Difficulties and delays with getting refunds have been among the most common complaints about airlines during COVID-19.
We’ve previously covered the differences in the refund policies of Qantas, Virgin and Rex. But how easy is it to request a refund? And how long does it actually take to receive a refund from Australia’s three major airlines when you’re entitled to one?
I conducted an experiment to find out.
Like so many other Australians, I recently had to cancel a domestic trip due to COVID-19 border closures. I had booked five flights as part of this trip – two with Qantas, two with Virgin and another with Rex. Some of these tickets were booked using points and most were fully refundable.
I requested refunds from all three airlines on exactly the same day (in July 2021). So, how long did it take for each refund to be processed? And did the airlines actually refund all of the bookings in full?
Getting a refund from Qantas
Both of my Qantas flights were Classic Flight Reward bookings, which can be cancelled for a refund of the points and taxes without fees until at least 28 February 2022.
I cancelled one booking online without any issues. But when I tried to cancel the other reward booking, the Qantas website told me I would receive a Flight Credit – something which not only is not Qantas’ policy for cancelled Classic Flight Rewards, but not possible. This seems to be a common problem that occurs when you try to cancel a Classic Flight Reward booking that has previously had a schedule change.
So, instead of cancelling online, I called Qantas and waited for six minutes on hold as a Gold frequent flyer. Frustratingly, no estimated wait time or callback option was provided when I called Qantas. I was then put through to a call centre agent in Cape Town who took another eight (painfully slow) minutes to cancel my booking.
For the booking that I cancelled online, I received the Qantas points back in my account the following day. But the taxes and carrier charges were not refunded to my credit card until 5 weeks later. That refund did not include the card payment fee.
For the booking cancelled over the phone, it took just under 5 weeks for the points to be returned to my Qantas Frequent Flyer account. I received the taxes back to my credit card on exactly the same day as the other booking, five weeks later. For this booking, the credit card fee was also returned.
For what it’s worth, I also waited five weeks to receive refunds of the taxes on several other Qantas award bookings I had cancelled in June. This is similar to the experiences of other AFF members.
Getting a refund from Virgin Australia
With Virgin Australia, I had one revenue airfare and one Velocity Reward Seat booked with points.
The revenue airfare was a cheap Economy Getaway ticket which was not eligible for a refund, but I was able to request a travel credit. I couldn’t do this online so called Virgin Australia. The phone was answered within 30 seconds (I’m also a Velocity Gold member) and about a minute later, I had received a travel bank in my email inbox.
Frustratingly, I was also unable to cancel the Velocity reward booking on the Virgin Australia website. I got this error message when I clicked on “Cancel my flights”:
Apparently, the website can’t handle refunds for reward bookings paid using a combination of points and money (I used a credit card to pay for the taxes & carrier charges – as I would encourage everyone to do as it’s much better value!). Again, I called up and got through promptly.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that Virgin refunded both the Velocity points and the taxes & carrier charges immediately. The Velocity points were refunded to my account on the same day, and the refund of the taxes arrived the following day. I did not get a refund for the credit card fee, although the Velocity website does say that “refund amounts exclude booking and credit card fees.”
Getting a refund from Rex
Rex has publicly attacked its rival Qantas for being too slow to refund customers. In June, Rex even purchased full-page newspaper advertisements highlighting refund-related complaints on Qantas’ social media pages. (Ironically, Rex deletes complaints on its own social media pages – yet is happy to point out complaints written by Qantas customers!)
So, how did Rex go with refunding my money?
Rex’s website says that “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”.
There were a few steps involved in cancelling my booking on the Rex website. After entering my booking details, I had to:
- Select whether I wanted to cancel my flight for a refund or for “future use”
- Enter the last four digits of the credit card number I had used to pay for the booking
- Click “continue to cancel selected flight(s) & get a refund”
- Click “proceed”
I was then told my refund would be processed and to allow up to 10 days for it to appear on my credit card account. Indeed, the refund arrived three days later.
Unfortunately, I did not receive a refund of the credit card surcharge – nor the additional 1% Booking/Handling Fee charged whenever you book a flight on the Rex website. While I was pleased to get the cost of the airfare back quickly, it would be nice if Rex explicitly warned customers they won’t get any of the booking fees back. That’s disappointing when Rex advertises “no admin fees” with its COVID Refund Guarantee.
Of the three airlines in this experiment, Virgin Australia was the quickest to process my refund. Rex was also relatively fast, while Qantas was much, much slower.
It does make you wonder why it takes Qantas five weeks to give customers their money back, when Virgin and Rex can do it within a few days? It almost feels like Qantas is intentionally delaying refunds to hold onto their customers’ money for longer.
For what it’s worth, if you’re still waiting for a Qantas refund after 8 weeks, you can then call the airline to get your refund expedited.
But Qantas was the only airline that (at least in one of two cases) refunded all of the credit card & booking fees. Virgin doesn’t refund any credit card fees, and Rex doesn’t refund credit card fees or its website’s ridiculous 1% booking fee.
For what it’s worth, while I didn’t cover Jetstar in this experiment, some AFF members have reported difficulties in getting refunds for cancelled flights in the past. But once refunds are approved – apparently, using the live chat function on the Jetstar website helps – they anecdotally appear to be processed more quickly than Qantas refunds. And I can report that when I recently had to cancel a Jetstar booking for a flight credit, the voucher arrived within 24 hours.
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