Air New Zealand has reintroduced its credit policy, but finding similar-priced new airfares can be a challenge.
Josh Martin is a London-based Kiwi journalist.
OPINION: As the world emerged from Covid restrictions, it didn’t take long for airlines to revert to their non-refundable, inflexible airfares. The emails promising “worry-free travel” with extended periods of free rebooking zero change fees, even refunds in some cases seemed to dry up.
My go-to airfare search engine Kayak still has a search filter to find only the flight options with free rebooking…but switch it on and it’ll return a grand total of zero results. And when you now can find it, it’s an add-on, going the same way as checked luggage, meals or seat selection.
Until recently, Air New Zealand’s flexichange airfares operated in a similar way: pay a bit more to have more options should you need to change you mind or if you cannot fly – an insurance policy of sorts. So, Air New Zealand should be praised for expanding the policy after a surge in Covid cases. Anything to free up the call centre phone lines, right?
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The policy allows would-be passengers to rebook flights on a later date or take flight credit if things like falling ill with Covid-19 or having to take care of a sick relative means you can’t fly, but only if you were booked to travel before 31 August. At the time of the policy rejig one of its executives said it was in response to a surge in customers and some staff being struck down with winter illnesses. However, some still aren’t too happy.
Due to a near-perfect storm of flight cancellations, school holiday peak season and a distinct lack of competition on many routes, some have found the overall cost of rebooking new flights still very expensive, particularly if you try and move a flight forward. If only New Zealand had some other viable long-range travel options?
Flights budgeted for and purchased six months ago are reasonable, but delaying your flights for new ones a week or so after the original airfares can be sky-high…even if an extra change fee is waived. Your cancellation and swap to a flight a week earlier or later also means the airline – if all goes to plan – can sell both your old seat and your new one at above-average prices.
That’s because industry-standard dynamic pricing used by airlines often penalizes last-minute bookings. It’s best to see this add-on as a Covid-era perk that will perhaps soften the blow of extra charges should your circumstances change, rather than erase them altogether. It’s designed to let you delay a flight or flights and it is possible to rebook without having to pay extra.
However, you also won’t get back the difference in price should your rebooked flights actually come out cheaper. To completely reorganise its pricing strategy to let all customers chop-and-change flights and flight times as they wish, based on their original price paid, just because of a jump in Covid-19 cases was perhaps a bridge too far for the taxpayer funded airline.
So, once the blanket policy ends at the end of winter, is it worth the upfront cost (approx $80 extra for return domestic flights) to scrap a change fee? Or is it better to go all-in and opt for flexirefund (approx $120 extra for return domestic flights), which at least allows for a full refund should your plans go awry?
If you are already thinking about buying what is basically a flight insurance policy perhaps pay a bit more for the top tier option which allows you to properly start over again – including with another airline, transport mode or not at all.
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