Domestic travel within and between many Australian states is currently possible. But as we’ve seen during the recent months of the COVID-19 pandemic, state border restrictions can change quickly.
Airlines want passengers to be able to book with confidence. After all, they desperately need the cash flow. But can passengers expect a refund if they’re unable to travel as planned?
This article explains the refund policies and increased booking flexibility offered by Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Australia.
Refunds for 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.
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 let you cancel your booking for a travel credit voucher or change your booking without paying a change fee (see the section on change fee waivers below).
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.
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 customers have previously been given refunds in this situation.
Regardless of what Jetstar’s terms & conditions say, consumers in Australia have the right to a remedy (which could include a refund and/or compensation) under Australian Consumer Law if a service is not provided as advertised.
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.
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.
On 8 February 2021, Qantas changed its policy from offering one fee-free flight change to unlimited changes, while also extending the applicable date range. Two days later, Virgin Australia increased its range of eligible travel dates to match Qantas.
Qantas “Fly Flexible”
Qantas is currently allowing unlimited fee-free changes on domestic and trans-Tasman bookings booked by 30 April 2021, for travel until 31 January 2022. You won’t be charged a fee to change your travel dates or destination any time before your scheduled departure date, although you will be required to pay any fare difference (if applicable).
Unlimited date changes and free cancellations are allowed on Qantas Classic Flight Reward bookings until 30 April 2021, for travel until 31 January 2022.
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 (but the cost of the FareCredit is non-refundable).
For a $169 flight 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 until 30 April 2021, for travel until 31 January 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 allowing unlimited changes and free cancellation for Velocity Reward Seat bookings – also for bookings made until 30 April 2021, for travel until 31 January 2022.
While policies vary by airline, there are at least some options for travellers who can’t travel due to border closures or other changes.
Qantas arguably has the best policy when it comes to refunds for cancelled domestic flights. Qantas clearly states that you’ll be eligible for a refund if the airline cancels your flight – something the other airlines don’t necessarily do.
Recommended by the Australian Frequent Flyer
Both Qantas and Virgin Australia now allow customers to make unlimited changes to their flights, or cancel for a travel credit for any reason, for travel dates until 31 January 2022.
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 31 January 2022. These offers currently cover bookings made until 30 April 2021, but are likely to be extended again in the future.