Qantas is bracing itself for a fresh wave of refunds against cancelled international flights stretching from late October 2020 until at least the end of March 2021.
Although those flights were removed from Qantas' schedule and closed for new bookings in mid-July, the airline has yet to officially cancel them – leaving would-be passengers with existing bookings in limbo.
However, as the cut-off date of October 24 approaches, Qantas is expected to formally cancel those flights – a move which would open the floodgates to requests for refunds covering almost six months of bookings ranging from frequent business trips to family holidays.
(Closing bookings and pulling flights from the Qantas website is a precursor to the flights themselves being cancelled, as happened in mid-June when Qantas cancelled most international flights through to late October 2020.)
Qantas predicts international flights are "unlikely to restart before July 2021," with the exception of mutual 'travel bubbles' with countries such as New Zealand, Singapore and Japan as they bring COVID-19 under control.
Qantas says no decision made as yet
The Booking changes section of Qantas' website, last updated September 24, notes that "Our regular pre-COVID-19 international network is unlikely to return until at least July 2021" but also says "because the situation is constantly evolving and may change rapidly, we haven't, at this stage, made a decision to cancel international flights after October 2020."
"This means that customers who have booked a flight in late 2020 or 2021 may not know the status of their flight until closer to their travel dates. We know this is frustrating, however, we don’t want to cancel flights that we may be able to operate."
"Rest assured that if we decide to cancel your flight, we’ll contact you as soon as possible in relation to your options, including a refund. You don’t need to do anything, and you won’t be charged any cancellation fees."
"Alternatively, you can choose to cancel your flight yourself. However, if you do, you may be charged a cancellation fee in accordance with your fare rules."
Refunds vs travel credits
Passengers on flights cancelled by Qantas are entitled to a full refund, although in an effort to conserve cash, the airline has been encouraging them to turn the booking into travel credit which can used on future Qantas flights through to the end of 2022.
Qantas is offering incentives such as having an additional 10% of the booking's value held in credit, or allowing all flights booked using that credit to accrue a double serve of frequent flyer points or status credits.
However, as previously reported, Executive Traveller readers have reported offers of 20% of the booking's value being added to their travel credit balance plus double Qantas Points or status credits.
A Qantas spokesperson previously described its baseline of incentives to Executive Traveller as being among a roster of “special offers” made available to some passengers to add extra value to a flight booking or a credit.
“We know there is a lot of pent up demand for travel and offers like these allow them to do so when they are ready at an even better rate,” the Qantas spokesperson said.
An earlier version of this article cited the refunds could be as high as $4 billion, based on Qantas' own revenue estimates; a spokesperson for the airline has since advised it estimated total outstanding bookings to be around $2 billion as at June 30.