Coronavirus flight cancellations: How to get a refund from airlines
Right now, you’re much more likely to be cancelling a flight than booking one.
Airlines across the globe are suspending flights and travel is being actively discouraged. So if you had any holidays booked, you’ll be looking to change or cancel them, if you haven’t already.
Airfares are usually difficult and expensive to adjust, especially if you’ve bought sale fares rather than flexible ones. Happily, most airlines have adjusted their policies to allow changes to existing bookings during the coronavirus crisis, even if original conditions for the ticket said changes were only possible by paying an expensive change fee.
However, there’s a fairly big catch to this generosity. Most airlines are offering a credit for cancelled flights, meaning you can spend the money from your original booking on another ticket with that airline in the future. They’re doing that rather than simply refunding what you paid.
As a consumer, this has the advantage of being something you can do online, without having to spend hours waiting to chat to customer service staff. For the airlines, it also means they’re not having to dip into cash reserves to pay for refunds. So that’s a win-win if you don’t urgently want the money. But that’s not going to be an option for everyone.
If you really need that money back, how can you go about getting a refund?
Under Australian Consumer Law, if you’ve paid for a service and it isn’t delivered, you should be entitled to get your money back. So if your flights are cancelled entirely, then you’ve got a solid case for requesting a refund.
It’s a little murkier if you’re pulling out of a flight that is still taking off. However, in either case, the basic approach is the same.
Here’s what to do.
1. CHECK THE CURRENT POLICY
First, establish the airline’s current policy. For instance, as I write this, Qantas has waived change fees for flights departing up until May 31. For dates after that, the original fare rules will still apply. I suspect that will change in future, and I’m holding off even trying to make a change until more time has passed.
2. USE THE ONLINE CHAT
If the airline has online chat, try using that first to place your request. Responses are usually faster than getting on the phone.
If that isn’t an option and you dial in, brace yourself for an extended waiting period.
You’re likely to be on hold for quite a while. That’s irritating, but stay calm. And when you do get through, be polite.
3. EXPLAIN YOUR SITUATION … CALMLY
Screaming and yelling won’t help your case, and the airline’s support staff aren’t responsible for the current restrictions around travel.
Simply and politely explain that you need the money urgently and aren’t planning any travel for a while. Several of my colleagues have executed that approach with success. It comes down to the three Ps: patience, politeness and persistence.