17 Jul 2020

Air NZ offers solution after customers slam 'unfair' credit system

12:25 pm on 17 July 2020

Frustrated Air New Zealand customers who have been waiting for months to get a refund may finally be able to manage their money online.

Air New Zealand airplanes wait for passengers outside the international terminal as a plane taxis (L) at Wellington International airport on February 20, 2020.

Air New Zealand airplanes wait for passengers at Wellington International airport on February 20, 2020. Photo: AFP

Last month, the airline apologised for its credit system - set up to refund customers whose flights were cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic - which they admitted wasn't user-friendly.

Air New Zealand said an online tool to allow customers to manage their credit would finally be available at the end of July.

Some customers found it difficult to get information on using the credits after having to spend extra on new tickets due to continued flight cancellations.

In January, Auckland tour guide Zhang Ningyuan booked five sets of domestic return tickets for a group from China through a travel agency.

The tour was cancelled after New Zealand shut its borders to those arriving from China. Zhang had been waiting on the money ever since the airline promised a full refund, and had only received it last night.

"It's a little bit too long and not many information for me. They just say 'wait'," he said.

Air New Zealand told RNZ a processing error had caused the delay.

Another Aucklander, Chantell Xie, said her parents-in-law's flights to China were cancelled three times.

They booked the tickets through Chinese website Trip.com and chose to rebook after each cancellation, paying an extra service fee and the price difference.

The cost for their first rebooking was covered by insurance, but the second one cost more than $3000.

"We understand the cancellation of the flights because of the pandemic, but if they charge so much money, like the [price] difference and the handling fee - it's unfair."

Xie said they were hesitant to book any more flights with Air New Zealand after their next one in September was also cancelled.

Her in-laws were also applying for new visas because their current ones expire before the next available flight in late October, and they might also need to do a medical examination as required by the immigration process - all of which were added costs, Xie said.

She said the family had phoned both the travel agency and Air New Zealand many times but there was no firm answer.

"We still don't know when will we fly and if we will be charged some more money. Also we don't know whether the visa can be extended."

Air New Zealand said it did not charge fees for processing credits and refunds on tickets booked directly through the airline, but people needed to talk to their agent if they booked via a third party.

RNZ has approached the travel agency for comment.

Aucklander Kelly Da, who has been in China for family reasons since March, said she struggled to use her credits for two separate bookings, and had been unable to get in touch with the airline.

"When I checked a few days ago, I can't even see how many credits left in my account, because the website is not working and I was advised to call them, but I waited for more than one hour and I can't get hold of them."

Da said the airline needed to take more responsibility - for example arranging flights with other airlines or offering alternative dates without charging extra.

She said she had booked a ticket back to Auckland with another airline because she was worried more money would be held in credit by Air New Zealand if there was another cancellation.

"I think it's unfair to us, because for me, I already have more than $2000 locked by Air New Zealand and I can't do anything with it."

In a statement, Air New Zealand said the new online credit redeem tool would allow customers to view and use their credit on its website with more flexibility, including enabling the user to choose who the credit is used for and extending the period in which credits could be used.

"They now have until 30 June 2021 to book and a further 12 months after booking to travel."

The airline has also increased staffing in its contact centre to 700 people, but said high demand meant longer-than-usual wait times.

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