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.
In this post:
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.
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.
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.