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Getting a refund for non-refundable flights

If you have to cancel a non-refundable flight or accommodation, can you get your money back?

If you read the terms and conditions of your pre-paid flight or accommodation service, you'll find that in many cases they don't offer refunds at all. That being said, what if you're forced to make a cancellation?

With travel insurance, it's possible to get your money back

Travel insurance offers financial protection if an unexpected event forces you to cancel pre-booked travel plans. You'll be covered for any lost pre-paid deposits and cancellation fees as long as:

  • The cancellation is for reasons outside your control
  • You have first attempted to obtain reimbursement from the airline or accommodation provider
  • Your insurance policy was bought before the reason for the cancellation was a "known event" (or before you were reasonably aware you would have to cancel)

Compare travel insurance with cover for unexpected cancellations

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If you’re forced to cancel your flights, follow these steps

If you’re forced to cancel your flight due to circumstances beyond your control, there are three main steps involved in making a claim on your travel insurance:

  • Gather documentation to support your claim. This might include a doctor’s report describing your illness or injury or any other written evidence of why you were forced to cancel your flight.
  • Approach the airline for a refund. The percentage refunded from the airline will depend on the type of ticket purchased and how far out from the departure date you cancel.
  • Claim through your travel insurance. Put in a claim for whatever amount the carrier will not refund, up to the policy’s benefit limit.

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Can you get a refund directly from your airline?

If your flight is cancelled, your airline should offer you some form of compensation. This varies from airline to airline and can range from refunded costs, vouchers and replacement tickets on a later flight.

If your flight is cancelled and you're forced to stay overnight, your airline should also put you up in a hotel as compensation.


Beware low-cost airlines

If you bought your flight with a low-cost airline or the ticket was on sale, chances are you're not going to be able to get a refund if you're wanting to cancel your flight. Major exclusions for these types of tickets include:

  • No refunds for cancellations under any circumstances
  • No name changes under any circumstances
  • No date changes

This is why if you can aford to, you might be better off buying a flexible ticket.

Domestic flight cancellations

If you have to cancel your flight, these are the refund policies for the major domestic airlines.

Airline Policy
Qantas refunds Business class flights are refundable as are Flex flights with a A$99* cancellation fee for bookings made on or after 14 March 2017. Red e-Deal flights are non-refundable.
Virgin Australia refunds All bookings can be cancelled; however some bookings are non-refundable and may attract cancellations fees and surcharges.
Jetstar refunds Jetstar will not extend the booking dates under any circumstances. Unless otherwise stated, airfares are non-refundable. Limited changes are permitted, charges apply. The standard Starter Business bundle fare conditions apply. See Jetstar.com for further details.
Tigerair refunds Except to the extent provided under the Australian Consumer Law, Tigerair Australia is unable to refund any tickets (fares, travel extras and charges) where the passenger decides they no longer have a requirement to fly or is unable to travel, as a result of any change in personal circumstances, including but not limited to medical grounds. Individual or Personal Travel Insurance is recommended for all passengers to cover such cancellations.

Should a passenger decide they no longer wish to travel, they are entitled to apply for a refund of the Government Passenger Services Tax and other government taxes paid. However, Tigerair will apply an AUD $50.00 administration fee per passenger per sector to cover the cost of processing and bank charges for each tax refund request.

Rex refunds This feature is only available for Rex Flex and Rex Biz bookings. Refund for cancellation is subject to an applicable administration fee. Your ticket must be cancelled within the stipulated time frame as stated by the fare rules of your ticket.

Currently there is a 25% discount on the admin fee that is being charged at the Customer Contact Centre if amendment is done online successfully.


Which airlines are most likely to have cancelled flights?

In June 2017, finder.com.au analysed Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) data for caline cancellations dating back to 2010, to find out which was the worst performing airline in Australia. It found thatQantasLink had the highest percentage of cancellations since 2010 at 2.32%.

Carrier
Flights since 2010
Cancellations since 2010
Cancellation %
Jetstar
1,038,598
17,647
1.70%
Qantas
1,664,795
22,909
1.38%
QantasLink
1,318,436
30,617
2.32%
Regional Express
603,393
2,716
0.45%
Tigerair Australia
286,142
4,143
1.45%
Virgin Australia
1,939,546
32,229
1.66%
Virgin Australia Regional Airlines
160,658
2,667
1.66%

The study also found that those flying out of Karratha experienced the most cancellations with 3.47% of flights being cancelled.

Airport
Flights since 2010
Cancellations since 2010
Cancellation %
Adelaide
376,442
3,482
0.92%
Albury
46,382
360
0.78%
Brisbane
966,008
14,562
1.51%
Cairns
168,986
1,386
0.82%
Canberra
270,584
7,388
2.73%
Darwin
52,164
284
0.54%
Dubbo
45,994
376
0.82%
Gladstone
43,210
1,294
2.99%
Gold Coast
221,972
3,946
1.78%
Hobart
107,106
892
0.83%
Karratha
51,320
1,782
3.47%
Launceston
71,872
1,030
1.43%
Mackay
57,960
808
1.39%
Melbourne
1,160,600
21,614
1.86%
Newcastle
67,012
788
1.18%
Perth
408,258
5,322
1.30%
Port Lincoln
49,778
466
0.94%
Rockhampton
64,234
1,636
2.55%
Sunshine Coast
44,588
742
1.66%
Sydney
1,424,462
29,424
2.07%
Townsville
94,704
1,012
1.07%
Wagga Wagga
40,284
220
0.55%

Why you must be careful with flights bought on aggregators

As with budget airlines, flight aggregators also advertise cheap airfares. Unlike flight consolidators, who buy bulk tickets and sell them cheaply online, flight aggregators search the internet for the lowest fares and make their commission when a booking is made with an airline via their website. The online market is highly competitive, with more travel agents now becoming online aggregators to cash in on the demand (Flight Centre is a recent example).

Responsibility for processing refunds is a grey area

As these cheap fares are being offered by budget airlines, the same restrictions apply to their use, often including no refunds for cancellations. A flight aggregator will distance itself from any terms and conditions and will refer you to the airline in question for any queries regarding refunds. Similarly, the airline's customer service may refer you back to the aggregator or travel agent.

If you plan to buy cheap airfares, either be prepared to lose 100% of your money if you have to cancel for any reason or take out travel insurance to cover your potential losses.


Does travel insurance cover you for non-refundable accommodation?

Travel insurance can also provide cover for non-refundable accommodation expenses. As with flights, your policy will only pay the portion of the cost not recoverable from the accommodation provider.

Recovering costs from the accommodation provider

If you booked your accommodation through an accommodation aggregator such as Hostelworld or Bookings.com, they will usually refer you to the accommodation provider for any cancellation queries. It may be worth contacting the hotel directly and explaining your situation, as you may (depending on how far out you are cancelling) still be able to get a partial refund.

If the hotel refuses a refund, you may still be allowed to change the date of your booking for a small fee.


When won't travel insurance reimburse me?

Travel insurance will reimburse you if the cancellation is due to unforeseen circumstances and not due to:

  • You changing your mind
  • Your financial circumstances changing
  • Your travel agent’s failure to provide service
  • An action by your carrier that you were warned about prior to purchasing travel insurance
  • A government regulation or prohibition

Compare travel insurance policies with cancellation cover

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Maurice Thach

An insurance researcher and writer for finder.com.au who loves finding an answer to the question "Am I covered for ________?" Maurice has also completed a Tier 1 Life Insurance and a Tier 2 General Insurance Certification under ASIC's Regulatory Guide 146. This means he can confidently provide general advice for life insurance and non-life insurance products.

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