Australians planning interstate travel over the Christmas period could face difficulty securing accommodation refunds and flight credits if state and territory borders tighten in response to the Omicron variant.
In anticipation of potential border changes, some airlines have in place flexible refund options for all fare types, but other airlines are less accommodating.
Jetstar has begun charging some passengers if they want the option to get a flight credit voucher if a border closure forces them to abandon their summer travel plans.
Ahead of the first Christmas since Covid when Australians will largely be free to move between states – with the exception of Western Australia – here is everything you need to know about the main airlines’ policies on disruptions.
How likely are domestic border changes because of Omicron?
New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory have introduced precautionary measures for international arrivals while health authorities determine if the new variant is more transmissible and whether reopening plans should change. However, they have made no changes to domestic travel restrictions.
This week, Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said it was too early to say if the Omicron variant would affect the state’s plan to reopen by Christmas. Under that plan, the state will drop its quarantine requirement for vaccinated domestic arrivals by 17 December, when it is expected to reach 80% double-dose vaccination coverage.
While Scott Morrison has declared “we’re not going back to lockdowns”, it is unclear if Omicron transmissions could see a return to entry restrictions to some states for travellers from specific local government areas.
Introduced in response to earlier internal border closures throughout the pandemic, Jetstar offers passengers who have booked a fare the ability to change the date of their trip if a border closes or they can no longer travel.
If the fare was purchased after 17 September and before 31 December, Jetstar will waive the change fee. Customers will still have to pay the difference between their original fare and the new flight they select (which can be for travel up until 30 June 2023).
However, in a change from the budget airline’s practice since the start of the pandemic, Jetstar no longer offers a refund or flight credit which can be used when booking flights at a later date.
If a passenger wants to be able to cancel their flight and get a flight credit voucher – which can be used on any route with Jetstar – they will have to pay for this privilege at the time of booking.
Customers will need to purchase “FareCredit” during checkout, which allows passengers to cancel their flight for any reason up until airport check-in opens for the flight. The voucher is valid for three years.
The cost of Jetstar’s “FareCredit” protection varies, but on a one-way $64 flight from Sydney to Melbourne the cover costs $16.40 per passenger.
Jetstar also offers passengers travel insurance policies – from a third party provider – however, these policies explicitly state that “as Covid-19 is considered a known event ... no cover is provided for any claim arising from travel restrictions due to government orders, advisories, regulations, directives or border closures”.
Jetstar does not require a border to have closed or proof of close contact status in order to access any of the above flight offers, except for insurance.
Qantas passengers are able to change their travel date or request a flight credit, provided they do this before the day of departure, and can choose new travel dates within 12 months.
If changing the date of a flight, Qantas will waive the change fee but passengers will still need to pay any cost difference if their new fare is more expensive.
If requesting a flight credit, the cost of the fare can be used on any route with Qantas within 12 months.
There is no limit to how many times the date of a booking can be changed.
However, if you want to cancel your booking with Qantas to get a cash refund, it’s a bit more complicated. Refunds will depend on the fare type you booked, ranging from being unavailable for the cheapest fare types, to incurring a $100 cancellation fee, through to being free for the most expensive and flexible fare type.
Qantas does not require a border to have closed or proof of close contact status in order to access any of the above flight offers, except for insurance.
Similarly to Qantas, Virgin is waiving fees for passengers who can no longer travel and the ability to change their flight dates or cancel their booking for a travel credit.
Passengers who want to change a flight will have to make the change before their day of departure. Customers changing their date of travel will still have to pay fare differences if their new flight is more expensive than their original booking.
If cancelling their fare for a flight credit, the voucher can be used on any route Virgin Australia offers, both domestic and international.
Virgin’s cancellation and changes options will cover all travel up until May 2022.
If a passenger wants to cancel their flight and get a refund, it will depend on the flexibility of the fare they initially booked, similar to the Qantas policy.
Rex’s policy appears more generous than other airlines, in that they offer full refunds to passengers and their entire travelling group on each leg, if one person is affected by Covid disruptions.
Covid disruptions include border closures, lockdowns, and isolation requirements for close contacts.
Unlike Jetstar, Qantas and Virgin’s rules, passengers will actually have to be affected by a Covid disruption to access the refunds.
What about accommodation?
In most cases, refund and travel credit rules are set by individual hotels and accommodation providers.
Generally, Airbnb flexibility will depend on the settings the accommodation host sets when booking.
After the initial pandemic closures in 2020, Airbnb changed its extenuating circumstances policy to mean that Covid disruptions to travel were not covered.
However, if a guest or host contracts Covid and their check-in date is within 14 days, they could be covered by the extenuating circumstances policy, but they must provide proof.