Travel delays, cancellations and insurance: What you need to know

By Krystal Gibbens of RNZ

Easter is just around the corner and many of us will be looking forward to a nice holiday with a side of chocolate.

But with Auckland Anniversary, Waitangi and New Year's Eve all experiencing weather issues in various parts of the country over the past year, it might be a good idea to know your rights before you travel.

RNZ spoke to Consumer NZ communications and campaigns manager Jessica Walker to find out what your rights are when your travel plans fly out the window.

Domestic flights

If your flight is delayed or cancelled due to an event within the airline's control - for example - staffing and mechanical issues, the Civil Aviation Act (CAA) says you are entitled to refund.

In this instance, Walker said it was worth keeping receipts for any costs you incur (such as food or accommodation) because the CAA stated you were entitled to reimbursement of up to 10 times the cost of the ticket, or the actual cost of delay, whichever was lower.

"You shouldn't be out of pocket because of a cancellation that's within the airline's control," she said.

But that would not mean the airline would foot the bill for you to stay in a 5-star hotel. Walker said the airline was only expected to cover costs which were "reasonable".

Meanwhile, if the delay or cancellation was outside of the airline's control - such as bad weather or a mandatory government shutdown - they do not have to reimburse you at all.

In this case, your rights depend on the terms of your fare.

International flights

What your rights are for international flights depends on where you are, where you are going and where the airline is based.

Walker said many places were covered by the Montreal Convention, but others such as the European Union had their own rules.

If flying internationally, people were best to check what protections would apply to their travel.

Other travel costs

But it is not just missed flights. If you cannot make it to your destination, there are also costs such as accommodation, booked events or tours, rental cars and any other pre-paid costs.

Walker said if the reason you could not get there was due to the fault of the airline, these were costs you could claim back from them.

But in cases not related to a fault of the airline, refunds depended on the terms and conditions set out in the booking.

Walker said in cases such as booking accommodation, it was advisable to read the terms and conditions.

"If you know the terms and conditions before you accept a booking, it puts you in a really strong position, and so at least that way you know any risks that you're taking on, but it also means that you're aware of your rights."

Walker said the provider could not retroactively change those terms and conditions.

Is travel insurance worth it?

While most of your consumer rights are protected by law, travel insurance may cover some expenses not protected - like when a cancellation is not the airline's fault.

Walker said while many scenarios - such as lost luggage - were covered under people's consumer rights, travel insurance could help them get reimbursed in situations like bad weather and provide "peace of mind."

"Especially when you're flying internationally, then travel insurance is absolutely a good idea."

But when flying domestically, she recommended people think about their personal circumstances, and whether they could afford to incur any fees if their flight was suddenly cancelled.

"If you book cheap flights and your travel insurance is going to cost more than the cost of the flights, you might want to weigh up whether it really is in your best interest."

For those travelling domestically, some insurers contents insurance policies also cover any belongings brought on holiday, but that depended on each individual insurer.

Who can help if you have a complaint

In the first instance, contact the airline or agent who the booking was made with.

If the travel disruption was not their fault, claim on insurance.

If the company was unwilling to cooperate, you can get help from the Citizens Advice Bureau and report the company to the Commerce Commission.

If you needed to take it further, your bank might be able to do a chargeback, and for a small fee, you can take your complaint to the Disputes Tribunal.