Life Travel One in five Australians unable to redeem airline flight vouchers
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One in five Australians unable to redeem airline flight vouchers

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One in five Australians have been unable to redeem their flight vouchers after COVID-19 cancellations, according to Choice, and one analyst believes airlines are deliberately making things difficult.

It’s a situation faced by more and more Australians after border closures and COVID concerns caused people to change their plans repeatedly over the past two years.

“For many people, you’ve got more rights with a $50 gift voucher from a supermarket than you do with a $500 voucher from an airline,” Choice campaigner Dean Price told The New Daily.

The consumer group surveyed 1078 households and found that among those who had one or more flights cancelled, a quarter saw their travel vouchers expire before they could use them.

Meanwhile, 10 per cent of people said they had problems talking to the airline when trying to use a travel voucher, and 8 per cent said they had to waste their full voucher on a cheaper flight.

There’s also the issue of flights becoming more expensive when it’s time to rebook, which has affected 44 per cent of travellers surveyed.

“When they do go to use them, the flights have gone up in price, which has made it quite difficult for people to pay,” Mr Price said.

“They’ve paid once for these flights and they might have to pay more for a second time.”

For cheaper flights, taxes and other fees can take up a significant chunk of the initial ticket cost.

“The terms and conditions also are a bit fiddly, where they won’t cover things like taxes or fuel levies, even though that was covered in the first booking,” Mr Price added.

Most airlines also don’t include credit card or online booking fees as part of a refund or a travel credit.

Terms, conditions and frustration

Matt Graham, editor of Australian Frequent Flyer, said airlines made it difficult to cancel or change bookings even before the pandemic.

But COVID-19 made the problem more visible.

In a recent article, Graham accused airlines of playing “a cruel cancellation game”.

“Most airlines were fairly reasonable during COVID when it comes to travel credits, but Qantas made changes last year to the way credits can be redeemed,” he told TND.

“As was the case before COVID, you now have to redeem the entire balance in one go, and the website won’t let you book a new flight worth less than what you originally paid for the cancelled booking.

“The same passengers on the old ticket also now have to be on the new ticket, and Qantas credits now expire after 12 months.”

Airlines make refunds elusive

According to Choice, just 31 per cent of people whose flights were cancelled were able to receive a full refund.

Graham said of all domestic airlines, “Qantas by far makes it the most difficult to access a refund”.

He said you need to call, typically wait on hold, and then wait for up to eight weeks until the refund is processed.

If the process takes longer than eight weeks, only then can passengers ring up and get an instantaneous refund.

“There is no real reason it should take months to get a simple refund processed, unless Qantas is deliberately trying to hold onto peoples’ money for longer to assist with its own cashflow,” Graham said.

With Virgin Australia, the refund process tends to take days rather than weeks, and the airline’s travel credit scheme is also slightly more flexible.

Graham and Mr Price said regional airline Rex, which has recently started flying between Sydney, Melbourne and other major cities, has the most generous cancellation and rebooking policy in Australia.

“This seems to work well and refunds are processed within a few days,” Graham said.

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