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Stuck with Virgin or Qantas credits? How to take action

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Snap COVID-19 border closures continue to cause havoc for people with travel plans. In Australia, many have found themselves stuck with thousands of dollars of trip credits they can't use or get refunds on.

Seven Finder staffers told us about their experiences dealing with delayed or cancelled trips. Plus, we'll look at what to do if you find yourself stuck with flight credits from a border closure.

Mariam Gabaji, Senior Writer, Utilities

What trip were you planning?

I booked a week-long diving trip to Lady Elliot Island in Queensland. My partner and I were due to travel last July, but we had to cancel the trip when the pandemic hit Australia.

Mariam Gabaji

Have you tried to claim back a refund? If so, what happened?

We booked our accommodation through Lady Elliot Island Resort directly. You only pay the full amount a month prior to your visit, so we had no trouble getting our $300 deposit back. However, it was a different story with our flights.

We'd booked our flights to Hervey Bay (to get to the island) using Citi reward points, only paying an extra $20 or so out of pocket. We promptly cancelled the flights and asked Citibank's travel department to keep our travel credit on hold until we were ready to book again.

What are you going to do now?

Having postponed our trip, we planned to go to Lady Elliot this July. When we tried to rebook our flights using our credit with Citibank, we were given a quote of $2,000 for two adults. That was almost $1,300 more than the cost of our original flights!

We checked the Skyscanner and Qantas websites directly and found that we could get flights to Hervey Bay for under $1,000. We went back and forth with the bank for a few weeks, explaining that we wanted the cheapest fare available. Eventually, Citibank offered us a Qantas flight credit instead. This meant we could book with the airline directly.

We then tried to contact Qantas every day for the past couple of weeks to book our flights – sometimes holding the line for almost two hours – but we were never able to get through. Because we were worried about not getting seats, we ended up booking the flights ourselves.

In some ways, we're lucky as we already had some outstanding Qantas credit from another cancelled trip. Otherwise, we'd have had to take out another $1,000 and also have a mountain of flight credit to handle.

Huw Costello, Senior Product Manager

What trip were you planning?

My travel plan was to go to Adelaide on 24 December until 31 December last year to travel around South Australia in a campervan with two friends. Our pals travelled to Adelaide on 21 December, but the SA borders closed on 22 or 23 December, ruining our plans.

We were due to fly with Virgin Australia and pick up the campervan on that day from Apollo.

Huw Costello

Have you tried to claim back a refund? If so, what happened?

Because we'd paid with Velocity Points for our flights, we couldn't cancel on the website and had to call the company. After an hour on the line, Virgin Australia immediately agreed to give us flight credit in the form of Travel Bank credit.

Apollo was more difficult as we'd paid $2,400 for the campervan as it was around Christmas. Apollo originally said that we would get all our money back in the form of a credit and that we would have to use all of the credit within 12 months. I negotiated with Apollo and, eventually, the company agreed to pay us back $1,400 in cash and give us $1,000 in credit as well as extend the credit expiry to 18 months.

Fortunately, we hadn't booked any campsites in advance.

What are you going to do now?

We still haven't decided what we'll do with the campervan credit, but we've done Tasmania for a week in a campervan before (which was amazing!) So, we may decide to do it again around Christmas time this year.

Alex Kesh, Senior Global Travel Publisher

What trip were you planning?

I'd booked a flight from Sydney to Rio de Janeiro (via Santiago) in April 2020 with LATAM Airlines. The booking was made through the online travel agent Aunt Betty.

Alex Kesh

Have you tried to claim back a refund? If so, what happened?

Yes. Not long after I booked my flight, I received an email from Aunt Betty asking not to contact the company unless I was travelling within four weeks (which I was). It also noted refunds were taking up to 12 weeks.

Hold times to contact Aunt Betty over the phone were at least two hours. When I got through, I was told the deadline was no longer four weeks' prior and I'd have to call back. I was then swiftly hung up on.

When I finally did get through to someone a few weeks later, I was told that I would get a refund, but Aunt Betty would keep $250 from my booking. This wasn't part of the policy noted on the company's website. The agent said if I wanted the full refund, I could go via the airline.

I then went back and forth calling Aunt Betty and LATAM. Neither company would take responsibility for my booking. LATAM said until it received the money for my flight from Aunt Betty (which I'd asked for with no success), there was nothing they could do.

Eventually, I decided the $250 was worth forfeiting if it meant less back and forth. But next time I called Aunt Betty, an agent claimed I was never offered a refund as it's not company policy. I quoted the company's website back to the agent, but I was told I wasn't reading the Aunt Betty website and I was making this up. I was told I could get a credit or nothing and that this had always been the case.

Just 24 hours before my departure time, I asked Aunt Betty yet again if the company could transfer the booking details to LATAM so I could get my refund. I was worried that without a credit or refund and a flight that was still "scheduled", I would be considered a no-show.

I called LATAM again, only to be told again that Aunt Betty needed to send the money. But LATAM did agree to turn my booking into an open ticket, so I wouldn't be considered a no-show for the next day's flight (which wouldn't be departing anyway!)

A few days after another unsuccessful call to Aunt Betty, I received an email saying I had a "credit shell" for a flight. There was no explanation about what a "credit shell" is, how long it is valid for or any other details. Aunt Betty then changed its email addresses to "no-reply" and closed its social media accounts.

I still cannot contact the company and I've never received a refund for my flight.

What are you going to do now?

If I get a full refund, I'd like to use the money to book a flight to see my family when the borders open up again. My parents and 91-year-old grandmother all live in Toronto in Canada. After the year we've all had, I'd like to be able to spend time with them.

If I'm only able to get a credit with LATAM again, I'd like to take the same trip I'd originally booked to South America.

Sarah Megginson, Senior Editor, Home Loans

What trip were you planning?

I had booked tickets for my family to go to New York in July last year. We'd scored a really competitive deal with Qantas – non-refundable fares for just under $6k.

Sarah Megginson

Have you tried to claim back a refund? If so, what happened?

As the pandemic unfolded, I tried to contact Qantas, but it only wanted people to contact support if they were due to travel in the next 72 hours. Each month as Qantas cancelled more flights, it allowed you to apply for a credit. Eventually, the company opened that up to July bookings.

I applied for the credit right away. I would have preferred a refund, but to be honest, at that point, I was happy to take anything since it was a non-refundable flight.

We'd also booked accommodation through Qantas Hotels. Again, it was non-refundable and we had prepaid $5,500, which covered 10 nights in a family suite at the Roosevelt Hotel near Times Square.

We were so excited to stay there again – we'd stayed there in the past before we had kids. It's one of NYC's most iconic and historic hotels! We applied for a credit through Qantas and the company took months to get back to us.

Qantas basically said it was up to the hotel if it wanted to grant the refund or credit. The hotel eventually came back with a full refund, which was amazing! Sadly, the hotel didn't survive the pandemic and it has closed down. It's so sad we won't be able to stay there when we eventually return to New York.

What are you going to do now?

We're holding onto the credit and hope to re-book a trip to New York at the end of 2022/early 2023.

Alanna Glenn, Publisher, Credit Cards & Loans

What trip were you planning?

I was planning a five-week return trip from Sydney to Toronto last July. It was a premium economy ticket with Qantas from Sydney to Los Angeles and with Air Canada from LA to Toronto. I booked the trip through iFly.net.au.

Alanna Glenn

Have you tried to claim back a refund? If so, what happened?

I did try. I didn't get it because I willingly took the credit in April before the flight was actually cancelled. I was scared that if the flight went ahead, I wouldn't get refunded. With my visa status, I couldn't risk not getting back into Australia.

For me, not having booked directly with Qantas is a regret. It was very frustrating and I will never book through a third party again – and I haven't for my last four trips. In my opinion, it isn't worth the small fare discount.

What are you going to do now?

I'm holding onto the credit for when the border opens and I can take that trip to Toronto. I don't want to split it up into a bunch of domestic flights because it's through iFly. After my experience, I don't fully trust them.

I also haven't seen my family in almost two years now, so I'm eager to get back over there.

Amy Bradney-George, Acting editor: Credit Cards, Finder X, Finder Green

What trip were you planning?

I was planning a return economy flight from Melbourne to Perth for two. I booked directly with Virgin Australia and got a travel credit. Plus, I had a return economy flight from Melbourne to Coffs Harbour for two people that I booked with Tigerair. This was turned into credit with Tigerair and then into credit with Virgin Australia.

Amy Bradney-George

I still have most of this credit because I haven't flown with Virgin Australia since travel has opened up domestically. My partner used around $300 for a flight in February this year, but the rest is just sitting there.

Have you tried to claim back a refund? If so, what happened?

I tried to claim the Tigerair flights for a refund and had no luck, despite lots of calls and attempts. Once Virgin Australia announced it was going into administration, I gave up. But to my surprise, the travel credit was transferred over to me.

What are you going to do now?

I was hoping to use them to go to Perth this year for one of my best friends' weddings. I even booked the flights, but then cancelled them after a coronavirus outbreak in Melbourne made the border situation unclear. So, I've ended up with travel credit again.

I think my partner and I will probably try to book a holiday to New Zealand or somewhere else. But really, it's been so long, I wonder if I'll ever get a chance to use it!

Taylor Blackburn, Media Relations Lead

What trip were you planning?

I had a March 2020 trip to New Zealand booked with my wife and her parents, along with my wife's sister, husband and their two kids. In total, we had about $2,000 in flights between the eight of us.

Taylor Blackburn

Have you tried to claim back a refund? If so, what happened?

Yes, the money had to be put in a travel bank. I got an email when our flights were cancelled and opted for the credit instead of pushing for the refund (like I probably should have) because it seemed easier. It would be a lot more convenient if you could see your credits when you log in to book the flights.

What are you going to do now?

We're still trying to spend the credits before they expire. We've used some to book travel domestically including to Brisbane and Tasmania, but the original New Zealand trip was booked for a lot of people. So, we've still got a lot of travel credits sitting there waiting to be used with not that many places to go to.

So, what rights do Australian consumers have?

Most COVID related complaints from consumers concern the travel industry, according to the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC). In 2020, there were a total of 26,412 travel complaints - up 450% from 4,801 in 2019.

An ACCC spokesperson told Finder: "While travel-related complaints have dropped considerably since the peak of the pandemic, they are still higher than pre-COVID levels, dropping from 21% of total complaints in 2020 to around 10% in recent months."

Consumer rights advocate Adam Glezer said people who are holding travel credits should thoroughly check their terms and conditions to see if they're entitled to a refund.

"Read the ACCC best practice guide for the travel industry – they had a new one that came out in July 2020 – and see what they recommend," said Glezer, adding:

"There are also hardship provisions; if you do have health issues, you may be entitled to a refund."

Those who'd like to see more consumer protection put in place can also join Glezer's Facebook group Travel Industry Issues: The Need for Change for Australians, which has more than 3,500 members.

Glezer explained: "A lot of people have found it to be helpful for getting advice from people in similar situations, for support and to know that they're not alone."

While travel insurance doesn't cover you for all pandemic-related travel expenses, it can offer you some cover.
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Image: Getty Images

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