Airline refunds: What are a (would-be) flyer’s rights?
Australians are being urged to secure flights out of the USA before Qantas and other airlines stop flying. Photo: TND
Air travel in Australia is as good as grounded as we fight to fight back against the coronavirus spread.
But there’s still confusion over what rights travellers have if their flight has been cancelled, or if they choose not to fly for their own reasons.
In the US, the government this week mandated that airlines must refund passengers in the event of cancelled flights or heavily rescheduled flights. The move was in response to an overwhelming amount of complaints from travellers who were being offered credit rather than direct refunds.
In Australia, it’s still up to individual airlines to pass on refunds or credits where they see fit – and it’s a minefield to navigate.
For example, Qantas and Virgin Australia will refund passengers in some circumstances, but it’s up to you to know which circumstances and then follow up the refund yourself. (Keep reading for a breakdown on what the airlines offer.)
Melbourne Law School consumer rights expert Jeannie Paterson said the disparity between airlines, and even fare types, was creating an uneven playing field for consumers.
People who fly regularly – for business, for example – will probably be happy to take credit or a voucher to use down the track, Professor Paterson told The New Daily.
But for people who had a flight booked for a one-off occasion, a voucher could be virtually useless.
In her view, Professor Paterson said all airlines should be offering refunds for all passengers, on all fare types.
“Vouchers have a lot of restrictions attached to them,” she said.
“I would take a hard line and say consumers are entitled to refunds because they’re not able to fly.
“It shouldn’t be left to the consumers to chase refunds – the airlines should be offering.”
Monash University aviation expert Greg Bamber said it was understandable why airlines were opting for vouchers where they could – they’ve been dealt a massive financial blow.
However, it was still a rich ask.
Most airlines try to delay such refunds so they can hold the money for as long as possible and also to try to insist on the customer accepting credit rather than a refund, Professor Bamber said.
“Passengers are already helping through taxes, so if airlines are keeping money through vouchers, passengers are helping them twice,” Professor Bamber told The New Daily, referring to the government bailouts for airlines.
He agreed with Professor Paterson that airlines should be refunding passengers for their tickets in full – including all booking fees.
Which airlines are doing what
Consumer advocacy body CHOICE has compared which airlines are offering refunds and which are offering vouchers.
The New Daily also reached out to the airlines to check their refund policies in this unprecedented time.
The national carrier is offering credit vouchers for non-cancelled flights (so if you just choose not to fly, understandably) until July 31. These vouchers will be valid until the end of next year.
The voucher comes with restrictions: It’s only valid for fares equal to the original fare you bought. If you want a flight that costs more, you’ll pay the difference.
Oh, and you have to claim your voucher by the end of this month.
Qantas did not respond to TND’s inquiry, but here’s the airline’s conditions of carriage to wade through.
“Our guests have the option to change their flight to a later date without incurring a change free; receive a travel credit, or receive a refund if their fare-type allows,” a spokesperson for the carrier told The New Daily.
This is what Virgin’s website says, post-administration: “If you booked before 10 April 2020 and your travel is before September 30 2020 or 27 May 2021 for flights to or from the US, we’ll waive any applicable change fees if you want to change your booking, or cancellation fees if you request a travel credit.”
Check Virgin’s details here.
A Jetstar spokesperson referred TND to this site, in response to our inquiries.
By all information, it’s pretty hard to get a refund on Jetstar, which is pretty standard for low-cost carriers.
Customers who were booked to fly before July 31 were entitled to claim a voucher – valid for a flight that departs within 12 months of the booking date. That window closed on April 30.
All of Tiger’s flights are suspended. Tiger is owned by Virgin Australia, so the same policies apply. Here’s a statement from Tiger for affected passengers.