Before buying an airline ticket, make sure you understand the terms and conditions that apply to cancelling or changing your flight.

Before you buy

Before buying an airline ticket, make sure you understand the terms and conditions that apply to cancelling or changing your flight.

When buying tickets:

  • buy from a reputable travel agent, travel site or airline
  • consider paying by credit or debit card when buying tickets online – if you have a problem, eg the tickets don't arrive, you can ask your bank to reverse the payment (called a chargeback)
  • keep conversation records so if anything goes wrong, you have proof of what was said and agreed to
  • consider travel insurance, which may cover you for things outside the airline's control – for example flights are cancelled due to bad weather.

Your rights

Travel agents and airlines must comply with the service guarantees in the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) and Fair Trading Act. This means:

  • they must be competent and professional
  • their services must be fit for your particular purpose. For example, have wheelchair facilities if you have asked for them or you tell the travel agent that you are travelling because you want to go to a particular event, the flights they book need to be such that you can get to the event on time.

A flight ticket is a contract between you and the airline. Before you buy it, the airline must clearly display, or tell you, the ticket's terms and conditions.

They cannot:

  • rely on terms and conditions – sometimes called 'conditions of carriage' – printed only on the ticket, unless you were given a reasonable chance to read them before you bought it
  • avoid compensating you for cancelled or delayed flights that were their fault, even if their terms and conditions say they can. 

Your rights when flying internationally depend on:

  • where you are travelling from
  • where you are travelling to
  • the rules of the country the airline is based in.
cancelled flights

Check your rights 

Find out if you're entitled to a refund and how to claim compensation for losses and extra costs. Use our Flights consumer rights finder

Flight delayed, cancelled or bumped

If a flight is delayed or cancelled, the right to refund depends on whether it was the airline’s fault or not and whether you’re flying domestically or internationally.

Domestic flights here in New Zealand

What to expect if it was the airline’s fault

You're entitled to a refund (unless you accept another remedy, like rebooking)

If a flight is cancelled or delayed, and it was the airline’s fault, you are entitled to reasonable compensation for any additional loss you suffered. This is on top of any refund, rebooking or credit. You are also entitled to whatever terms and conditions provide for.

It may be their fault if:

  • the flight is overbooked so you can't get on — called being 'bumped'
  • there are mechanical issues
  • there aren't enough staff to service the flight.

How much you get depends on how much you've been inconvenienced – for example, you may have had to pay for extra meals, taxi fares or accommodation because of the delay – up to a maximum of 10 times the cost of your flight. Keep a record of any extra costs as proof.

Example — Bumped flight

Margaret books a seat on a flight from Christchurch to Wellington to go for a weekend away. She has tickets to see a musical that night. When she arrives at the airport she is told the flight is full and they have bumped her onto a flight the next day. She doesn't need to pay for the new flight but has to catch a taxi home, and will miss the musical. She doesn't think this sounds fair. Before arriving at the airport the next morning, she reads her rights and collects together the receipts from the taxi and the musical. The airline agrees to give her a full refund for her taxi and concert tickets.

What to expect if it wasn’t the airline’s fault

The airline does not have to compensate you if the cancellation or delay could not have been avoided, for example if there's extreme weather and air traffic control says the plane can't take off.

You may be entitled to a refund, credit or other remedy set out in the terms and conditions. It always pays to ask for a credit or to be rebooked on a later flight, sometimes an airline will give a refund anyway.

If a flight is cancelled due to mandatory government shutdown airlines are not responsible for providing a resolution or alternate plan for continuation of your journey. However, airlines operating within New Zealand will need to give you a refund unless their terms and conditions expressly provide that you are not entitled to one. This will vary from airline to airline so it is important to refer to your booking terms and conditions.

If the airline offers you less than you think you're entitled to, let them know. Provide evidence of your losses, for example extra costs, lost income, and ask them to reconsider. If you still can't agree, your next step is taking your case to the Disputes Tribunal.

What the tribunal can help with(external link)  — Disputes Tribunal

International flights

Changing your bookings

Bookings made through a travel agent

If you book through a travel agent, tour company or a third party booking website you should contact them if there is an issue with the way your flights have been booked – for example if there is not enough time between your connecting flights.

Flight cancellations, refunds and credits are usually dealt with through the travel agent.

Under the Consumer Guarantees Act, they must carry out the service they offer with reasonable care and skill.

If you want to cancel or change your flight – domestic flights

Here in New Zealand, if you need to cancel a flight, you'll normally only be entitled to a refund if you paid for a refundable fare. Some booking sites provide additional cancellation rights.

Any refund should include the optional extras you bought when you booked your flight.

If you can't get a refund, you could:

  • change your flight to another date – you may have to pay extra to do this
  • ask for a credit to use on a flight at another time.

If you want to cancel or change your flights – international flights

If you need to change or cancel your flight, you should do this directly with the airline or through your travel agent or booking website.

You may have to pay to make changes, depending on the type of ticket you booked. You are not entitled to a refund for a cancelled ticket unless the terms and conditions say you are.

Bookings made direct with airlines

If you booked direct and there is an issue with the airline, for example you are bumped from your flight or your luggage is lost or damaged, you should deal with the airline directly.

Lost or damaged luggage refunds

Hand luggage: you are responsible for luggage you keep with you during a trip. However, the carrier must compensate you if hand luggage is lost or damaged through their carelessness.

Checked in luggage: the airline is responsible for luggage while it is checked in.

Steps to take if things go wrong

If you have problems with your airline ticket or flight, for example you've been moved from the flight you booked, your flight is cancelled or severely delayed, you can make a complaint or make a claim.

Make a complaint

  1. Contact the travel agent/airline – explain the issue and tell them what you would like done about it.
  2. Claim on insurance – If the problem is not the airline's fault, eg your plane is cancelled because of bad weather.
  3. Apply for a Chargeback – If the travel agent/airline refuses to help, your bank or credit card company may be able to reverse charges to your card.
  4. Take it further – You can take formal disputes to the Disputes Tribunal and/or report the business to Commerce Commission.
  5. Get more help – Citizens Advice Bureau can advise and support you at any point.

Before you complain

  • Know what the business must do – read Your rights above.
  • Check the terms and conditions of your ticket  this will help you understand what you can expect for example you may not be able to change your travel date without being charged.
  • Gather proof for example emails between you and the travel agent or airline, bank statements, details of conversations and dates.
  • Decide your ideal outcome – for example an apology, travel vouchers, money back.
  • Think about what you will say – for example what you are unhappy about and what you would like the business to do.

When you complain

  • Stick to the facts – explain the problem in detail and provide any evidence you may have in the form of receipts for expenses incurred.
  • Be clear it is a complaint – use the word 'complaint' in your phone call, instant message or email.
  • Tell them what you want – be clear what will fix your concern.
  • Take time out, if needed – if the conversation is getting heated or you need time to consider their response, arrange a time to call, email or message back. Explain you need time to think about the conversation.

How to complain

Make a claim

Claim on insurance

Travel insurance may cover expenses when it is not the airline's fault, for example if you miss your flight, or if bad weather means the flight is cancelled or delayed. Check your travel policy to see what it covers.

If you're travelling within New Zealand you may be covered by your normal contents insurance – check your policy to find out more.

Apply for a chargeback

Your bank or credit card company may reverse credit or debit card charges in certain situations – called a chargeback. Do this if you've paid a travel agent, or overseas airline, for a flight they haven't then booked or are owed refund on a cancelled flight that has not been provided. Chargebacks are only available for a short time after you made the transaction – usually about 30 days. Ask your bank what their time limit is and how to apply .

Chargebacks(external link) — Banking Ombudsman

Take your complaint further

If you aren't getting anywhere with the travel agent or airline, going to the Disputes Tribunal may be your next step. If you're disputing more than $30,000, you will need to go through the District Court. In this case, talk to Community Law Centre or a lawyer first.

Bear in mind, if the travel agent/airline is overseas it may be harder to enforce any formal decision.

What the tribunal can help with(external link)  — Disputes Tribunal

You can report the business to the Commerce Commission if:

  • you think you have been misled
  • the business has said something that is not true.

Commerce Commission can't investigate every complaint, or solve your individual problem. But they can warn or prosecute the business. Your information helps them assess which consumer issues are causing the greatest harm.

Make a complaint(external link)  — Commerce Commission

More help

Get support from:

  • Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) – a free, independent service, run by volunteers. CAB can advise you on your consumer rights and obligations, in person, by phone, or online.
  • Community Law Centre – offers free one-on-one legal advice to people with limited finances. The organisation has 24 community law centres throughout the country. You can find legal information and other resources on its website.

Find a CAB(external link)  — Citizens Advice Bureau

Our law centres(external link)  — Community Law Centres