Coronavirus: Your travel questions answered

We answer common questions about travel plans disrupted by Covid-19.

Travellers in airport wearing face masks.

Travel plans affected by the coronavirus? Here’s what you need to know.

The airline’s cancelled my flight. What should I expect?

Airlines are either re-scheduling or refunding passengers on cancelled flights, or providing a credit. Your airline should contact you to advise what’s happening.

If you booked through a travel agent, contact the agent.

The airline’s only offering a credit. Am I entitled to a refund if it’s cancelled my flight?

We think airlines should be offering refunds to customers where flights have been cancelled because of Covid-19.

However, your protections under consumer law for cancelled flights are weaker here than in many other countries. Airlines aren’t liable for financial losses when flights are cancelled due to circumstances beyond their control. The Covid-19 pandemic would be considered one of those situations.

You may still be entitled to a refund under the airline’s terms and conditions. For example, if you bought a flexible fare that allowed for full refunds, the airline should reimburse you. Check the airline’s terms and conditions to see how it deals with cancellations, and whether refunds or credits are provided.

If the airline won’t provide a refund or credit, you may be able to get a chargeback (a refund to your card) if you paid by credit or debit card. You’ll need to raise a dispute with your bank or card issuer.

There's better news if your flight is to the US (even if you're just transiting through the country) or you're flying to the EU with an EU airline. Consumer protection rules that apply in these jurisdictions mean you should get a refund from the airline if your flight’s cancelled. EU refund rules also apply for all flights within and departing from the EU.

You’ll have to rely on overseas regulators to enforce the rules if the airline doesn’t refund your fare. You can find more information on EU rules and how to claim a refund here.

Complaints about US flights can be made to the US Department of Transportation.

Air New Zealand is now refunding passengers booked on its cancelled Buenos Aires route.

My flight hasn’t been cancelled but I no longer want to travel. What are my options?

The government is advising New Zealanders not to travel overseas due to the risk of Covid-19. If you need to cancel your flight, your options will normally depend on your ticket. On a flexible fare, you should get a full refund.

If it’s a standard fare, ask the airline about getting a credit to use towards travel at a later date. You may also be able to upgrade to a flexi-fare, though you’ll normally have to pay extra.

Airlines may also be offering additional arrangements.

Airlines operating in our market must comply with the Fair Trading Act. This means their terms and conditions, including their cancellation terms, must be fair. If you think you’re being unfairly penalised, complain to the Commerce Commission.

My flight’s been cancelled and the airline is refunding passengers. But the travel agent I booked through is only providing a credit. What can I do?

We think your travel agent should pass on any refunds received from airlines, as well as accommodation providers or tour operators. In our view, any terms and conditions allowing an agent to retain refunds are likely to be in breach of the unfair terms provisions of the Fair Trading Act.

If the agent refuses to pass on the refund, and you paid by credit or debit card, you may be able to get a chargeback (a refund to your card). Contact your bank or card issuer about this.

The travel agent has given me the option of rescheduling or cancelling my trip. If I cancel, the agent will charge a steep cancellation fee. Can they do this?

Travel agents should only charge a fee to cover their reasonable costs of cancellation. If the agent is attempting to charge an excessive amount disproportionate to their costs, they risk breaching the Fair Trading Act as the fee may be considered unfair. If the fee wasn’t clearly disclosed when you booked, it may also be considered unfair.

Make a complaint to the Commerce Commission if you think the agent is charging an unreasonable amount.

Will my travel insurance cover costs if I cancel?

In general, insurers won’t cover delays and cancellations caused by epidemics and pandemics – or reimburse you if you choose to postpone your travel. Insurance doesn’t cover change of mind.

Check your policy to see what it provides and contact your insurer before making changes to your travel bookings.

If you think your insurer isn’t meeting its obligations or you’ve been misled about the cover your policy provides, make a complaint to the Insurance and Financial Services Ombudsman.

If I travel overseas, will insurance cover me if I get sick from Covid-19?

If you bought your travel insurance policy before Covid-19 became a known event, you may be covered for health costs if you become ill.

However, insurers differ in the approach they’ve taken to setting cut-off dates for Covid-19 cover. Check with your insurer to confirm whether you’re covered.

I’ve decided not to travel. Can I get a refund for the cost of my travel insurance policy?

With most policies, you’ll have a cooling-off period after you buy when you can cancel and get a refund. However, cancellations outside of the cooling-off period will depend on the terms and conditions of your policy.

Southern Cross’ TravelCare Single Trip Policy states you can cancel before the start date of your journey and get a refund, less a $35 cancellation fee. The exception is if you’ve already made a claim under the policy – no refund applies in this case.

Check your policy to see what it provides if you need to cancel your cover.

I’ve booked accommodation and paid a deposit but want to cancel. What should I do?

Contact the accommodation provider. The company should have a cancellation policy that explains what happens if you want to cancel. You may be charged a cancellation fee.

Many providers are being flexible about cancellations at this time. It’s in their interests to do so, as they’ll be relying on consumers rebooking later.

If you used a booking site, such as Airbnb, get in touch with it. Airbnb’s website states it’s currently providing refunds for reservations made on or before 14 March 2020, with a check-in date of 14 April 2020, or earlier, and with at least one night occurring between 14 March and 14 April 2020.

If your accommodation provider isn’t honouring its terms and conditions, and you paid by credit or debit card, contact your bank to ask about a chargeback (a refund to your card).

I’m booked on a cruise. Should I still go?

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is advising New Zealanders to reconsider taking any overseas cruises. The Covid-19 virus can spread rapidly on ships. Major cruise lines have already announced cancellations. Check with the cruise line or your travel agent.

In New Zealand, cruise ships have been banned from docking until at least 30 June 2020.

Where can I find out about travel restrictions?

Check the Safe Travel website for the latest advice from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade on travel restrictions.

Health advice

If you have concerns about your health, contact the dedicated Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453.

You can also find information about the virus on the Ministry of Health website.

To reduce your risk of getting sick:

  • wash hands frequently with soap and water
  • avoid close contact with people who are ill
  • avoid close contact with sick farm animals or wild animals.

Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Crowd of people walking.

Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Read our latest articles on the Covid-19 pandemic. Got a consumer-related question about coronavirus? Email us at info@consumer.org.nz and we'll do our best to help.

Member comments

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Angela J.
07 Aug 2020
House of Travel

I am just wondering if others have had any issues getting a refund from House of Travel. We were booked to travel to the states in May. As the COVID-19 situation developed flights and cruise were no longer possible, we asked to be refunded for as much as possible. At that stage we were comfortable with the standard 'as we work with our suppliers the process may take up to 90 days'. We are somewhat beyond that now and we should at least have our Air New Zealand fares back. We don't seem to be making any progress, so just wondering if its not just us.

John C.
10 May 2020
Air NZ refund

My wife and I booked and paid last year for return flights to Tahiti departing 18th May 20
Air NZ emailed us on 20th March asking us to accept a credit. They further advised - "If you still wish to travel, there is nothing further you need to do. We look forward to seeing you onboard."
I consider this to be unethical pressure to accept their credit as they were aware that the flight could not take place due to the Pandemic.

David S.
25 Apr 2020
Flight Centre

We booked return flights to London for June 2020 back in October with Flight Savers flying Singapore Airlines with a 2 night stopover in Singapore. We don't expect to be able to travel in June, but would be happy to defer our travel. We have tried many times to contact Flight Centre, just to get some general advice regarding the process and what is likely to happen. All we get are automated responses saying that they are dealing with all queries in order of departure dates.

Anna W.
25 Apr 2020
AirNZ flights booked with airpoints and flybuys in april and may 2020

I have submitted cancellation details to AirNZ for airpoints and Helloworld for flybuys. Very unclear here and no refunding yet of these hard earned rewards.
Does anyone know or have experience of this please?

Steve B.
12 Apr 2020
Jetstar canceled but not canceled.

Hi We booked direct using Poli WN to Coolangatta 28 July returning 4 August. Heard that Jetstar have stopped all flights but the flights are showing as live. Read that Gold Coast Airport has now closed until further notice. And Yes Jetstar are still showing the flights as Live and on time.
When Jetstar does do the right thing, are we stuck with and unwanted credit or how can we get our cash back?
Any help would be appreciated.

Consumer staff
16 Apr 2020
Re: Jetstar canceled but not canceled.

Hi Steve,

In normal times, you might have more rights. Unfortunately, these are not normal times, and even your travel insurance may not cover you.

Did you buy refundable tickets or non-refundable?

If you bought refundable tickets, you should be refunded. 

Otherwise, it is unlikely you will get a refund, so check out the Jetstar website:

https://www.jetstar.com/nz/en/travel-alerts#Customer%20options

Kind regards,
Maggie - Consumer NZ adviser

Alison B.
11 Apr 2020
Travel refund

If your travel agent receives your refund are they legaly required to pass it on

dennis t.
31 Mar 2020
Flight Centre and cancellation fees

Our family were booked on Air NZ international.Air NZ cancelled the flights.Flight Centre are going to charge the full cancellation fee of $350 per person if we request a refund ,even though we did not cancel .
Flight Centre say they are able to do this under their CONDITIONS OF SERVICE.
This seems unfair and unreasonable as these conditions we assumed would cover cancellation by the customer only
We feel that as agents of Air NZ FLIGHT CENTRE effectively cancelled the flights.So how can they charge these cancellation fees .
This seems to be an unfair interpretation of their conditions of service

John Q.
06 Apr 2020
Outrageous Flight Centre Fees - Another Case

In February, I bought two return business class tickets to London for travel in early May. These tickets were bought online via Flight Centre Tickets were successfully issued on Air New Zealand/Virgin Atlantic with travel via China.

All good and I was then allocated a travel agent (Tyler McPhee) in the local Newmarket, Auckland branch of Flight Centre.

With Covid-19 all 4 sectors of the trip have been cancelled.

On approaching Flight Centre they are demanding $800 per passenger to process refunds from the airlines. On approaching the airlines they say they are waiving cancellation fees.

Not sure what the issues are with Flight Centre but this is not right.

Shirley B.
08 Apr 2020
Flight Centre Refund

My friend booked to go to Surfers when the Coronavirus was only in China.
Their travel agent Flight Centre Thames assured them they were fully covered with insurance.
Now they’ve heard no more from the Flight Centre and have not received any refund.

I feel sorry for them especially as Flight Centre said they were covered.

P J V.
28 Mar 2020
Airline credits

The credits offered by Air NZ are really not useful. They are good for 12 months from the date of booking. If I booked a trip to London for summer 6 months in advance, I’m now faced with using the fare for a winter trip or loosing my money. In Germany as soon as the govt gave a travel warning everyone was entitled to a 100% refund. Consumer protection in NZ is too weak. Beyond that an airline bailed out by my taxes should be offering me a better deal.

Adam M R.
11 Apr 2020
Re Credit

Looks like the credit has to be claimed on within 12 months of issue, but flight can be booked a further 350 days out, so till around March 2022.
I still believe they have to refund as you are on flight to the EU (rule 261), but Brexit may have changed that. Also if flight is via USA, airline has to offer a refund.

Mike H.
23 Mar 2020
Flight cancellations and refunds

What are our rights to demand a refund on flights that have been cancelled, particularly where there is no reasonable alternative? We had international flights booked with Virgin Australia which were cancelled and they offered a full refund. However Jetstar and Qantas are only offering credit, and credit is a bit useless if they are no longer flying a particular route. While travel restrictions might be lifted within the 12 month credit period, many of these airlines are laying off staff and will probably take far longer than this to reinstate some routes (assuming some of these airlines even survive). I understood if a company could not deliver a service then we are entitled to our money back, not some useless credit.

Janet K.
22 Mar 2020
Celebrity Solstice Cruise and Qantas

Our Celebrity Solstice Cruise is due to depart Auckland on the 14 April 2020, this Cruise line has not cancelled and is not keeping us or our Fight Centre Travel Agent informed. I think the Cruise line is waiting to see who cancels as you will now get NO money back if you do. If we cancel we will be $5500 out of pocket on the Cruise alone. We paid for our Cruise and Return flight from Australia on the November 2019 pre any Coronavirus. Our Cruise is for 11 Days. We have never been on a cruise before and this was a once off special for us. Qantas have given us a credit of the cost of our oneway airfare. This is no good to us and a refund would have been preferred. We did get back 75% of our Flight Centre Insurance (which by the way doesn't cover pandemics) but only as a credit on future travel. We paid our money in good faith and yes we know it's a pandemic but we did not cause it!

Gerard C.
22 Mar 2020
Recent return from overses

My experience from returning overseas yesterday is that travel agents and air lines respond quicker to emails and social media requests rather than phone calls. They also want your business back when things come back on line and are changing their business processes to demonstrate this.

Heather B.
21 Mar 2020
Money back??

I am also interested in where we stand when the airline cancels (i.e. is no longer having the flight) but only offers a credit, not a refund. We are elderly and a credit is of no use to us (we may not be here to use it for a start) as we do not want to fly anywhere. We would like our money back!

Christine S.
20 Mar 2020
Domestic travel changes

Hi. What happens in the situation where we need to cancel domestic travel on AirNZ? Our daughter's graduation ceremony has been postponed indefinitely (and may end up being cancelled - hopefully not!). We would like a credit or a refund as we don't know when the event may now take place. We don't have flexi tickets. Thanks!

Neville C.
21 Mar 2020
Credit

Ain’t NZ have been offering free changes and credit for a year. We were send an email.

Colleen W.
21 Mar 2020
Refund

Yes all domestic flights have been offered a credit which is great good on them. We got a email from them yesterday on how to go about getting one.

Tanya D.
19 Mar 2020
Clarity re airfare refunds

What are our rights with obtaining a refund rather than a credit from airlines? Particularly if the airline has cancelled the flight - Virgin Australia's cancelled its international flights from NZ from the end of March to at least the end of May but on its web page it doesn't list refund as one of the options for those flights, only credit with the airline.

Bill R.
18 Mar 2020
Lack of information from travel insurer

As advised by industry spokespeople I asked our travel insurer whether I was covered if I cancelled my flights to/from the UK on medical advice due to COVID-19. They refused to say anything more than “put in a claim and see what happens”. That’s useless advice which means you have to cancel knowing whether you will be covered.