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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!

  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.

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