When is a credit not really a credit? Just ask Air Canada

It’s a sad day when grandparents have to cancel their planned flights to spend Christmas with their kids and grandkids, but that’s what we had to do when we both came down with the cold to end all colds in December. One nice thing that came out of our call to Air Canada was that the man taking our call sympathized with our plight and told us that we’d have a flight credit recorded on our account that we could use for a future flight. The credit just had to be used within a year of the issuing of our tickets. Given that most Canadians have a love-hate relationship with our only national airline (a near monopoly, especially outside the major cities), this reassurance definitely put us closer to the “love” side of the equation. At that point in time.

Yesterday we made the decision to visit one of our sons and other family members in Toronto over Easter. It would be a less complicated ticket than our Christmas ticket, just Fredericton – Toronto –Fredericton instead of Fredericton – Ottawa – Toronto – Fredericton. With a little luck, the credit from Christmas would cover the new ticket. Right. Sure.

I started my usual way, by starting to book online. The flights we chose came out to $896.58. Then of course I realized that I had no way to implement the credit without calling Customer Service. While I was on hold, waiting for an available agent and listening to their soothing on-hold music, I lost my online reservation screen and had to start it over again. Interestingly – and frighteningly – within that short space of time, the online price had increased from $896.58 to $942.58 for the same price categories! After 45 minutes of waiting for an agent, a lot of discussion, and a lot of calculations on her part, I was given a quote of just over $980, which apparently included the credit!!

I have come to learn that an Air Canada flight credit:

  • can only be used by reserving by phone rather than online, which seems to result in far pricier tickets, using calculations that are a complete mystery,
  • is calculated by removing the portion of the original ticket price that was taxes and fees,
  • is further calculated by charging a $200 cancellation fee to each ticket holder.

How did that work out for our situation? Our original tickets cost $1509. The tax portion of those tickets was $359, leaving $1150. The cancellation fees imposed was $400, leaving a credit of $750. And yet the fee for our new tickets, with a similar routing, was going to be $980 including the credit, so presumably the tickets were $980+$750, or $1730, instead of the $942.58 I had sitting in front of me on the online reservation screen. WTF! As you can imagine, I elected to purchase new tickets online instead of using the “credit”.

Just to be sure that this was not just a misunderstanding of procedure on the part of the first agent, I tried again this morning, waiting 35 minutes for an agent and having another opportunity to be soothed by their on-hold music. The answer was effectively:

  • yes, you have a $750 credit,
  • no, you cannot get it in the form of an e-coupon so you can just apply it to an online reservation,
  • yes, you can only apply a flight credit by calling for a reservation,
  • no, we cannot give you a clear explanation for how anyone could make effective use of their flight credit,
  • then the agent hung up on me while I was still asking for clarification.

Air Canada, why do you bother to have these disingenuous and seemingly unusable flight credits? This is misleading advertising at best. At the very least, you have lost money by having two agents tied up unproductively with a challenging customer, me. One can only commiserate with the agents who have to try to explain these policies, which are inexplicable and indefensible.

For those not in the know, Air Canada has been named the Best Airline in North America for 7 of the past 9 years. Those of you who fly Air Canada frequently – and if you live in most parts of Canada you have little choice – may well wonder just how unpleasant it must be to fly with the other North American airlines. I’m having trouble finding out what the criteria are for this Best Airline distinction, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were due to its ability to make a profit, which admittedly isn’t easy in this sector. Air Canada does have the advantage of being able to charge far more than any American airline would be able to get away with because it has so little competition, especially in “the regions”*. And I can assure you, they never fly any flights to and from “the regions” less than full. We give full value to their bottom line. But there you go; we do have reasonably reliable air service across an extremely large, sparsely populated country, for which we should be begrudgingly grateful. For the most part.

My PSA – public service announcement – for today: Don’t put too much stock in Air Canada’s offer of a flight credit for a flight you have to cancel, it’s not likely to give you much more than a lot of time spent listening to some soothing on-hold music and wholly unsatisfying conversations with customer service agents.

* “The regions” means anywhere that’s not Toronto, Calgary, Montreal, or Vancouver.

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14 Responses to When is a credit not really a credit? Just ask Air Canada

  1. Hi Jane. Last month I chose to cancel a flight with Air Canada to China, booked for April, given the uncertain political climate between the two countries. Mine was an ‘economy standard’ ticket and, I thought, very inexpensive ($818 return). My ticket showed a $200 cancellation fee. I phoned early morning, didn’t have to wait long, and their customer service rep immediately processed a refund to my credit card, along with an apology for having to take a cancellation fee. I hadn’t expected any refund, given the low cost of the ticket, so I was pleasantly surprised and very happy. I’ve never been a lover of Air Canada, but I was impressed. I wonder why you didn’t get the option of a refund? Were your tickets the same category as mine? If so, I’d want to fight for a refund.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Wow, Francine. Yes, ours were also Economy Standard. The man told me right away that we’d get a credit but not a refund. Refunds are clearly preferable! I’d be happy to just be able to use the credit they say we have to apply against a new online booking, where I can actually see what the prices are and have some control. I’ll try again when we go visit our other son. Thanks for your input. And count your blessings!

      • Hi Jane. I just looked at my ticket again and it clearly states that ‘tickets are refundable (a $200 CAD fee applies per person).’ If you run into this again, I suggest that you use that wording to insist on a refund. When they put that in print, they can’t insist on a credit. We need to stand up to this type of treatment. If you still have your ticket, I’d still argue for a refund, especially if they make you jump through hoops to use the credit. Just tell them, ‘You have to give me a refund – Francine said so!’ 😊

        • Jane Fritz says:

          No, our tickets didn’t say that. And the new pricing structure they’ve just introduced in their online reservation system, with 4 or 5 levels of Economy class alone, charges you an extra $25 per flight (in each direction) for a credit but not refund and 50% of air miles, a further $25 per flight for refund, and how much you’re going to have to pay to check your luggage is in there somewhere. I suppose they’d say, “You get what you pay for.” My main gripe is that a credit should have some sort of transparent meaning, otherwise don’t pretend you’re offering something. You had a ticket with real value!

  2. LA says:

    Yeah….there’s never a win with customer service

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Lol. Well, I thought there was when the pleasant CSR told me we’d get a flight credit for our cancelled flight. I just hadn’t realized at the time that it was an empty promise. Buyer beware.

  3. Diane Doris says:

    Sorry to hear what a frustrating time you had. We have been lucky with Air Canada in the past. I will remember your credit story though if I ever need to use one.
    Now try and forget about it and enjoy your trip!
    Diane

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Diane. We have also usually been well served by AC and I was trying hard not to use them as a punching bag. It’s not an easy business, with weather issues, fluctuating fuel prices, etc. But they shouldn’t be providing “flight credits” that turn out to have completely opaque rules and are impossible to use as a credit that actually reduces a fare, such as one might expect. Don’t worry, I am not dwelling on it, but it seemed too important a lesson not to share.

  4. Ah yes the joys of major airlines. I have now discovered Porter for flights from Halifax to Thunder Bay and destinations in between + much better prices ++ better times++ great service++ free craft beer or wine! And we got a $100 usable credit because we were delayed by a couple of hours.
    I think this might make a good story for CBC investigative?

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Very interesting, Wayne. Thanks for sharing. Porter’s routing is pretty limited in Fredericton and lands at Toronto Island, which doesn’t work well for transfers. But having options – and services and responses you can count on – is worth a lot. Contacting CBC’s an interesting thought! 😏

  5. Emilia says:

    Sorry, dear friend! If you had called me before calling them, you wouldn’t have waited all that time on-hold, even with the nice music, as I would have told you in 20 seconds ..not to bother. This has happened to me 3 times, so I found an alternative : put an insurance on my BMO master card ($80 a year) and if you don’t use the ticket because you are sick they pay everything. We already claim it twice and they paid to the penny (one a very expensive trip). Here you go…

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Lol. Why didn’t I think to call the travel expert before contacting AC’s Customer Service Centre?! Mind you, then I would have missed being able to share an important PSA! On the other hand, had I known the exercise was futile I would have checked out WestJet’s flight options, which turn out to be $140 cheaper!!! One will learn from one’s mistakes! 👍👏

  6. Msggie says:

    I hear you! I got a 15% discount on next purchase within a year because I complained by email about a very unpleasant flight attendant on a transatlantic flight. How they’re rated top in North America just doesn’t make sense. I did know that the discount only applies to base fare. Anyway, wish me luck with getting my discount.

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