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Prospective travellers struggle to book flights using airline-issued vouchers
VANCOUVER -- The pandemic brought commercial aviation to a standstill this spring, and thousands of Canadians had their travel plans abruptly cancelled. And while many are still angry they weren't given refunds for their flights, some are starting to use the vouchers they were issued instead. But they're finding the process restrictive and confusing.
Andy Buckley and his wife have travel vouchers worth more than $1,200 that they need to spend on an upcoming move.
"I had about four flights with Air Canada that (were) cancelled due to – obviously – COVID-19," he told CTV News Vancouver.
Last week, Buckley tried to use those credits to book a $313 flight to Halifax. But then he had to pick which of his four credits to apply. If he chose the largest voucher, for $394.20, he would forfeit the remaining $81.50. If he used one of the smaller vouchers, for $194.38, he'd have to make up the difference on his credit card – even though he still has hundreds of dollars in credit with the airline to use.
"I thought it was a joke, to be honest, because I feel like the flights should have been refunded anyway," Buckley says. “So I was kind of shocked that I’d have to pick and choose - sacrifice credit or spend even more money with Air Canada in the end.” And McLaughlin On Your Side has heard from other customers who have had the same issue.
WestJet has a very different voucher system. Passengers who booked flights directly through the airline were issued "Travel Bank" credits, which are transferable, and can be combined and used all at once.
Buckley says he found Air Canada's process disorganized, and the agent he spoke with didn't seem to clearly understand the policy.
"It's probably angered, or will anger, a lot of people who try to book flights with a credit," he says.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the issue last week in Ottawa, after a petition demanding refunds garnered thousands of signatures. "Many Canadians are out of pocket for tickets that they are obviously not going to be using," he said. While passengers in Canada are entitled to refunds under passenger rights rules, the Canadian Transportation Agency has not enforced that with the airlines.
And it seems Air Canada has responded to some of the pressure from both politicians and customer complaints. The company has announced changes that will provide customers with more flexibility. Travel vouchers will have no expiry date, be fully transferable and will retain any residual value.
Air Canada is also offering to convert vouchers into Aeroplan Miles, adding a 65 per cent bonus on the conversion. If you are considering the bonus offer on your cancelled flights, be aware that while it may seem enticing, the value of those miles can change and they can expire.
The announced changes will be retroactive for customers who had original travel booked as far back as March 1, but the portal to take advantage of that won’t be available until June 15.
It's a little late to the gate for Andy Buckley. He had to book his flight this week because he's moving across the country.
"A little late – I think that's being generous. That's a generous way of saying it," he says, adding he ended up using one of the lesser value vouchers to partially cover the fare on his booking, and then paid for the rest with more of his own money.