We were booked with Virgin to fly to Tasmania pre-Covid. The airline cancelled our flight and has apparently put our funds in a “travel bank”.

This doesn’t appeal to us and we want a refund. Our bank agreed to follow this up about a year ago as the tickets were paid by MasterCard.

We are still waiting. Is there anything we can do or do we lose?

– Lee, Western Australia

Flights, cancellations and refunds were already a source of stress for Australian consumers before the pandemic, and without a dedicated airline ombudsperson, it was tricky to navigate your entitlements. Then Covid-19 hit. Now it’s extremely chaotic and difficult to understand what’s fair and what your rights are as a consumer. So first of all: I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this.

You’ve already contacted your bank but it probably isn’t worth your time to keep pursuing this course of action. That’s because, in general, your credit card provider is unlikely to provide you a refund or “chargeback” when you’ve already received compensation from the company whose charge you’re disputing. In this case, you’ve already got a flight credit, so I suspect that your credit card provider is unlikely to reverse the charge on your card. Importantly, disputing credit card charges comes with a deadline – which tends to be between 90 and 120 days – and if your flight was booked pre-Covid, that deadline has passed.

Unfortunately, in your case, flights booked with Virgin Australia on or before 20 April 2020 are not eligible for refunds. That is the date that Virgin Australia went into voluntary administration. The appointed company administrators decided that all customers affected by cancellations would only be offered future flight credits. It sounds like this is what might be happening here, in which case, my best advice is to use your flight credits before they expire on 31 December 2023.

If travel isn’t on the table for you at the moment, you cannot transfer your credits, but you can use them to book a trip for someone else. If you have a friend or family member with imminent travel plans, it might be worth finding a way to make this work for both of you. As a last resort, you can give someone you love a trip as a present.

If, on the other hand, your flight was booked after 20 April 2020 and cancelled for non-Covid-related reasons, you do have a right to a refund. How much hassle it will be to get that entitlement is a different story.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, airlines have become infamous for poor customer service, and if Covid restrictions began soon after your problem arose, there’s a high likelihood your case got lost in the shuffle and lumped in with all the Covid chaos.

In general, under Australia’s consumer guarantees, you are entitled to a refund when flights are cancelled by an airline and a replacement isn’t offered “within a reasonable time”. When that happens, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission state: “The airline must give the consumer their choice of a different replacement flight or refund.” Choice also note that you can exchange a travel voucher that was automatically applied to your account for a full refund.

Consumer guarantees on flights do not apply if you change your mind about the flight, miss the flight through no fault of the airline, or if the actions of a third party caused the cancellation (for instance, government travel restrictions, which is why it got so complicated and difficult during the pandemic).

As a first step, you should reach out to the airline if you haven’t already.

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Australian airlines are generally available by phone, but the wait times can be very long so I would suggest using multiple forms of contact if you have the ability – this includes via direct messaging on social media, chat via the airline’s website and email.

Virgin Australia’s website does note in its terms of carriage that they must comply with the Australian Consumer Law in terms of their liability for flight cancellations initiated by them.

Use the terms of carriage and ACCC as a source when you’re talking to the airline. Airline policies often allow for more than consumers – and sometimes even airline customer service staff – know about, in my experience!

Finally, while airlines are obligated to meet Australia’s consumer guarantees, unfortunately they do not have to make it easy. That is true for all airlines – not just Virgin. If you persist, you will be able to get what you’re entitled to. But it will take persistence. And possibly a long time on hold.

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Article source: https://airlines.einnews.com/article/638287708/_fnQ1VsDFlHHTOqS?ref=rss&ecode=vaZAu9rk30b8KC5H

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