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Insider Tips

How can we be of service? Let us count the ways. We actually mean service – unlike those who have promised it before and didn’t show up when it counted most. Consider these insider tips your key to consumer affairs.
Qantas booking interface

Up in the air: What is going on with Qantas?

J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote, "Not all who wander are lost." But if your wander is booked with Qantas, you could be. That is if your flight was cancelled and you opted for a travel credit instead of a refund.

Complaints about Qantas have been mounting on social media since Australia's borders reopened and people have been trying to use their flight credits. According to some reports, it has been almost impossible to get through to the airline, let alone redeem the credits.

Flight credits mayhem

One of the most common complaints is that consumers with flight credits are being asked to pay more than their credit when they book a new flight. Qantas prices have increased since the original booking, which might be expected because of the fallout from the pandemic. But some claim the price increase only applies to those booking with credits rather than a new transaction. Dean Ransom, for example, was quoted $1400 for a domestic flight while his wife’s ticket, which he booked without a flight credit, cost just $437. "The seats were identical, and we sat next to each other," he told the ABC. Not ideal if you’re aiming for a budget holiday, is it?

 

A frustrated man trying to use his flight credits

 

A long-term Qantas flyer, James Evans, experienced the same thing when he tried booking a one-way flight from Sydney to Melbourne. Using his credits valued from $88 to $450, he was quoted prices between $130 and $237 for the same flight, depending on the redeem code he used.

Terms and conditions on flight credits

Another issue is that Qantas has changed its terms and conditions on flight credits since October 1, 2021. The airline now says you can book flights that are either equal to or higher than the original fare only. And you can't use your credits for multiple bookings. This means if your flight credit is worth $300 and your new plane ticket costs $275, you can say goodbye to the $25 difference. Or you’ll have to book a flight that costs more than your credit and pay the difference. The length of time you can use your credits has also been cut to 12 months. Previously, if your flight credits were issued for bookings made on or before 30 September 2021, you had until 31 December 2023 to use them. Now, you must book and travel within 12 months of your original booking date.

However, if the flight is cancelled by Qantas, the flight credits may be used until December 31, 2023.

Customer service clamour

Trying to get in touch with Qantas customer service is another adventure altogether. The customer service line is often busy. And you could be on hold for hours before being able to speak to someone. One customer spent about 12 hours collectively waiting on the phone over three days, with no resolution.

It's not even an isolated case. In fact, over twenty-three thousand new signatures have been added to a petition demanding that Qantas improve customer service in the past three weeks alone, as consumers become increasingly irritated with the long waiting times. According to the creator of the petition, it takes an average of five hours and 36 minutes for Qantas’ customer service to pick up. Parenting author Maggie Dent was among those to vent their frustration on social media, writing: “Qantas please employ some more staff to sort these issues more promptly. You are getting such a terrible reputation for customer service.”

The Qantas website has been getting a lot of flak, too. Customers have complained about “repetitive error messages” when they try to complain online, forcing them to use the call centre.

Recently, there's also been a glitch on the website which resulted in multiple bookings for many. One ticket buyer, David Clapin, was surprised - nay, horrified - when he was billed $42,000 instead of $3,500 for his flight to London.

The combined effect of these issues has resulted in 21 percent of Australians not being able to use their flight credits and Qantas and its budget carrier Jetstar holding a whopping $1.4 billion in unused flight credits and future bookings.

Can we blame Covid?

The airline has come under fire for its handling of the situation but has blamed Covid-19 for the delays. In a statement, Qantas said they were working through a very high volume of requests. And their teams were contacting customers in order of priority.

Covid lockdowns and border closures have devastated the aviation industry, preventing many of its staff from coming to work. In Qantas' case, the airline has been forced to make 6,000 of its 26,000 workforce redundant, 15,000 of the remaining were stood down without pay and cut one-third of its domestic and international flights.

It’s also hard not to feel empathy for the Qantas staff who are trying to deal with a backlog of requests while being inundated with angry customers.

But we can’t forget that Qantas received a lot of government assistance - that’s taxpayer dollars, remember - to help them through the pandemic.

 

a woman complaining against Qantas

 

According to The Financial Times, Qantas received up to $2 billion through government-funded Covid-19 programs and was set to raise $1.9 billion from its investors. Fortune and Bloomberg argued this kind of support made the airline "one of the world’s most financially secure airlines during a pandemic”.

This is after earlier in the pandemic, Qantas boss Alan Joyce warned the government against doing anything to bail out Virgin Australia, forcing it into administration in 2021 and putting 4,000 people out of work, resulting in a reduced capacity - and less competition for Qantas - under its new owner.

Qantas vs Virgin Australia

Another way to see how much Covid-19 is to blame for all this uproar is to compare Qantas performance with the country’s other major airline, Virgin Australia. Virgin Australia policy is far more flexible and generous to passengers.

Flight credits

Virgin Australia has two credit programs: Standard credits and Future Flights. Standard credits may be provided to you if your flight was cancelled on or after April 21, 2020. Future Flights are for those affected by the airline's voluntary administration. On the other hand, Qantas has only one flight credit program.

Here’s how they compare:

Qantas Flight Credits for cancellations by Qantas Qantas Flight Credits requested by you Virgin Australia Standard Credits Virgin Australia Future Flights
Multiple bookings Yes No Yes Yes
Book a fare lower than original fare Yes No Yes Yes
Expiration Before 31 December 2023 Within 12 months of your original booking date Until the expiry date of each credit. Expiry dates can be viewed by logging in to your Travel Bank. Valid for travel by 27 December 2023; travel must be booked by 31 January 2023
Passenger restrictions Can’t transfer credit to someone else Can’t transfer credit to someone else Can be used for any passenger/s (not limited to the passengers on the original booking) Can be used for any passenger/s (not limited to the passengers on the original booking)

Note: If you request a flight change or cancellation, Virgin Australia’s flight credits may be permitted as per fare rules only.

Customer service experience

It may be hard to quantify the customer service experience. But from what you can tell from the volume of complaints on social media, it seems Virgin Australia is handling the current situation much better than Qantas.

Virgin Australia has not been the subject of any recent media reports regarding dissatisfied consumers or flight credit issues.

On the contrary, Qantas is dominating the news for all the wrong reasons.

Qantas response

In response to the mounting complaints, Qantas has said it is working hard to clear the backlog of requests and that it has been hiring and training more people to help with customer enquiries.

The airline also said that it is investing in better technologies so we should "expect better performance each week".

Over the Anzac Day weekend, hundreds of head office staff from Qantas assisted at the airports to avoid a repeat of the passenger hold-ups that occured during Easter.

But perhaps if Qantas didn’t create landmines with its flight credit program, and suffer significant staff shortages, despite receiving billions in government support, this mess wouldn’t happen, would it? One can argue that staff layoffs were necessary for the airline to survive, but it’s difficult to justify Qantas having a flight credit program that is far more restrictive than the one offered by Virgin Airlines.

Your rights for cancelled flight bookings

When you buy a flight, you are agreeing to the airline’s terms and conditions. This contract outlines your rights and responsibilities as a passenger, as well as the airline's commitments to you.

If your flight is delayed or cancelled, you are entitled to a remedy from the airline according to Consumer Law. Most airlines that operate in Australia also have a compensation policy that sets out the compensation and assistance they will provide to passengers in these circumstances. It could be refunds, credits and the like. You can find an airline's compensation policy on their website.

If, however, you initiated the cancellation, getting a refund depends on the airline's fare rules.

You should familiarise yourself with these terms before booking a flight, as they can vary significantly. For example, some airlines may allow you to change your flight without incurring a fee, while others may charge a significant amount for any changes.

Also, note that the terms of your contract may be different if you buy your ticket through a third-party website. So be sure to read the fine print carefully before finalising your purchase.

If your flight credits are expiring soon...

If you have flight credits that are due to expire soon and you don't want to use them to book a flight, get a refund before the credits expire. How easy this will be depends on who initiated the cancellation.

If it was you, you can only get a refund if your original fare conditions permitted a refund, provided you submit the request before the credit expires - in Qantas’ case, 12 months from your original booking date.

If Qantas cancels your flight, you can submit a refund request until December 31, 2023.

 

Irritated dissatisfied traveler tourist woman

 

While we’re at it, don’t forget about the expiry of your travel money cards if cancelling your trip altogether.

Where to air your complaints

If you're unhappy with how Qantas has handled your flight credits request, you can lodge a complaint with the ACCC or the Airline Advocate.

The ACCC is Australia's consumer watchdog and the enforcer of Consumer Law. So, you can lodge a complaint with them if you believe your rights have been breached. It opened a Qantas consultation on March 24 but it's been closed since April 7. However, you may still email them at [email protected]

The Airline Advocate is an independent body that advocates for air passengers' rights in Australia. They can help you resolve your complaint if you've been unable to do so directly with the airline. You can lodge a complaint with Airline Advocate by filling out their online complaint form.

Our CEO, Jo Ucukalo, recently did a segment about QANTAS complaints on ABC Radio Brisbane. She also covered how you can get your complaint heard and resolved faster! And to speed up the complaints process, you can also lodge your complaint with us.

One complaint we received was from Peter Wilkinson. Despite paying $6,426 for two tickets via BPAY, Qantas never actually issued the tickets. Peter was understandably upset “as this has been going on for over a month now & has caused a lot of long phone calls & stress” when he heard about our service on ABC Radio. Only TWO days after lodging a complaint with HMC, his refund from Qantas was on its way.

 

Peter Wilkinson Testimonial

 

Once we have the details of your complaint, we will first give the airline the opportunity to respond to your complaint. And if you remain dissatisfied with the airline’s response, we will escalate your complaint to the ACCC or the Airline Advocate with one simple click from you.