If you’ve booked an international flight for travel in April or May, your flight will almost certainly be cancelled. Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Australia are all grounding international flights from the end of this month – as are many other airlines around the world.
But if your flight has been cancelled, are you entitled to a full refund? It would appear that the answer depends on which airline you booked with…
Each airline has released their own policy regarding the waiving of change and cancellation fees. If your flight is still operating but you have now changed your mind or are unable to travel, most airlines are now allowing you to either change your dates or cancel for a credit voucher without penalty.
However, if your flight is cancelled by the airline, and you are not offered a suitable alternative flight, you may also be entitled to a full refund under Australian Consumer Law. Keep in mind that a refund is different to a credit towards a future flight.
Most airline cancellation policies do not mention the word “refund”. Of course, airlines would like you to accept a credit voucher so they can hold onto your money. (I don’t blame them, either, and you may choose to accept this if you’re planning to travel when things return to normal and you would like to support the airline.)
But if you booked a flight departing from Australia with an Australian airline, Australian Consumer Law continues to apply. In our view, under Schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Australian Consumer Law), you should be entitled to a refund for services that are not provided.
Qantas and Jetstar agree, and appear to be offering refunds to passengers who are booked on flights that have been cancelled. However, Virgin Australia argues that it has had to cancel flights due to events beyond its control including government travel restrictions, and that consumers’ rights to a refund may therefore be impacted. As such, Virgin Australia says it is not offering full refunds to passengers unless they booked a flexible ticket.
Here’s a breakdown of each airline’s policy…
Qantas cancellation policy
With Qantas, if you have a booking for travel until 31 May 2020 and your flight is still operating, but you no longer wish to travel, you have the option to receive a credit voucher.
But if your flight is cancelled, we expect that Qantas will offer you the option to change your flights, receive a travel credit or receive a refund. Qantas has not explicitly stated this, however. For flights that were booked with Qantas directly and have been cancelled, the Qantas website currently states:
Please standby and wait to hear from us before changing your booking. We’ll be contacting anyone whose flight has been impacted over the next week to let you know your options.
Virgin Australia cancellation policy
So far, Virgin Australia has cancelled all international flights from 30 March until 14 June 2020.
This is what the Virgin Australia website currently says:
We have announced a temporary suspension of all international services from 30 March 2020 to 14 June 2020. Our priority is on bringing Australians home, and returning visitors back to their point of origin safely, and as quickly as possible. We will be providing all affected guests with a Travel Credit, which you can claim online by completing our Travel Credit request form.
If your booking is for travel up to and including 30 June you can complete the online Travel Credit request form or, if your flight is within 24 hours, please call the Guest Contact Centre.
Your fare type may also provide you with other options. Please refer to our Fare Guide page for more information.
A Virgin Australia spokesperson told Australian Frequent Flyer that for international services which have been temporarily suspended, “We are providing guests with the option to obtain a travel credit if they don’t want to change their booking to a later date. This is for all flights up until 30 June 2020.”
“We have a comprehensive commercial policy in place that is aimed at providing certainty to customers and aligns with the application of the Australian Consumer Law. This policy also ensures that we are providing our impacted guests with flexible booking options for travel that has been disrupted due to COVID-19,” the Virgin spokesperson said.
Virgin says that full refunds are being offered only if the fare type allows this.
In defending its position, Virgin Australia cited recent guidance from the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC), which says that consumer guarantees may be impacted if travel is cancelled as a result of government travel restrictions.
Jetstar cancellation policy
Here’s what Jetstar has to say about flight cancellations:
International suspensions are listed below in this Travel Alert and dates are subject to change.
Due to the scale of these changes, impacted customers will receive two emails. The first email will advise that your booking may be impacted and the second will provide details about the recovery options available to you. These options will include a credit voucher to the full value of your untraveled Jetstar booking.
We reached out to Jetstar, who told us that as per their standard processes and under Australian Consumer Law, customers are entitled to a full cash refund if their flight is cancelled or delayed by more than three hours.
Jetstar customers with impacted bookings will be contacted by Jetstar over the coming weeks, and the options will be explained in the second email. Jetstar is asking customers for their patience as the airline works through the huge backlog of affected bookings.
What does the ACCC say?
On cancelled flights and cruises, the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) says this:
If events, flights or other travel services such as cruises are cancelled, the ACCC expects refunds or other remedy such as a credit note or voucher will be offered in most circumstances.
However, if the event, flight or travel service is cancelled due to government restrictions, consumer rights under the consumer guarantees may be impacted. In these situations consumers may be entitled to a refund under the terms and conditions of their ticket, or potentially may make a claim under a travel insurance policy.
Although there are currently government restrictions in place that are affecting travel, Virgin and other airlines are still allowed to operate flights. The reason for the cancellations is primarily a lack of demand, resulting from the various travel restrictions currently in place. So, in our view, it’s unclear whether this justification is sufficient to void Australian Consumer Law.
If you aren’t able to get a refund for an international flight, keep in mind that travel insurance may cover your cancellation expenses due to the level of DFAT advice for your destination being changed to “do not travel”.
There is some discussion about this issue on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Am i entitled to my money back [Cancellation]