Qantas has bowed to pressure from consumer advocacy group Choice and extended the deadline for customers to use flight credits accumulated during COVID by another 12 months.
The new deal will apply to flights departing up until 31 December 2024 but will still need to be booked before the end of this year.
The “final extension” will alleviate criticism that the decision to cancel credits would see the airline effectively profit from airfares being far higher than pre-pandemic.
Qantas group chief customer officer Markus Svensson said millions of bookings were cancelled due to lockdowns and border closures, something no airline globally was able to manage seamlessly.
“Now that we’re flying again, a huge amount of effort has gone into making it easier to use your credit, from putting 250 specialists into our call centres to building dedicated websites,” said Svensson.
“Our main goal is for everyone who has a COVID credit to be able to put it to good use, which is why we’re doing one final extension of the travel expiry date by 12 months.
“This is on top of all the system changes we’re making, so people can be reunited with credits they might have forgotten they even have.”
Qantas said more than $1.2 billion has already been refunded or used for travel, but $800 million was still owed to customers. Of that, 76 per cent is worth less than $500, and less than 1 per cent is worth more than $5,000. All customers whose flights were cancelled by the airline are still eligible for cash refunds.
The Flying Kangaroo has faced huge criticism over the last few years for its handling of so-called COVID credits during and after the pandemic.
Last year, for example, consumer advocacy organisation Choice even filed a formal complaint with the ACCC after consumer surveys highlighted the “many obstacles” faced by customers seeking to cash in their credits. Choice said one survey showed nearly a third of people trying to use flight credits to purchase new flights were forced to pay more than the cost of the original flight.
Qantas denied the accusation and indicated fare discrepancies were due to rules that restricted flight credit holders to only purchase tickets of the same fare class or higher.
Rival Rex attacked the Flying Kangaroo’s policy by giving its own customers affected by COVID restrictions their money back within seven days.
The airline’s deputy chairman, John Sharp, said it made the decision because it believed its customers deserved to be treated “with respect and dignity and should not have to suffer the indignity and anguish that Qantas passengers suffer when trying to get a refund”.
The two airlines have though been involved in a long-running row over network expansion, with the smaller airline accusing its bigger rival of “predatory” behaviour for launching services on previously Rex-exclusive routes. Qantas has consistently denied any wrongdoing.