Travellers in airport wearing face masks.
Research report
Updated 28 May 2020

Coronavirus: Your travel questions answered

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

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.
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.

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