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Points Booking Cancelled? You Have Rights!

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Immanuel Debeer | 10/12/2021

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There’s a common misconception out there where people think they don’t have any consumer rights when they book a flight using frequent flyer points. Often people believe or are told by the airline that when a cancellation happens, they can only get rebooked IF there’s award space available on another flight. This is completely untrue; in fact, you have the same rights as someone who paid using money. How you paid for the flight is irrelevant.

Contract Of Carriage – Some History

Believe it or not, you’ve had certain rights as an airline passenger for almost 100 years. At the 1929 Warsaw Convention, governments around the world tabled the idea of a unified set of rules regarding “international carriage by air”. The treaty was later amended at the Montreal Convention in 1999 and attempted to establish uniformity and predictability of rules relating to the international carriage of passengers, baggage and cargo.

While not every country is signed on, it’s safe to assume most places we travel to have. These days you will find that every self-respecting airline has a contract of carriage that outlines the rules they follow.

So What Are Your Rights When A Reward Booking Gets Cancelled?

Of course, every airline has a different set of rules, but generally speaking, the payment method is entirely irrelevant. Because you paid using points/miles, doesn’t mean you have fewer rights compared to someone who paid for a cash fare.

Once your booking is made, you are bound to the contract of carriage, but so is the airline! For most airlines, this means they are obligated to get you to your final destination in the class of travel at the earliest convenient time to you. This means that if you have a cancellation, the airline must offer you an alternative flight or re-route you.

If you want to know your rights, simply Google “ airline name + contract of carriage” and read through their conditions for cancelled flights.

Airline Says No! What Now?

Most people employed in call centres by airlines don’t give a shit about you or your rights, so in most cases, it’s a safe bet that you will need to stand your ground and find someone competent to talk to. Most call centre staff will outright deny you a re-routing or new flight and will usually claim that “you’re on a points ticket, and those are subject to availability”.

Those statements are only correct when you decide to change the flight as the passenger. However, when the airline cancels your flight, they have to operate under the same rules to which you signed up to when booking the ticket.

If you don’t get lucky the first time, HUACA (hang up and call again) or ask to speak to a supervisor. In any case, it helps if you actually know the conditions of carriage for your specific airline. Knowledge is power. Of course, remaining calm and polite will also go a long way.

It also goes a long way if you inform the airline that you are happy to be re-routed or booked on another date. In any case, don’t accept a refund… unless that’s what you want!

If you still fail at achieving the desired outcome, you can get in touch with your local consumer rights body. In Australia, this is the toothless tiger AKA the ACCC.

The Options

Most airlines will provide you with the following options: a new flight on a different date, a re-routing of the flight to get you to your destination. If those options aren’t suitable for you, you will be entitled to a full refund; in this case, this will be points + taxes (any fees will be waived as well).

It’s crucial to understand the difference between YOU cancelling the flight or the airline cancelling (I can’t believe I have to say this… but you know who you are). Naturally, your options when you decide to change or cancel a flight are bound by the terms and conditions under which you bought the ticket; for points bookings, it’s generally speaking ok to cancel up to 24h before departure. This should result in a full refund of your points and taxes minus a cancellation fee depending on the airline.

What About Partner Redemptions?

Guess what: the same rules apply! The airline can’t just handball you because the operating airline is a partner. They still have to assist you in getting from point A to point B. That said, it helps if you come prepared and can articulate what outcome you expect. If you can provide the call centre staff with options, they could then use their authority to act on those.

Summing Up

Booking flights using points really gives you the best of both worlds. On the one hand, you have the flexibility to cancel or change flights up until 24h while on the other hand, you are also protected by the contract of carriage. And while it does take some knowledge and negotiation tactics to get the desired outcome, this shouldn’t be an issue when you know your rights.

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Immanuel Debeer

Chief points nerd and travel hacker at Flight Hacks

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  1. ‘If those options aren’t suitable for you, you will be entitled to a full refund; in this case, this will be points + taxes (any fees will be waived as well).’

    What if you are part way through your trip when the remaining flights are cancelled? E.g if you had book a round the world ticket? Would they calculate the difference and refund based on the flights completed?

  2. Do the same rules apply (i.e. it’s up to the airline to re-accommodate you) on, for example, a multi-sector ticket that hasn’t yet commenced?

    • Yes, they would still be responsible as long as it’s booked as part of the same ticket. That said, you can be sure they will do their absolute best to get out of assisting you.

  3. Great post! What do you think will happen to Qantas Rewards bookings on Cathay Pacific flights between Australia and Europe? I believe Cathay is cancelling these flights for the next few weeks, would Qantas have to find an alternative for you as well with another OneWorld/partner airline?

    • Hi Mel, since you used Qantas Points to book, the responsibility would be with Qantas to ensure you get to your destination. They will very likely tell you it’s not their problem but that’s incorrect. You could suggest to them an alternative flight or tell them you’re flexible regarding re-routing and maybe dates to some degree. In any case, don’t accept a refund but you’re going to be in for a bit of a fight 😐 good luck!

      • Hi Immanuel, we’re in exactly this situation (our classic flight rewards Cathay flights to Europe cancelled) and not having any luck with Qantas… we’ve been on the phone with them for about three hours all up talking to various people including escalating it to the supervisor and customer care team… they maintain they can only rebook us on classic flight reward seats and the only option they’re offering us to go Syd – Hong Kong – Dubai – Paris with the Hong Kong Dubai leg in economy (original flight was Business) and (to add insult to injury) a surcharge of $80 per person. We’ve referred to all the relevant clauses in the Frequent Flyer Terms and Conditions, Conditiions of Carriage and Australian Consumer Law to no avail. Any tips?…. Thanks!

        • Hi Coralie, yes unfortunately that’s the game they will play. Have you tried escalating your case with a manager? You could also put it in writing but chances are they will still just play dumb. They know that you A) have to wait on hold for X amount of hours before getting through to them and B) that the departure date is inching closer. If that fails you can try your local consumer protection body. These are government organisations and differ by state. For example here in WA it’s run by the Department of Mines, Industry, Regulation and Safety. In other states, it’s different departments but they are generally very helpful. Here’s a full list by state: https://www.accc.gov.au/contact-us/other-helpful-agencies/consumer-protection-agencies I’ve dealt with the WA version and they got my issue resolved in days (not travel related) which makes me think they have a good amount of authority for these kinda issues.

          If that doesn’t help, your next step would be a small claims court of sorts. The full list by state is on the ACCC website: https://www.accc.gov.au/contact-us/other-helpful-agencies/small-claims-tribunals but that’s probably the last resort if you really want to stand your ground.

          Good luck!

          • Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. You should be a designated consumer advocate!
            I have not had any of these issues….yet…..but I feel more in control knowing that I can be confident in speaking with someone if the worst happens.

          • Thanks! The problem always is finding a competent person to speak to, this is the greatest challenge. #1 priority for airlines seems to be to dismiss you hoping that you will accept a cancellation.

          • Always remember that a lot of airlines make most of their money from frequent flyer programs. Those points we use have value and are a driving force for their success. At the least, we should expect them to treat redemption bookings the same as a cash fare.

  4. I’m having similar issues.. all booked using American airlines point on oneworld flights (three airlines) in Business class . Booked months ago, with flights being changed all the time since then. Adelaide to Melbourne, Melbourne to Narita, Narita to Paris via Helsinki. Melbourne flight to Narita cancelled now, and the new flight no longer connects to Paris (with existing itinerary) The person I spoke to tells me that alternative flights don’t have “availability” ..whatever that truly means. I suspect it is the reward flights that aren’t available ,because the website still shows availability in business for a paid ticket. It gets tricky with multiple airlines, but having said that, both the Melbourne to Narita (Japan Air) and the Narita to Paris (Finnair) have changed schedules, so both airlines need to show me some flexibility here I think. Getting to Melbourne with Qantas shouldn’t be a real concern as there are plenty of alternative options still on the table.

    • Hi Blaz, yes your challenge will be to convince AA that they are the ticketing airline and therefore are responsible to get you from A to B and the most efficient manner. They will indeed tell you that your booking class isn’t available. It will be hard to convince them since they are dealing with partner airlines. Worth trying to get someone senior to talk to their liaison to open up award seats to re-accommodate your original itinerary. You can also suggest new routes and itineraries to them if that makes logical sense so they can help get you to or near your destination.

  5. Hi Blaz, liked your summary also having dramas. Have booked a flight BNE to LAX then two more connecting flight, accommodation etc. Qantas has changed the classic rewards flight to arrive several hours after the connection leaves. The problem is the do have a flight at the same time as our original but a different flight number that does have seats but not classic rewards. All the tickets were booked through qantas at the same time. I’m feeling a bit taken advantage of when they say they can’t do anything apart from refund and won’t let us talk to a supervisor just promise to send an email. Any magic bullets that you can suggest?

  6. Hi Immanuel, I booked a Syd – Dar using QANTAS rewards points for me and the family. Date was firm as I had accommodation booked. My rewards flight was cancelled, and there was no other reward flights. QANTAS said the only thing they could do on the day was a refund and I would have to re-book myself. I had to re-book for that day as it was our only option, and the re-booked flights cost an extra 207400 frequent flyer points. On top of the 75000 I had refunded. Would I have any right to be refunded some or all of the 207400 points I am now out of pocket due to QANTAS cancelling? Or chase it through the ACCC?

    • Unfortunately, that’s the game they play. Their contract of carriage states they will get you to your destination in a reasonable time. Technically they could have rebooked or re-routed you but it’s hard to argue with them when you’re running out of time. By accepting the cancellation there probably isn’t much recourse but it might be worth kicking up a fuss with your local consumer rights body. ACCC is somewhat useless but there are government agencies that have much more say. I’m not sure where you live but here in WA that the “Department of mines, industry, regulation and safety”. If you Google “consumer protection + state” you will find what you’re looking for. Good luck!

  7. Hi Immanuel,

    My partner and I usually travel during school holidays when there isn’t much availability. What would happen if a rewards flight was cancelled and there weren’t any other rewards flights available? Would Qantas then have to find a paid flight for me?

    • Technically yes, but in practice, they will tell you “tough luck”. IMO travel insurance is now more valuable than ever as the right cover will cover such situations.

  8. Hi Immanuel, love your site, and great post – even knowing what terminology to use on the phone is invaluable!

    I’ve booked a OneWorld Business RTW trip using (hard-earned) Qantas points. 3 weeks to go before it begins, and suddenly my LHR > JFK leg with BA has disappeared (BA cancelled the flight). No options/alternatives offered, so I called Qantas, they said they would need to contact BA as no more reward seats appearing (but I can see several BA J seats available to purchase that day). They told me they would email BA, will take a few days to hear back (given it’s the weekend) – does that sound right to you? I’m nervous that with each passing day, my options are starting to run out.

    I booked this itinerary 9 months ago, arranged dates to meet friends and family along the way, booked hotels and events, etc. Now, just 3 weeks before lift-off, I’m afraid the wheels might be starting to fall off! What would you do in this scenario?

    • The reality is that travel right now is an absolute shit show so with RTW and complex bookings it’s very likely to run into a cancellation or delay. It’s a good start that QF are trying to find a solution. I would push for them to book you onto the other flight even though there’s no reward option available. Technically they can do it (and should!) but they will try to get out of it. Since time isn’t on your side, I would just make sure you have an insurance policy in place to cover your cancelled flights so you can potentially just book a cash fare replacement and claim back the costs. Just keep in mind that QF is the booking agent so they are responsible for your booking (even if BA is the one cancelling).

  9. Used Qantas FF point. We are both Platinum/ Emerald one world.
    We have a similar problem booked Business awards. Emirates to Glasgow and no problems so far with this booking.
    Return London to Perth via Hong Kong. Cathy brought the London Flight forward by 6 hours which was OK – a 9 hour layover but Ok Then they cancelled the flight from HK to Perth and re booked us a day later. This would mean 36 hours in Transit which is not allowed nor are we able to go into HK for the night ( have to quarantine for & nights)
    Having hugh problems with Qantas who say they have found me another flight so no longer their problem. The call centre tell me they have no supervisors to speak to!!!.
    I have sent emails to customer care and FF with no response.
    Never had this sort of treatment with qantas before and am unsure where to go/do next.
    Any ideas?

    • Hi Kim, I feel your pain! On one side, probs to CX for rebooking you… but as you said it’s useless considering the current rules. Since CX already rebooked you, I would try contact them and see if you can sway them in moving your first flight in line with the connecting one to Perth. Long shot but worth a try. If you have nerves of steel, you could just try show up at the airport and watch the look on their faces when they realise you can’t fly the ticket haha. They will then fix the issue on the spot… or tell you good luck

  10. I booked qantas rewards flights Vancouver to Perth one way connecting in HK for travel jan 2023. Recently Cathay dropped flight to HK and put us on a later flight same day with a connecting flight in Hong kong that leaves the day before we arrive!! Called qantas twice both times said no other reward flights Cathay cancelled flight nothing they could do. I did tell qantas not to cancel it. I have now paid 3000 for 2 pax one way van perth made online with Cathay leaving a day earlier with the same connecting flight that I had on points the day earlier but qantas wouldn’t let me cancel just the flight to Hk, and Travel insurance says I need evidence from airline stating why it was cancelled before they will reimburse me, qantas says to get letter from Cathay. What do you think? I live in perth. Have another one way booking Perth syd Honolulu Vancouver and a previous trip not taken due to Qatar not honouring rewards booking I cancelled via lax and opted for Doha routing when Westjet cancelled connecting flight. Never got a ticket for Doha in hindsight I could have paid any airline from la to van. I still trusted qantas then. I am now thinking one needs two or three bookings at a time just in case!

    • Since you have time, I would pursue them and find someone competent at the company that will accommodate you. Either by calling or in writing, with Qantas, it’s all about finding the right person to speak to… 90% won’t help you. I’m not sure if they can technically split the itinerary so that might be an issue. You could also just leave the ticket as it is and just show up at the airport…9 chances out of 10 they will figure it out on the spot but it might mean you get delayed etc. If they don’t play ball, they would then have to cancel your flight which is when your travel insurance will kick in. High risk strategy though 😀

  11. This is a great post, thank you!! We booked business seats on Cathay from CDG – HKG – SYD in October last year to travel this October. Cathay changed our flight to leave HKG to SYD before we’d bloody arrived from Paris. Qantas did the old “there’s no classic reward seats available, so you can have a refund”. I gave them the Cathay flight number 18 hours later which we’d be happy to take to get back to SYD…..I’ll give them a week, read the conditions of carriage then buckle in for the call back to Qantas. This is not OK to make people go thru this shit….

    • uhgg I hate when they do that! If you’ve got nerves of steel, leave it as is and show up at the airport, it’s very likely they rebook you on the spot without much hoohaa but of course, it could go completely pearshaped…

  12. Hi Immanuel! I’ve booked a QF classic rewards flight from AMS to LCY on BA metal, looking through my Qantas app I found that this flight was missing and investigating further it looks like the fought is cancelled. No alternative was given, and QANTAS on the phone has said that they can book me the next day (which doesn’t fit into my travel plans). There is a KLM that leaves at a similar time but there’s only business reward seats available on the website. Should they be rebooking me for free on that, or to LHR/LGW even if it’s not available on points?

    • Hi Kevin, since the flight is European-based, you’re covered by European law which is excellent! Look up EU261, depending on the reason for the cancellation you’re entitled to compensation, accomodation and you’re also legally entitled to a re-routing. The ticketing agent (Qantas in this case) should be able to sort that out, however it might be worth chasing up BA directly as well.

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