In the fall of 2015, I planned to travel from Toronto to Vancouver and back. I booked my outbound flight with WestJet, and the return flight with Air Canada, because the timing of those flights was most convenient for me. Then an unforeseen problem arose, and I had to cancel my trip. Each airline told me I could cancel my flight, pay a penalty (I thought it was $100 in each case), then apply the credit balance to another flight, so long as I used my credit within a year.
Half a year later, I've got another trip planned, from Toronto to Regina this time, and I've just tried using my credits. WestJet was no problem at all. They had simply deducted the penalty from the amount I had paid last fall, and put the resulting credit in a travel bank. I booked my shorter flight, using part of the amount in my bank, and now I still have a small amount of credit left over to apply to yet another flight, provided I take it before the year expires. All was as it should be.
Air Canada was another story. My new flight is shorter and cheaper than the previous one, so they said they would pay for the ticket out of my credit, but I would have to forfeit the difference in price.
Furthermore, I would have to pay additional HST on the new ticket because the flight would originate from a different province, and I wouldn't be allowed to use the money sitting in my credit account to cover those taxes. Finally, there was still the $100 cancellation penalty to be paid, but that likewise cannot be taken out of the credit account.
The only thing that could be done with that surplus would be to forfeit it. And I'd have to pay an additional $146 now in taxes and penalties for the privilege of using up a portion of my credit.
I was so taken aback by Air Canada's bizarre policy that I declined to make the booking and demanded to speak to a supervisor. Couldn't be done. The best the operator could do was tell me how to file a complaint via the Air Canada website.
I did so, back on April 20. Among other things, I mentioned that I would blog publicly about this ridiculous policy unless they made it right. My complaint generated an automated response saying that I could rest assured that an Air Canada representative would get back to me as soon as possible.
They still hadn't responded further after five days, and I needed to make sure I had a flight arranged, so I thought perhaps that if I called Air Canada again and spoke to a different operator, it would turn out that the first operator had been wrong about the policy.
Nope, the only improvement was that the second operator told me the cancellation penalty was only $75 rather than $100, because it was incurred back last fall before Air Canada raised it. But the other unreasonable aspects of their policy -- having to forfeit the surplus credit instead of being able to apply it to the penalty and the taxes -- still applied. I threw in the towel, booked the flight and decided I would definitely write this blog post.
It seems that the complaint I filed is not terribly important to Air Canada. Let's see if they respond now that they know it has been publicized.
Incidentally, I was able to book the WestJet flight online by clicking a link on their website that said "Book using WestJet dollars". It was quick and easy. Air Canada's site seems to have no such link if you are trying to use a credit for booking. I had to phone them, spending about half an hour on hold each time before I finally reached an operator.
If Air Canada wants my business again, it's going to have to pull up its socks.
Follow Karen Selick on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@kselick