Flexible fares in Australia usually come packed with plenty of perks: stress-free changes, opportunity to cancel for credit, more frequent flyer points and Status Credits bundled in, plus a lower threshold to upgrade to Business Class where offered.

So what’s stopping most people opting for these ‘golden tickets’? It’s the cost, of course. We’re not talking a nominal fare difference either — sometimes flexible fares can be more than triple the price of the cheapest non-flexible Economy ticket.

If your work pays for your flexible fare, then that’s easy. You get to benefit from the perks and your employer has peace-of-mind should things go wrong. But what if you need to fund travel out of your own pocket?

What are the different flexible fares on offer domestically?

For a bit of context and comparison, here is a brief summary of the different fares available with major Australian domestic carriers — both restricted and flexible, for your comparison.

Note: The tables below show each airline’s usual change and cancellation policies. Additional COVID-19 waivers may apply which may temporarily eliminate some of the fees listed below. Links are provided where relevant.

Qantas Airways Logo Qantas domestic fare rules [2021]

The Red Roo keeps it simple with just three different cash fares on offer — Economy Red e-Deal and Flex, plus Business Class. In addition, Qantas Classic Flight Rewards using points are great value as well.

Note: Qantas may be waiving some change fees due to COVID-19 until January 2022. Check its latest ‘Fly Flexible’ updates for more information. The table below shows the usual change and cancellation fees that apply.

 Qantas ChangesQantas CreditsQantas Refunds
Economy Red e-Deal🟡 $99 fee (+ fare difference)🟡 $99 fee (keep value as credit)❌ (not permitted)
Economy Flex✅ (+ fare difference)✅ (keep value as credit)🟡 $99 fee (remainder refunded)
Business✅ (+ fare difference)✅ (keep value as credit)✅ (full refund)
Classic Flight Reward (Qantas Points)🟡 5,000 points fee (+ fare difference)n/a🟡 6,000 points fee (remainder refunded)

Virgin Australia Logo Virgin Australia domestic fare rules [2021]

You have a choice of three different Economy fares and two Business Class fares when travelling with Virgin Australia, plus its popular Reward Seat option using Velocity Points.

Note: Virgin Australia may be waiving some change and cancellation fees until mid-2021 due to COVID-19. Check its latest ‘Flying Flexible’ updates for more information. The table below shows the usual change and cancellation fees that apply.

 Virgin Australia ChangesVirgin Australia CreditsVirgin Australia Refunds
Economy Getaway🟡 $90 fee (+ fare difference)❌ (not permitted)❌ (not permitted)
Economy ElevateUp to 30 days before departure
✅ (+ fare difference)

Within 30 days of departure
🟡 $70 fee (+ fare difference)
🟡 $70 fee (keep value in Travel Bank)❌ (not permitted)
Economy Freedom✅ (+ fare difference)✅ (keep value in Travel Bank)🟡 $80 fee (remainder refunded)
Business Saver✅ (+ fare difference)🟡 $50 fee (keep value in Travel Bank)❌ (not permitted)
Business✅ (+ fare difference)✅ (keep value in Travel Bank)✅ (full refund)
Velocity Reward Seat (Velocity Points)🟡 4,500 points or $35 fee (+ fare difference)n/a🟡 4,500 points or $35 fee (remainder refunded)

Rex domestic fare rules [2021]

Rex will be the newest entrant to the competitive Australia domestic capital city market when it launches flights with Business Class from March 2021. The airline also offers the most choice, with three Economy and three Business Class fares to choose from.

Its standard fees are also the lowest, at A$33 per allowable change. Note that different change/cancellation cut-offs apply for various fare levels, so see the Rex website for full details.

 Rex ChangesRex CreditsRex Refunds
Economy Promo🟡 $33 fee (+ fare difference)❌ (not permitted)❌ (not permitted)
Economy SaverUp to 14 days before departure
✅ (+ fare difference)

Within 14 days of departure
🟡 $33 fee (+ fare difference)
🟡 $33 fee (keep value in Travel Bank)❌ (not permitted)
Economy Flex✅ (+ fare difference)✅ (keep value in Travel Bank)🟡 $33 fee (remainder refunded)
Biz SaverUp to 7 days before departure
✅ (+ fare difference)

Within 7 days of departure
🟡 $33 fee (+ fare difference)
✅ (keep value in Travel Bank)🟡 $33 fee (remainder refunded)
Biz✅ (+ fare difference)✅ (keep value in Travel Bank)🟡 $33 fee (remainder refunded)
Biz Plus✅ (+ fare difference)✅ (keep value in Travel Bank)🟡 $33 fee (remainder refunded)

Jetstar logo - CopyJetstar domestic fare rules [2021]

As a low-cost carrier, don’t expect much flexibility from Jetstar. The airline doesn’t have a lenient COVID-19 change/cancellation policy either, so you are advised to purchase a bundle with flexibility or add the FareCredit option at checkout for the ability to cancel any eligible fare.

 Jetstar ChangesJetstar CreditsJetstar Refunds
Starter Fare🟡 $55 fee (+ fare difference)❌ (not permitted)❌ (not permitted)
Starter Fare
with Plus Bundle
✅ (+ fare difference)❌ (not permitted)❌ (not permitted)
Starter Fare
with Flex Bundle
Before day of departure
🟡 $55 fee (+ fare difference)

On day of departure
✅ (for same-day flights only)
✅ (Jetstar Voucher)❌ (not permitted)
Starter Fare
with Max Bundle
✅ (+ fare difference)✅ (Jetstar Voucher)❌ (not permitted)
Jetstar FareCredit
Add-On
(as per above fare rules)✅ (Jetstar Voucher, overrides previous fare rules)❌ (not permitted)
Classic Flight Reward (Qantas Points)🟡 5,000 points fee (+ fare difference)n/a🟡 6,000 points fee (remainder refunded)

When does it make sense to pay for flexible fares?

In many cases, the difference between discounted and flexible fares is so great that you may be better off going for the cheaper option and copping a penalty if your plans change later on.

In the screenshot below, Qantas is selling a Perth-Sydney flight for $214 in Red e-Deal and $787 in Flex — that’s a 3.7x increase! On the same day, Virgin’s cheapest Economy fare is $179 while its flexible Freedom fare is $689 — 3.8x more.

In both cases, a Business Class cash ticket is available for about $160-$210 more over the flexible Economy fare, which could represent better value for this transcontinental journey.

1. If you’re travelling last minute or during peak periods

If you need to dash off somewhere last minute, such as for a family emergency, then usually you will have no choice but to buy an expensive flexible fare (and even if discounted tickets are available, it may still not be that much cheaper anymore).

The same applies for peak periods of travel, where it’s not unheard of to see Business Class fares cheaper than flexible Economy tickets, as shown in the screenshot below!

In either case, be sure to compare your fare options to maximise your comfort and frequent flyer benefits on the trip, especially if you can nab a Business Class ticket at a comparable price to Economy.

Virgin Last Minute Fares
A time where I had to fly last minute from Melbourne to Launceston and there were exactly 3 seats left for the day — one in Economy and two in Business.

2. If you’re just short of the Status Credits needed for elite status

Normally, we’re not advocates of ‘status runs’ where you’re essentially spending more money than you need to maintain airline status, such as Velocity or Qantas Frequent Flyer Gold and Platinum.

But within the Qantas-Jetstar partnership, there is a way to rack up those Status Credits on the cheap, by buying a flexible ‘Max’ bundle. This ‘hack’ works very well if you’re very close to requalifying (say, 40 Status Credits) and want to do so with as little spend and time as possible.

On the Melbourne-Sydney route, you’d have two economical options for earning those 40 Status Credits on a return trip:

  • Fly Qantas Economy Flex (~$522 each way) to earn 40 Status Credits on a return trip
  • Fly Jetstar Economy with Max Bundle (~$174 each way) to also earn 40 Status Credits return, plus have other bundle benefits included
Jetstar bundle
A Jetstar Max bundle introduces flexibility at a relatively low price.

A Jetstar Max Bundle costs $85 to add each way, and base Sydney-Melbourne fares usually hover around $89 each way — hence the combined total of $174 for the flexible fare, which is far better than Qantas’ usual asking price above $500.

3. If you want to upgrade for less

In some scenarios, if you’re very set on flying Business Class and also have some frequent flyer points to burn, it could make sense to buy a flexible Economy fare and lodge an upgrade request.

For example, Qantas upgrades on transcontinental routes such as Perth-Sydney and Melbourne-Perth usually cost 27,200 points from discount Economy, whereas it’s just 10,900 points from flexible Economy.

If you have a balance of 12,000 Qantas Points — not enough for a Classic Flight Reward in any class on the route — then buying a ~$750 flexible fare and lodging an upgrade for 10,900 points could be a viable alternative to paying the full price for Business Class.

A guide to Qantas Points transfer promotions from bank rewards programs
Instead of paying $1,500 for Business Class, you could purchase a flexible Economy fare for less and upgrade with just 10,900 Qantas Points for this suite experience.

It’s a similar story for Velocity Frequent Flyer, where an eye-watering 30,000 points are needed for Perth-transcon flight upgrades from Getaway or Elevate fares, but only 9,900 points from an Economy Freedom fare.

Summing up

To be perfectly candid, it is rarely a sensible idea to personally fund fully flexible fares. The costs usually strongly outweigh any benefits, especially for price-conscious travellers.

Those flexi-fares are usually designed for corporates and businesses with deep pockets, where flexibility and convenience is key and price is of little concern. Therefore, it’s pricing usually makes it quite out-of-reach for ordinary travellers.

But in some scenarios such as above, it could make sense when your travel options are limited, when you’re hoping to earn more points or Status Credits, and when you’re looking to upgrade to Business Class without needing to spend much more cash.

Remember, using points for reward seats remains a viable alternative for those with enough points. Not only can you fly Economy or Business Class for a reasonable rate and without parting with too much cash, but reward seat bookings are also inherently flexible.

Does it ever make sense to personally fund flexible fares? was last modified: February 8th, 2021 by Brandon Loo