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Flexible fare comparison: Qantas, Virgin, Jetstar

By danwarne     Filed under: qantas, Jetstar, tickets, ticket prices, cancellation fees, Virgin Australia, flexible fares

Flexible fares are becoming the new ticket of choice for Australian business travellers, and that's not before time.

The benefits are plain to see: you can change your time and date of travel, destination, the name on the ticket, or cancel for a refund without penalties. Some airlines let you make those changes even after the original flight has departed.

But for many years, flexi fares have been disproportionately expensive compared to the relatively small penalty fees for changing a standard discount economy airfares.

That's all changed in recent months, with the three major Australian airlines dropping the charade and reducing flexible fares to more reasonable prices.

Jetstar went first, then Virgin Australia and finally, Qantas -- all reduced their flexible fares from $400 for a one-way Sydney-Melbourne flight to between $94 (Jetstar) and $200 (Qantas/Virgin).

How do the flexi fares compare?

Ignoring price differences, here's how the three major airlines shape up when it comes to flexible fares.

At the time of writing, Virgin Australia has the superior flexi-fare deal.

It's around the same pricing level as Qantas' Flexi Saver fares but is fully refundable, even up to 24 hours after a flight departed -- provided you didn't check in for the original flight.

That said, there's still a $100 fee for a cash refund -- the only way to get a 'free' refund is to take it as an airline credit. (Qantas which doesn't allow any refunds at all on its Flexi Savers, only cancellation for airline credit.)

The only downside of the Virgin Australia Flexi ticket is that, unlike Qantas and Jetstar, it doesn't include the ability to book a seat with extra legroom as part of the deal. You have to pay additional "Blue Zone" fees for that. 

Kudos to Jetstar for allowing name changes for no fee at all -- a feature that could be handy for companies sending reps around the country who may need to step in for another staffer who's off sick or otherwise unavailable.

We've put together this table so you can see how each airline's flexi fare deal stacks up against the competition.

  Qantas Flexi-Saver Qantas
Virgin Australia Flexi
Max Bundle
Priority check-in No No Yes No
Priority boarding No No No Yes
Checked bag allowance 23kg, one bag 23kg, one bag 23kg, any number of bags No
Food and drinks Yes Yes Yes Yes
Extra leg room Exit rows available to all passengers free of charge. Exit rows available to all passengers free of charge. No (you still have to pay "Blue Zone" fees) Yes, if seats available
Change flights

Yes, prior to departure. Fees apply to telephone changes ($10 to $40).

Difference in fare needs to be paid.

Yes, but fees apply to telephone changes ($10 to $40).

Difference in fare needs to be paid.

Yes, up to 24 hours after flight departed if not checked in to original flight.

Difference in fare needs to be paid.

Yes, prior to the end of day of the date of original departure.

Difference in fare needs to be paid. 

Refunds Only for airline credit, prior to departure. Yes, even for no-shows. 

Yes, up to 24 hours after flight departed if not checked in to original flight.

No fee if refunded for airline credit, or $100 fee if refunded to original payment method.

Yes, prior to departure.

$50 fee per passenger, per booking, through call centre only.

Name change Yes, $80 Yes, $80 Yes, $80 through call centre only Yes (no fee)
Details (at airline's website) More... More... More... More...

About danwarne

Dan is a tech enthusiast who frequently qualifies for enhanced airport security screening due to the number of cords and gadgets stuffed into his cabin bag.


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