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.