‘Extremely expensive’: Australian airlines urged to ditch cancellation fees as US giants act

Biden on airlines' 'junk fees'

Source: White House

Airlines in North America have begun axing cancellation fees for their flyers in a move that a local advocate says should be matched by Australian airlines.

Last week the US’s Spirit and Frontier airlines unveiled plans to ditch extra fees levied on customers who they cancel or change flying plans, in a bid to win back frustrated flyers.

The change eliminated fees worth between $US60 ($90) and $US130 ($196), the airlines said.

It follows a crackdown on so-called “junk fees” that has gone as far as the White House.

Upfront notification

The Biden administration last month said it would require airlines and ticket agents to tell consumers upfront what fees they would face for check-in and carry-on luggage and for changing reservations.

“Too often, airlines drag their feet on refunds or rip folks off with junk fees,” President Joe Biden said, arguing the mandate would protect passengers “from surprise fees”.

In Australia, Adam Glezer, the founder of local advocacy business Consumer Champion, said eliminating cancellation fees was a “brilliant” move that should be followed by Australian airlines.

“It gives consumers flexibility; they can pay for a flight with the full knowledge that if anything changes, they will be looked after,” he said.

“Consumers book flights because it’s their intention to get on the flight. But Australian airlines cash in on the fact that consumers have to make changes – it can be extremely expensive.”

Fee-free changes

Under Spirit’s changes customers can cancel flights up to an hour before their scheduled departure time without a fee.

It can even be done through the discount airline’s app.

If the flight is cancelled within 24 hours of booking or the flight is more than a week away, Spirit will give a full refund.

Flight credits are available in most other cases.

A Spirit spokesperson said the moves were part of the airline’s plan to return to profit following the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Spirit has been evaluating changes to our product and strategy that will help us better compete, elevate the guest experience and return to profitability,” the spokesperson said.

Glezer said the moves would put pressure on other airlines in North America to follow suit, and could be a model for Australia.

“In Australia, a lot of work has to be done on consumer protections when it comes to airlines,” he said.

“As it sits now, Australians are left in a very precarious position when they have to cancel or change their flights.

“Australian airlines have to place greater consideration on consumer interests, rather than maximising profits at all costs.”

Cancellation costs

The call comes as Qantas looks to mend fences with customers following years of mounting anger against the national carrier over lacklustre service standards.

But while Qantas is spending millions on upgrading customer service and its loyalty program, Australians still pay dearly for cancellations.

Details buried on Qantas’ website show hundreds of dollars in fees can be levied for flight cancellations, depending on destination.

Additionally, change fees ranging from $10 to $77 apply, depending on the type of flight booked and whether it was booked through an airport or via a contact centre.

Qantas frequent flyers can, however, cancel their flights without any additional fees.

Details about cancellation and change fees buried on Virgin’s website, meanwhile, reveal charges of $99 plus the difference in the airfare.

However, Virgin does offer flex tickets that come with no extra change or cancellation fees.

Jetstar charges a refund fee of $50 on domestic flights and potentially more on international routes to Japan.

Change fees can be even higher at about $70 for domestic flights, according to details buried on the company’s website.

Regional Express (Rex) charges $44 plus the difference in fare for flight changes.

A $44 fee is also charged for cancellations.

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