Virgin has bowed to pressure from the ACCC and said it will extend the expiry date for COVID-19 flight credits to June 2025.
The credits, which apply to bookings for flights departing before 31 July 2022, were due to expire in December.
Virgin’s announcement means customers can use their accumulated credits on its own services and those with codeshare partners such as ANA, Singapore Airlines and Qatar that carry a VA flight number.
However, the initiative doesn’t apply to ‘Future Flight Credits’ issued for services cancelled when Virgin entered administration in 2020. Those will still expire in December this year.
It follows the ACCC arguing that Virgin should extend the expiry date on the credits, which have been more difficult to use given the relative lack of long-haul flights post-administration.
“The ACCC engaged extensively with all three domestic airline groups in relation to a range of consumer issues that arose during the pandemic,” a spokesperson told The Australian this month.
“This included providing guidance for the travel industry, recommending that businesses should allow consumers a reasonable period in which to use Covid-related credits.
“The ACCC encourages Virgin to extend its credit expiry dates for all Covid flight credits to ensure consumers are able to effectively use these credits.”
Airlines faced huge criticism during COVID-19 for making it difficult or confusing for customers to claim a refund on flights cancelled due to pandemic restrictions.
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 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-19 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”.