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Airline Refunds - What Are Your Rights In Australia ?

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Immanuel Debeer | 21/07/2020

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If there’s one thing almost all of us has had to experience over the last few months, it’s flight cancellations. And with that comes the questions: can I get a refund?

Australia has some of the most robust consumer rights laws in the world. Still, when it comes to aviation, we’re lagging behind the likes of Europe, where the customer is in the pilot seat in the event of a cancellation or flight delay.

Understanding the ACL (Australian Consumer Law) will not only help you in obtaining a better outcome for almost anything you purchase, but it will also help you when it comes to flight cancellations in Australia.

When you purchase a flight, it’s the airline’s job and responsibility for getting you to your destination. After all, that’s what you pay them for. When this doesn’t happen, you might have rights under the Australian consumer law.

The Airline Cancels VS You Cancel

Let’s set things straight first; there’s a considerable difference between YOU cancelling your flight (for whatever reason) and the airline cancelling your flight. When you are the one instigating the cancellation, you will have to abide by whatever terms and conditions came with your ticket.

Due to COVID, a lot of airlines have adapted very flexible policies. However, you lose any leverage you might have had when you are the one cancelling.

Pro Tip: If you have existing bookings you want to cancel, wait for the airline to cancel on you or make a change to your booking. When the airline changes something to your reservations such as departure date or departure time; the ball is back in your court! When such an event happens (more often than not) you will be entitled to cancel or change your flight free of charge.

Understanding The Fare Rules

When you purchase a flight, your ticket will come with a set of fare rules; it’s up to you to read these rules and understand them since they act as a contract between you and the airline of which the terms and conditions are set out in the “conditions of carriage”. Fare rules might differ between booking classes etc., so there’s no one rule, it really depends on your ticket.

Your Rights In Australia

The ACL gives consumers certain protections and guarantees when they buy goods within Australia. These rights and guarantees are in addition to whatever warranties or claims a company might make. When you purchase products and services, they come with automatic guarantees that they will work and do what you asked for. Any company doing business in Australia must abide by these laws, and if a business fails to deliver, you as a consumer have the right to repair, replacement or refund; cancelling a service; compensation for damage & loss.

Flights would fall under the “service” category of the Australian Consumer Law so if an airline cancels your flight; you are entitled to a refund if that’s what you want.

Can I Claim Compensation?

For certain services, you can claim compensation for damage and loss. However, the law is very clear in its definition. For example, if you got your flight cancelled which meant you couldn’t be at work and therefore lost money, you can not claim. Why? Because a business does not have to pay for damages or losses that: are not caused by their conduct, or their products or are related to something independent of their business (i.e. COVID) after the goods left their control.

To further clarify, if an airline smashes your luggage, you are entitled to compensation because this is due to the airline’s mishandling. But they are not liable for some diseases which causes governments to restrict travel (because this is out of their control).

Should I Accept A Voucher?

No, unless there’s an incentive for you to do so. People might argue that we should all accept vouchers because airlines are doing it tough…well, guess what! Everyone is doing it tough! So if you want a refund because your flight was cancelled; you are well within your rights. If you do plan to accept a voucher, make sure the airline in questions is giving you an incentive for doing so. For example; they could offer you additional credit, points or other benefits to sweeten the deal.

I already Accepted A Voucher, Can I Still Get A Refund?

If the airline was the one cancelling your flight and you already accepted a voucher, you can still change your mind. You will just need to call the airline and request a full refund instead.

What If The Airline Goes Bust?

You’re still entitled to a refund but time is generally of the essence. Since bankrupt companies usually don’t answer phone calls or emails, it’s much easier to call your credit card provider and initiate a chargeback. The only reason you need to start a chargeback is that the service you paid for was not provided; simple!

My Credit Card Company Denied A Chargeback

This happens, you submit a chargeback, and you’re feeling positive about your credit card company having your back…wrong! On occasion, a chargeback will be refused. Most airlines will counter them by saying that they offered you a voucher, and you accepted. It’s all an attempt to try to make you go away but don’t give up. Explain your reasons to the credit card company and get them to reinstate the claim, if they refuse you can lodge a complaint with the AFCA.

Who is the AFCA (Australian Financial Complaints Authority)? The AFCA is any credit provider’s worst nightmare and will cost them a lot of time and money to deal with your complaint. More often than not, when you mention AFCA, you will get a much more proactive response from your bank or credit card provider. It’s the AFCA’s job to police credit license holders so too many complaints against a license holder could put their license in jeopardy. If you have a valid claim, you will be heard.

What If You Book With A Travel Agent?

The same rules apply. Since you are paying them, they will need to comply with the Australian Consumer Law just like any other business. Yes, they might have nothing to do with the cancellation of your flight but this is a case between the consumer and the supplier (in this case, the travel agent). They can then raise the case with the airline and seek a refund/compensation as a business.

Of course, most travel agents are small independent companies, so you should allow some patience as they need your support to survive this shit storm. More often than not they will need to get the money refunded from the airline first before being able to pay you.

If your travel agent is an OTA (online travel agent), you will need to deal with them directly. In this case, it’s crucial to establish if they are operating in Australia or offshore. If they are outside Australia, your best bet would be to initiate a chargeback via your credit card.

Summing Up – Know Your Rights

It pays to know your rights. In Australia, we have some of the most robust consumer laws in the world which keep businesses accountable for the goods they sell. Although we don’t have flight compensation regulation such as EC261 in Europe, we do have a pretty robust system that supports consumers.

Suppose you do get knocked back in your quest for a refund. Seek help! Your taxpayer dollars go to services specifically set up to provide legal/mediation services between you and any Australian business. If you have attempted to solve the issue on your own but are not getting anywhere, here’s a list of the local State and territory consumer protection agencies who will act on your behalf to enforce ACL:

Access Canberra (https://www.accesscanberra.act.gov.au/app/answers/detail/a_id/2270/)
NSW Fair Trading (https://www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au/)
NT Consumer Affairs (https://consumeraffairs.nt.gov.au/)
Office of Fair Trading Queensland (https://www.fairtrading.qld.gov.au/)
SA Office of Consumer and Business Services (CBS) (https://www.cbs.sa.gov.au/)
Tasmania Consumer, Building and Occupational Services (CBOS) (https://www.cbos.tas.gov.au/)
Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV) (https://www.consumer.vic.gov.au/)
WA Consumer Protection – Department Of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (https://www.commerce.wa.gov.au/consumer-protection)

For more info about your consumer rights, check out the ACCC website here.

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Immanuel Debeer

Chief points nerd and travel hacker at Flight Hacks

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