As the past week has shown, domestic travel restrictions within Australia can change very quickly. This makes it difficult to book flights with confidence.
But to maintain cash flow, airlines need the public to keep booking! So, most airlines have introduced additional flexibility for domestic flight bookings. But can passengers expect a refund if they’re unable to travel as planned?
Are airlines required to refund cancelled flights?
If the airline cancels your flight, you may be entitled to a refund in some circumstances. But this will depend on your airline’s policy. Airlines are not legally required to refund flights cancelled due to border closures under Australian Consumer Law, as this would be considered an event outside the airline’s control. But airlines are required to refund if they promise this in their Conditions of Carriage.
If your flight doesn’t get cancelled but you need to change your plans, or you’re unable to travel due to border closures, unfortunately you might not be entitled to a refund unless you’ve booked a refundable ticket. But in this instance, most Australian airlines will at least let you cancel your booking for a credit voucher or change your travel dates without paying a change fee (see the section on change fee waivers below).
Generally, Qantas and Rex will refund all flights cancelled due to COVID-19. Rex also says it will refund you if you are unable to travel for any COVID-related reason, including state border closures.
Even if you are entitled to a refund from any of the airlines, keep in mind that it could still take several months to process. All airlines currently have a large backlog of requests and do not seem to be in a hurry to process them.
This article explains the refund policies and increased booking flexibility offered by Qantas, Jetstar, Virgin Australia and Rex in 2021.
Refunds for flights cancelled by the airline
Qantas refund policy
If Qantas cancels your flight, you can request a refund. The Qantas website states:
If we’ve cancelled your Qantas flight, we’ll rebook you on the next available flight to your booked destination (if possible), at no additional cost to you. Alternatively, you can choose a Flight Credit or a refund. You won’t be charged any change or cancellation fees.
Jetstar refund policy
The information on Jetstar’s website is more confusing.
Jetstar says that customers would be entitled to a refund if their flight is cancelled and an alternative flight within 3 hours of the original departure time is not offered. However, Jetstar also says that a refund is only available if the delay or cancellation is for reasons within the airline’s control.
It’s not clear whether a state border closure would count as a reason within the airline’s control. But anecdotally, Jetstar customers have previously been given refunds when flights are cancelled due to border closures.
Virgin Australia refund policy
Virgin Australia’s policy is also quite confusing. For bookings made after Virgin Australia entered voluntary administration on 20 April 2020, refunds are available if the fare rules allow it or if the customer is otherwise entitled to a refund under Australian Consumer Law or Virgin’s policies.
If Virgin cancels your flight, you may be offered an alternative flight at a similar time. However, if the new flight time is not suitable to you, Virgin Australia’s Guest Compensation policy states:
You can contact our Guest Contact Centre or your nominated travel agent to request a different flight time. We will use our best efforts to move you to another Virgin Australia service which is acceptable to you without charge.
If we cannot make suitable alternative arrangements, you may request a Travel Bank credit or a refund of the total price you paid for your impacted flight by contacting our Guest Contact Centre or your travel agent.
Rex refund policy
According to the Rex COVID Refund Guarantee:
All bookings on Rex’s network come with Rex’s unique COVID refund guarantee that offers a full refund of the fare or changes with no admin fee or extra charge. This applies to any passenger whose trip has to be cancelled or changed due to COVID-related reasons, even if Rex’s flights operate as scheduled. Where travel insurance covers part of the loss, the COVID guarantee only covers the loss not covered by insurance.
You can request a refund using Rex’s online refund portal.
Change fee waivers
Even if your flight is still operating as scheduled, most airlines are now providing additional flexibility if you change your mind or can’t travel. You may be able to change your travel dates or request a flight credit at no cost. Most of these policies have expiry dates, although Qantas & Virgin have been continuously extending them since the beginning of the pandemic.
Qantas “Fly Flexible”
Qantas is currently allowing unlimited fee-free changes on domestic and trans-Tasman bookings booked by 28 February 2022, for travel until the same date. (This offer was previously only available for bookings made until 31 July 2021, but Qantas has extended this to match Virgin Australia’s policy.)
You won’t be charged a fee to change your travel dates any time before your scheduled departure date, although you will be required to pay any fare difference (if applicable). You can also choose to cancel your booking and retain the value as a flight credit.
Unlimited date changes and free cancellations are also allowed on Qantas Classic Flight Reward bookings made until 28 February 2022, for travel until the same date.
Jetstar was previously waiving change fees as well, but its “Fly Flexible” campaign ended in late 2020. Instead, Jetstar customers now have the option to purchase a “FareCredit” at the time of booking for an additional fee. This product lets you cancel your booking for any reason, and receive a Jetstar credit voucher for the value of the booking and any extras purchased (although the cost of the FareCredit is non-refundable).
For a $169 flight from Melbourne to Perth, as an example, it would cost $26.90 to add a FareCredit to the booking. If you don’t purchase a FareCredit, subject to your Australian Consumer Law rights and the fare rules, you may have to pay a change fee to make changes and your flight may be non-refundable.
Unlimited Virgin Australia flight changes
Virgin Australia is currently allowing unlimited free date & destination changes on domestic bookings, for travel until 28 February 2022. You’d just need to pay any fare difference, if applicable.
You can also choose to cancel your flight for a travel credit without paying any fee, or cancel for a refund if your fare type allows it. (There is a fee to cancel for a full refund on all fare types except full-fare Business Class tickets.)
Velocity Frequent Flyer is also allowing unlimited changes and free cancellation on Velocity Reward Seat bookings, for travel until 28 February 2022 (credit card/booking fees are not refunded).
Rex COVID Guarantee
If your travel is impacted by COVID-19, Rex will waive any change fees. You can also request a refund at no extra cost.
While policies vary by airline, there are at least some options for travellers who can’t travel due to border closures or other changes.
Rex and Qantas arguably have the best policies when it comes to refunds for cancelled domestic flights. Rex and Qantas clearly state that you’ll be eligible for a refund if the airline cancels your flight – something the other airlines don’t necessarily do.
Qantas, Virgin Australia and Rex all allow customers to make unlimited changes to their flights, or cancel for a travel credit. For Qantas and Virgin Australia, this applies to travel dates up to 28 February 2022 and can be done for any reason. Rex technically only allows this for COVID-related reasons, although you are not required to give a reason for cancelling (or evidence) when using Rex’s online refund portal.
Whichever airline you choose to fly with, it seems you’ll get the best overall flexbility when redeeming points for a reward flight booking. When booking with Qantas or Velocity points, you’ll have the option to change or cancel your booking for no penalty up to the departure date, if you’re travelling before 28 February 2022. This can be done for any reason (not just COVID-related reasons).
Recommended by the Australian Frequent Flyer
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