Your rights when travelling: flights and accommodation
We explain your holiday travel rights.
We explain your holiday travel rights.
The airline cancelled my flight. What are my rights?:
You’re entitled to a refund if your flight is cancelled due to an event within the airline’s control – for example - staffing and mechanical issues. When the airline’s at fault, the Civil Aviation Act (CAA) says you’re entitled to reimbursement of up to 10 times the cost of the ticket, or the actual cost of delay, whichever is lower. So, in addition to flight costs, you may be able to claim other expenses, such as meals, accommodation and any additional costs you incur in getting to your destination.
But it’s a different story if the flight’s cancelled because of bad weather or something else outside the airline’s control, like a mandatory government shutdown. The CAA doesn’t require the airline to refund your ticket or reimburse your costs in these circumstances.
Instead, your rights will depend on the type of fare you bought, and the airline’s terms and conditions. If you bought a refundable fare you’ll be entitled to a refund regardless of the reason for the cancellation or delay. If you haven’t purchased a refundable fare, the airline will usually rebook you on another flight or offer you a credit.
My flight has been delayed. What can I do?:
The same rules apply for cancellation and delay. So if your flight has been delayed due to reasons within the airline’s control, the CAA says you’re entitled to claim reimbursement from the airline of up to 10 times the cost of the ticket, or the cost of delay, whichever is lower. If you need to fork out for food, accommodation or transport due to the delay, keep your receipts and claim this back from the airline.
The airline doesn’t have to refund you or reimburse your costs if the delay couldn’t have been avoided. For example, if there’s a volcano or wild weather that prevents the flight from taking off. If you haven’t purchased a refundable fare, you’ll be entitled to be rebooked on another flight, or to a credit.
The airline has overbooked the flight and I’ve been bumped. What are my rights?
As this is something within the airline’s control, you’re entitled to claim reimbursement from the airline under the CAA of up to 10 times the cost of your ticket, or the cost of the delay, whichever is lower. Keep your receipts for any expenses and lodge a claim with the airline for reimbursement.
The airline has rebooked me on another flight but the time doesn’t suit. What can I do?
If the reason you’ve been rebooked is because the airline’s mucked up, you don’t have to accept the new flight time. You can ask for a refund instead. You can also claim reimbursement for any expenses you incur (up to the limit) under the CAA.
For events outside of the airline’s control, ask for a credit or to be rebooked on a later flight.
Can I get a refund if I’ve just changed my mind and no longer want to travel?
In this case, you’ll normally only be entitled to a refund if you paid for a refundable fare. Otherwise, you could consider changing your flight to another date – though you may have to pay extra – or asking for a credit.
I cancelled my fully refundable fare but eight weeks later I’m still waiting for a refund. Is there anything I can do?
In our book, that’s too long to wait for a refund. Airlines, like other traders, have to carry out their services with reasonable care and skill. If the airline is dragging the chain and you paid by credit or debit card, you’ve got grounds to ask your bank for a chargeback.
My flight has been cancelled and I’m stuck waiting for the next flight. What are my rights?
For international flights, your rights differ depending on where you are, where you’re heading and where the airline is based.
Assuming the airline is at fault, you should be entitled to reimbursement of your airfare and other costs under the Montreal Convention (up to a limit) if you’re flying between two signatory countries, such as Australia and New Zealand. However, airlines won’t be liable under the Convention if they can prove they took “all measures that could reasonably be required to avoid the damage [incurred by the cancellation or delay].”
If you’re flying through the EU, EU rules apply.
The EU’s Denied-boarding compensation system provides clear-cut consumer protection. It can be relied on if you're departing from an EU airport - or flying into an EU airport on an airline based in the EU.
The system specifies the compensation you’ll receive if the carrier is responsible for your flight’s cancellation or delay. For cancellations, you’re entitled to choose between re-routing to your final destination, a return flight home or a refund. You’ll also be entitled to assistance such as meals, free phone calls and accommodation (if you’re stranded overnight). And you may be entitled to compensation proportionate to the distance you’re travelling – up to €600 (around NZ$1000) for flights further than 3500km.
In the US, if an airline cancels a flight for any reason, or there is a significant schedule change, and the passenger chooses not to travel, it must provide a refund. However, no compensation is required.
If you’re bumped from your flight due to over-booking, the Department of Transportation requires airlines to compensate passengers in some circumstances. Compensation is based on the length of the delay and whether you were voluntarily or involuntarily bumped. If it’s the latter, you can get up to 400% of your one-way fare capped at US$1550 (about NZ$2400).
Because of delays to an international flight, I missed my onward connection. Does the airline have to reimburse my extra expenses?
If the delay was within the airline’s control, yes. Similar to cancellations, if your flight journey is interrupted and you’re out of pocket, the airline must reimburse you under the Montreal Convention (up to around $11,000). If you’re flying through the EU, you may have additional protections.
If the airline doesn’t pay up, you can lodge a claim at the Disputes Tribunal. It’ll cost you $45 to file a claim if you’re asking for less than $2000 (the fee rises for claims above this).
For delays beyond the airline’s control, such as weather events, check with your travel insurer (if you have one), and the terms and conditions of your ticket, to see what you’re covered for.
The airline’s lost my bags on a domestic trip. Do they have to cover the cost of replacing my stuff?
Yes, but there’s a limit. When you’re flying domestically, your rights for lost baggage are set out in the Contract and Commercial Law Act (CCLA). Under the CCLA, the airline is liable for loss or damage to your bags up to $2000 per bag. So, if you’re travelling with pricey gear, it’s better to keep it with you rather than stow it in your baggage.
Under the CCLA, you have 30 days to make a claim. However, the airline is allowed to specify a shorter period in its contract. Air New Zealand gives you 30 days to report partially lost, destroyed, or damaged baggage. However, if your bag goes missing altogether, you only have 21 days to report it (from the date of arrival). Jetstar gives you 21 days to report a lost checked bag but only three days to report a damaged bag or issues with carry-on baggage.
My baggage has been lost in transit. What are my rights?
On an international flight, your baggage is covered by the Montreal Convention. The convention sets out the maximum amount an airline has to pay if your baggage is lost, damaged or delayed. The sum is about $2700 for each passenger.
If your baggage is delayed, the airline only has to cover the cost of essential items. Typically, airlines don’t accept liability for consequential losses.
To claim for damaged baggage, you must write to the airline within seven days of getting your bags back. For delayed luggage, you must claim within 21 days from the date the baggage should’ve been available to you.
Tip: Stuck in transit? Baggage gone walkabout? Your travel insurance may afford greater cover than the law. For instance, some comprehensive policies cover lost and unrecoverable baggage up to $30,000. See our Travel insurance guide for more information.
Can I get my money back if I want to cancel my stay?
Check the cancellation terms in the contract you were provided when you made the booking. Cancellation terms vary between providers.
The company says if I cancel, I have to pay a cancellation fee. Is that right?
It can only charge a cancellation fee if the terms and conditions in place at the time you made your booking allow for this – and the terms are fair. Companies can’t just charge whatever they like. A term allowing a company to charge a steep cancellation fee risks being unfair and breaching the Fair Trading Act.
If the contract allowed the company to cancel at any time without penalty but imposed a fee on the consumer for doing so, this also risks being unfair and breaching the Fair Trading Act.
Excessive cancellation fees may also be considered penalties under contract law and open to legal challenge.
If you’ve been unfairly stung, you may be able to get a chargeback from your bank if you paid by credit or debit card. Alternatively, you could lodge a claim in the Disputes Tribunal for a refund.
Make a complaint to the Commerce Commission and let us know too.
What if I can’t use the accommodation because of something like a pandemic or a storm?
First up, check the terms and conditions you were given at the time of making the booking. Look for a clause that states what happens if the accommodation can’t be used due to events outside the control of the parties. These terms sometimes use the words “act of god” or “force majeure”.
Any cancellation terms must be fair. If they’re not, the provider risks breaching the Fair Trading Act (FTA).
In our view, a term that lets the company keep a sizable chunk or all of your money is likely to be unfair and open to challenge.
If there’s nothing in the terms and conditions that states what happens, then you can rely on the CCLA.
The CCLA applies where a contract is “frustrated” – that is, it can’t be fulfilled due to events outside the parties’ control. It gives you the right to request a refund and limits what the company can charge to its reasonable administration costs.
A Consumer NZ member successfully took an Airbnb host to the Disputes Tribunal after the host refused a refund for a booking cancelled because of the August 2020 lockdown.
What happens if the terms entitle you to a refund but your accommodation provider refuses?
Contact your bank to ask about a chargeback (a refund to your card) if you paid by credit or debit card.
Alternatively, you could take the provider to the Disputes Tribunal.
What happens if the owner cancels my booking?
You’re entitled to a full refund. Some sites give you the option of transferring your payment to another property but you don’t have to accept this offer.
I was never shown any terms and conditions when I booked, but the company is now quoting them at me to refuse a refund. Do they apply?
No. Terms and conditions only form part of the deal if they were disclosed to you prior to making the booking.
Providers can’t just make up terms to suit themselves when circumstances change. The terms need to have been in place at the time the contract is made. Any attempt to impose new terms on a consumer is likely to breach the FTA.
What should I do if the property isn’t up to scratch?
If the property isn’t a patch on what was advertised – the ad claimed luxury accommodation or a beachfront location and you didn’t get it – you have grounds to seek compensation.
In the first instance, get in touch with the owner. No luck? Contact the website. Some offer dispute resolution processes. If that fails, head to the Disputes Tribunal to seek compensation.
Under the Consumer Guarantees Act, accommodation must be provided using reasonable care and skill, and be fit for purpose. In practice, this means the property must be available to guests over the pre-arranged period, reasonably clean and so on.
The FTA also prohibits traders from making misleading claims so they can’t misrepresent the condition of the property.
Can I claim compensation if the property is double-booked?
Yes. The Consumer Guarantees Act requires traders to carry out their services with reasonable care and skill. So if the property is advertised for rent when it’s not available, you’re entitled to a refund as well as reasonable consequential losses (the extra expenses you incurred).
Do I need to take out the excess reduction?
When you hire a car, you’ll be covered by the company’s standard insurance. However, if the car gets damaged, you’ll need to pay the excess. A standard excess can be several thousand dollars.
The car rental may offer you an “excess reduction” package so you don’t have to fork out for the excess. But they’re pricey and can double the cost of your rental.
An alternative to paying for excess reduction, is taking out travel insurance which covers the excess. However, if you do have an accident, you’d need to pay the excess up front and then claim it back from the insurer.
If you don’t buy the excess reduction package, the car rental company will likely place a hold on your credit card for the excess, so you won’t have the use of this money until the hold is removed.
Whether it’s an online travel agency that won’t refund your flights, or an accommodation provider who won’t refund your cancelled accommodation, your rights depend on where you are and what your contract says.
If you’re entitled to a refund and you paid by credit or debit card, you can apply for a chargeback through your bank.
Or you can take the company to the Disputes Tribunal.
If the business doesn’t operate here, you can try a chargeback, or rely on the consumer protections (if any) of its home country.