Ask LH: Can I Get An Airline Refund Because Of Industrial Action?

Dear Lifehacker, I’ve got a flight booked with Qantas, but with the threat of industrial action, the spokesperson on the phone cannot guarantee me that my flight will be running on the day. So I booked with a different carrier, but couldn’t get my fare refunded from Qantas. The problem is I don’t want a Qantas credit voucher, which is what they’re offering me. I want cash. Any advice on how to approach this issue? Thanks, Rescheduling Madly

Dear RM,

The short and brutal answer: I very much doubt you’ve got any chance whatsoever of getting a cash refund. However, your experience does highlight a couple of useful lessons about booking flights which are worth remembering: :

No airline absolutely guarantees a given flight will run. Between potential mechanical issues, weather problems and security challenges, flights often get cancelled even when industrial action isn’t a factor. If you rang any airline and asked for a rock-solid guarantee that a given flight was going to run on time, they wouldn’t offer it. The terms and conditions for Qantas, Virgin, Jetstar and Tiger all note that departure times are not guaranteed, ever. So the basic premise of your argument — I want a refund because you can’t offer a totally guaranteed service — doesn’t match up with reality on any airline. Cancellations and delays are, annoyingly, a fact of life.

Refund and change conditions are generally restrictive. While it’s much cheaper to fly in Australia than it was two decades ago, airlines have made up for decreased fares in other ways. One obvious strategy is high baggage fares, but another is less flexible tickets. On the cheapest tickets on any airline, making changes generally requires paying change fees and higher charges, and getting flight credit rather than cash refunds is very much the norm.

You don’t mention what kind of ticket you had, but if it was a cheaper option, chances are you had very few options for changing, and most of them would probably cost extra money. As a consumer, you need to be aware of the conditions before purchasing the ticket. Admittedly, most of us click through the terms and conditions when we’re buying tickets, but given the price of flying, you should check these details before buying.

Qantas hasn’t been charging change fees where flights have to be altered because of cancellations due to the current industrial action, so you should have been able to change your flight if needed. You do have the option of flight credit, and that seems like your best bet.

There’s no clear consumer basis for arguing for a refund here. As your email stands, it suggests that you changed not because you didn’t have an option at all, but because you didn’t want to risk the flight being cancelled. As we’ve noted, that risk exists with every single airline. So arguing “I should get my money back because I didn’t get the service promised” doesn’t work, because in fact that option wasn’t promised in the first place.

Having said that, if anyone has any specific suggestions on getting a cash refund in this context, share them in the comments.


Got your own question you want to put to Lifehacker? Send an email to [email protected], and include ‘Ask Lifehacker’ in the subject line. The Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.

The Cheapest NBN 50 Plans

Here are the cheapest plans available for Australia’s most popular NBN speed tier.

At Lifehacker, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.


25 responses to “Ask LH: Can I Get An Airline Refund Because Of Industrial Action?”

Leave a Reply