Expiration of travel credits in the event of a pandemic: what are the rules?
In late 2019, Cheryl Winton and her family planned a trip to Fort Myers, Florida.
When the pandemic hit, this trip, scheduled for spring 2020, was canceled, just as travel was halted for millions around the world at that time.
The $1,700 paid by Winton to FlightHub – a company she had used on several occasions – was not refunded, but a credit for future travel on WestJet was offered.
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A year later, Winton and his family still didn’t feel comfortable boarding a plane to the Sunshine State, so they didn’t book any new flights. The travel credit was due to expire on October 25, 2021.
“It wasn’t safe to travel,” Winton said in a TV interview outside his home in Alton, Ont.
She says she repeatedly tried to get a response from FlightHub and WestJet about whether flight credits would be extended again given the surge in Omicron cases and the federal government’s demand on Canadians. postpone non-essential travel outside the country.
“It was a total rush,” Winton said, referring to his efforts to get a response from travel agencies.
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The rules governing travel credits vary from province to province.
“It’s probably the number one complaint of the pandemic,” said Richard Smart, CEO of the Travel Industry Council of Ontario, or TICO.
The organization administers the province’s travel industry law and regulates approximately 2,400 registered travel wholesalers and retailers in Ontario.
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“We impose a one-year minimum requirement on these vouchers,” Smart said, adding that some registered travel organizations have extended them to two years or more. Some travel credits had no expiration, Smart said.
“In most cases…they extended those credits. It’s often in their interest to extend credit so the consumer will come back to them,” Smart said.
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Although TICO does not have the authority to require individual airlines to issue credits for a specific period, consumers who have purchased travel through their vacation affiliate – such as Air Canada Vacations, Sunwing Vacations or Vacations WestJet – that’s another story.
“If the consumer has dealt with the vacation arm of those airlines, we often facilitate those discussions and go back to the TICO agency and they work with their airlines. We have a good track record of extending their vouchers,” Smart said.
But TICO cannot require extensions beyond one year, Smart said, adding that extensions are made on a goodwill basis.
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In Winton’s case, TICO was unable to intervene because FlightHub is registered in Quebec and is governed by a different provincial regulator.
When Global News contacted FlightHub, the company almost immediately agreed to extend Winton’s credit.
“The customer now has until March 31, 2022 to book a new trip,” the company told Global News in an email.
“We have also submitted a special request to the airline to further extend the deadline beyond this date,” the spokesperson wrote.
Winton, contacted directly by Westjet shortly after the Global News interview, said the airline assured her it could get another 13-month extension beyond the March 31 deadline.
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Consumers facing expiring credits are encouraged to write to their travel agent, tour operator or airline to request an extension if they do not yet feel comfortable traveling.
Smart said that with high consumer call volumes, it’s best to avoid using the phone and instead use a travel provider’s online options.
“Yes, it will take a little longer to get back to them, but it’s definitely better than waiting six, seven, eight or nine hours on a call waiting to go through.”
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