Group said the company had been placed into administration after representations to the former owners “failed to materialise”.

A meeting is expected to be held by the administrators, Pilot Partners, on Wednesday.

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A Facebook group for former customers to share information, set up by disgruntled nurse Kate Ryder, now has 700 members. Their losses amount to an estimated A$2.4 million (US$1.68 million).

“I was furious, it seems like a scam to me. The government needs surely needs to close a loophole to stop these sorts of things happening in the future,” Ryder said.

Neil, too, would like something positive to come out of his loss.

“Obviously it’s bad for me, but I would like to see some sort of assurance we don’t have companies doing this to make sure people aren’t put in this position,” he said. “I’m concerned about us but I’m also concerned for others in the future.”