Buying Airline Tickets For Flight That’ll Never Fly

On a scale of 1 to 10, how choked would you be if you ordered and pre-paid something you really wanted and were later told it wouldn’t be available?

OK, how choked would you be if you couldn’t get it AND wouldn’t get a refund – just a credit for something else – sometime later – maybe?

That’s what it’s like when you take the chance of purchasing an airline ticket these days. You’re purchasing a specific flight on a specific day for a reason. But the odds are high that your flight will be cancelled. To add insult to injury, the airlines probably knew your flight would never take off even before you bought your ticket. There isn’t a person named Susan at Westjet in Calgary deciding that, or a Marcel at Air Canada in Montreal. It’s all done by computer projections. But while their system has long decided the flight will be cancelled – they still keep selling tickets for a flight that won’t take off. Between the two airlines, according to a CBC story, there were 39,000 flight cancellations in November alone. (12,000 Westjet and 27,000 Air Canada).

When that happens, you’ll be issued a credit instead of a refund. With both airlines you may be able to apply for a refund – but it’s hit and miss, and may take some time – if at all. According to CTV, Air Canada has quietly allowed some customers to apply for refunds. And according to Westjet’s website, stranded passengers can apply, but it may be six to nine months to work through the eligibility requirements. If you took the chance of booking through Sunwing, it’s travel vouchers only, good for two years.

A McGill University lecturer called it “bait and switch” and “deceptive” in a CBC story. All the Minister of Transport could come up with is “the situation is complicated.” No it’s not. You paid, they didn’t deliver – you get your money back to try again another time if you so choose. That wouldn’t be any different for any other retailers.

I had two flights I should have taken since November. I didn’t, and had to make the long drives, instead. I can’t trust either airlines, and I would have been out hundreds of extra dollars with a non-refundable hotel and car rental, in addition to the airfare. No way – no chance.

Before you play Russian roulette with buying any tickets, you should call your credit card company and ask if they will refund you if you dispute the charges for a cancelled flight within the 60-days required by law. And you should really get that in writing. You also need to spend some time on the airline website to get their exact credit or refund rules for your specific flight and print it out. You may also want to book through a travel agent who will know the refund rules if you make it clear in writing that it must be a refundable ticked not an IOU refund. Fourth, you’ll have to pay a lot extra for any car rental or hotel at your destination. You certainly can’t take the chance you won’t actually get there to use them. Lastly, if you have them, try to book your flight on mileage or airline points. Call your credit card issuer to first confirm that a cancelled flight will get your points refunded where you won’t be out anything.

If you don’t, just remember that you will have a credit voucher to use. But when you do want to fly again, it’ll have to be with that airline. If the other airline has a great seat sale, it won’t matter because you’ll be stuck with the other airline’s voucher and paying whatever they’re charging.

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