To fly or not to fly

2014-03-16 14:00

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The cost of air travel is not cheap and even ‘low-budget’ airline flights charge you more than R1?000 for a local, return flight. But low-cost air tickets come with a nonrefundable clause, so you get what you pay for. Read the fine print before you buy because a refund might not fly

The fees you pay

Depending on the type of ticket you bought and whether or not you use the contact centre, you may have to fork out a fee to change the booking.

This fee varies from R171 to R342 per person per flight, depending on your ticket type.

“In addition, if there is a difference in cost between the original flight booked and the new flight, you will have to pay in the difference,” says Pozyn.

If the new flight fare is exactly the same as the original fare, or cheaper, then only the fee to change the booking will apply. It is interesting that makes no mention of a refund if the new flight is cheaper than the original flight you booked.

Mango, another budget airline, allows you to make changes to your booking at a cost of R280 per date, route or time change.

Note that the R280 charge only applies if you make the change via Mango’s website. If you want to make a change via the call centre or guest service centre at the airport, you will have to pay R370.

Mango has a polite notice on its website stating that if you want to change your flight and you find a flight at a cheaper fare than the original, “Mango is unable to refund a guest for the difference”. But if you find a more expensive flight, the airline has no qualms about adding the difference in fare to your bill.


Refunds from airlines are notoriously difficult to get. Michelle Kleu, the country manager for Travelstart SA, says it is usually easy to cancel a flight by calling either your travel agent or the airline directly. But complications arise when you ask for a refund.

“Each airline and even the type of fare you buy initially has different requirements to allow for a refund. It is best to check these with your agent or your airline before cancelling your ticket,” she warns.

You can get a refund if you were unable to travel due to being hospitalised or if you die. This is in line with the Consumer Protection Act, which states a supplier is not allowed to impose a cancellation fee in these cases.

The act goes on to state suppliers are allowed to charge you a “reasonable” cancellation fee. Pozyn says you need to provide proof of your hospitalisation, and if you die, a family member has to submit a copy of your death certificate for a refund.

Pozyn is also the marketing manager for British Airways, operated by Comair. This airline offers you a choice of a flexible fare, a semi-flexible fare or a non-flexible fare. With a flexible fare, you are able to cancel your flight for a 100% refund.

If you compare the costs of flights, you will likely find that you pay a premium for this “flexibility”.

If you travel on a semi-flexible fare, you receive a percentage of your money back if you cancel your flight. If you are watching your budget and buy the cheapest British Airways fare or a non-flexible ticket, you will be charged a 100% cancellation fee and don’t get your money back.

In other words, the airline will refund you for a cancelled flight if you pay a premium upfront for the privilege.

Kleu says if you are looking at a low-cost airline, the difference between the lowest restricted fare, for example, on a flight between Cape Town and Joburg, and a flexible fare can range from about R600 to R1?000, depending on the airline.

If you are hospitalised or if you die, British Airways will provide a full refund for both semi-flexible and non-flexible tickets. But again, you or your family will have to provide proof of hospitalisation or a death certificate.

Some airlines will offer you a voucher or allow you to move your flight to any date within a year. But this is normally only for the passenger whose name is on the ticket.

Kleu says low-cost airlines might offer you the option of changing the name of the person who is flying.

If this is the case, it makes using the ticket at a later date much easier because you could use the ticket for a family member.


How the act works

The Consumer Protection Act and flight cancellations

The act states that you have the right to cancel a deal made as a result of direct marketing within five days.

So if you received an email from ­advertising “low fares from Durban to Cape Town” and made a booking based on that email, you would be able to cancel the flight by giving the airline written notice within five days of making the booking.

As part of a disclaimer on its “airfare specials” emails, says: “Don’t forget about your right to cancel any booking made as a result of

receiving this email.

You can cancel your purchase in writing within five working days of paying for the booking. Once notice to cancel has been received, we will refund you the price of the ticket less any credit card charges.”

When do refunds apply

Khanyi wrote to City Press after he purchased four air tickets from last year and was not allowed to cancel them despite a family emergency.

He booked the tickets on November 19 to fly from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth on December 20.

On November 25, he called to cancel the flights.

“My aunt was critically ill and as the only family member in Gauteng, I couldn’t leave. Kulula refused to cancel on the grounds that she is not my immediate family,” he says. Khanyi asks if the refusal by to cancel his tickets contravenes the Consumer Protection Act.

Shaun Pozyn,’s marketing manager says if customers are unable to change their flight to another date or another route, a 100% cancellation fee applies. In other words, you lose the money you paid for your flight.

“We understand there may be times when customers are unable to travel, and therefore we allow customers the option of changing their flight to another date or even to another route so they don’t forfeit what they have paid,” he says.

You can change your flight online up to 24 hours before the flight departs. If you need to change a flight that leaves in less than 24 hours, you will have to contact the customer contact centre.

Staff at the contact centre can make changes to your flight arrangements up to 45 minutes before the scheduled departure of the original flight you booked. But Pozyn points out you pay a service fee per person per trip for changes made via the contact centre

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