With the long-awaited trans-Tasman bubble launching next week, Qantas, Air New Zealand and Jetstar are preparing to ramp up their flights between Australia and New Zealand. In fact, trans-Tasman forward bookings are looking so strong that some airlines have already put more flights on sale than originally planned. But what happens if the bubble bursts?
When announcing the launch of the trans-Tasman bubble, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made it very clear that trans-Tasman travel is not yet risk-free.
“Those undertaking travel on either side of the ditch will do so under the guidance of flyer beware. People will need to plan for the possibility of travel being disrupted if there is an outbreak,” Ardern said.
While everyone is hoping it doesn’t become necessary, there is still a possibility that additional travel restrictions could be reimposed at any time. This could involve the trans-Tasman bubble being paused or suspended with little or no warning, in the event of a new COVID-19 outbreak somewhere in Australia or New Zealand. If this unfortunately happens, the government is unlikely to help and most current travel insurance policies specifically exclude cover for getting stuck somewhere due to COVID-19 border closures.
With this in mind, you should be careful when booking travel to/from New Zealand to ensure that you can cancel without penalty in case you get stuck somewhere or can’t travel as planned. Many hotel, car rental companies and tour operators are offering flexible cancellation policies, which is helpful. But what about airlines?
Qantas and Air New Zealand are both offering fee-free changes or the ability to cancel your flight for a travel credit.
But only Qantas guarantees you’ll be offered a full refund if your flight to New Zealand gets cancelled due to COVID-19 border closures. By contrast, Air New Zealand has specifically said it won’t refund flights cancelled for reasons beyond the airline’s control. This includes flights cancelled due to government travel restrictions and border closures.
Air New Zealand has received a lot of negative press in New Zealand over the past year, with thousands of angry customers complaining of being stuck with unwanted travel credits for Air New Zealand tickets cancelled due to the pandemic. In fact, this policy led to Air New Zealand becoming the “most complained about company in New Zealand” last year, according to New Zealand’s Commerce Commission.
For flights booked in the United States, European Union, UK, South Korea, Argentina, Brazil, Taipei or mainland China, Air New Zealand may be required to offer a refund for cancelled flights due to local laws in those countries. But Air New Zealand’s consumer-unfriendly refund policy is legal in Australia because the Australian Consumer Law guarantee that services will be supplied “within a reasonable time” and are “reasonably fit for purpose” does not apply if the failure to provide the service is due to circumstances entirely outside of the business’s control.
Section 15.5 of Air New Zealand’s conditions of carriage also makes it clear that the airline is entitled to issue a credit instead of a refund when flights are cancelled for circumstances beyond the airline’s control, including pandemics and airport closures.
Air New Zealand does offer limited “compassionate refunds” for customers with travel credits who can no longer travel due to ill health or financial hardship caused by COVID-19. Eligible Air New Zealand customers can apply for a compassionate refund by emailing [email protected]. The day before the trans-Tasman bubble was announced, Air New Zealand even put out a media release advising that a dedicated team has now been set up to process compassionate refund requests. But this only applies to customers who are too sick to travel or in serious financial hardship, and refund requests are only approved on a “one-off discretionary” basis. It’s not a substitute for a proper refund policy.
Jetstar, meanwhile, only says that you “may” be entitled to a refund “depending on the circumstances of the cancellation”. Anecdotally, some Jetstar customers have received refunds for flights cancelled due to border closures in the past. But Jetstar’s official policy appears to only offer refunds to customers whose flights are cancelled or changed by more than 3 hours for reasons within the airline’s control (or in the event of commercial overbooking). At a minimum, Jetstar customers affected by border closures will be offered a travel credit.
So, if you would like a full refund in the event that your travel to New Zealand is disrupted and your flight gets cancelled, you should probably consider booking with Qantas. You may have to wait a few months to get a refund from Qantas, but you will get it eventually.
To summarise, here are the current change & cancellation policies of the three airlines flying to New Zealand…
Qantas COVID-19 refund policy
According to the Qantas Fly Flexible policy, you’ll be entitled to make unlimited fee-free changes to trans-Tasman flights booked by 31 July 2021 for travel until 28 February 2022. (A fare difference will apply if the new fare is more expensive.)
If Qantas cancels your flight, regardless of the reason, you’ll be rebooked on the next available flight at no cost or given a choice of a flight credit or a refund with no fees involved.
Air New Zealand COVID-19 refund policy
Air New Zealand is offering to waive change fees on international flights due to depart before 31 December 2021. You’ll be able to change your flight without paying any fees (although the fare difference will apply if the new fare is more expensive) or place the value of your booking into credit.
But you will not be entitled to a refund unless Air New Zealand cancels your flight for a reason within its control or you qualify for a compassionate refund.
Jetstar COVID-19 refund policy
Jetstar says you’ll always be eligible for a credit voucher if your flight is cancelled or affected by border changes. Other than that, you would only be entitled to change or cancel your booking if the fare rules or your bundle allow it. Refunds are only offered for cancellations due to events within the airline’s control.
You can discuss the “trans-Tasman bubble” on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Two-way Trans-Tasman Bubble starting 19 April 2021