Australian airlines have responded by adding new flexible booking rules: Qantas is waiving your first change fee for bookings made by April 30, while Virgin Australia has extended its offer of unlimited free changes for flights up to June 30 – if you book by March 31.
Sciberras says if you are flying Jetstar, add on a fare bundle starting at about $40 to get extra flexibility, or purchase the new “FareCredit” product at the online checkout, starting from $19.90 per passenger, to ensure you can receive a voucher for your flight if you need to cancel.
As for accommodation, many booking websites now allow you to limit your search to flexible deals only. For example, at booking.com you can select “FREE cancellation” from the filters on the left hand side of the page. At airbnb.com, search for properties with a “flexible” cancellation policy.
Got frequent-flyer points?
Both Sciberras and Hui hackers say now is a good time to use points for flight bookings.
The reason is that points bookings are 100 per cent flexible and refundable. You can cancel and get the points plus the taxes back, thanks to “waived change and cancel fees until at least the end of March 2021 for Qantas and June 2021 for Virgin,” says Sciberras.
Money saving loopholes
Hui says new airline travel policies can also create an opportunity for canny travellers: you can pounce on a low fare with more confidence than ever before, knowing you can always change the flight details later.
For example, check out Virgin’s weekly “Happy Hour” sale, which has returned on Thursdays.
“Then if you decide not to go, get a refund – or if the price goes lower later, [get a refund and take the lower price],” Sciberras says (assuming the fare type is refundable or it was booked using points).
Use a credit card
I am a long-time critic of credit cards but one advantage they have (as does PayPal, for example) is a “charge-back”.
A “charge-back” is where you dispute a charge on your card within a certain timeframe due to “services not provided or merchandise not received”. The card provider will sometimes then run a dispute for you.
I have seen a range of results from this in the past year, including full refunds to card issuers. It is not a silver bullet but it is worth a try.
Read your insurance fine print
This is the first place to look if you are searching for your money back… but don’t hold your breath.
When the pandemic first struck, some policies covered COVID-style cancellations but most have now been written down.
Sciberras says “COVID-19 travel insurance is currently limited and, generally, does not cover border closures. Therefore, booking flexible airfares and accommodation is more important than ever”.
Mind you, if an airline cancels a flight, bear in mind that you are generally entitled to a full refund – so push for one – and be aware that the average wait for refunds is about six to eight weeks.