It’s one thing to know that travel agent associations are lobbying the government on agents’ behalf. It’s another to actually hear it and see it in action.
TORONTO — The refunds vs. vouchers debate is getting heated and now the federal government says it is looking at ways to work with Canada’s airlines and impacted consumers to find a way forward.
No doubt there will be new developments coming in the days and weeks ahead but results from Travelweek’s COVID-19 Consumer Survey, taken in early May, show that at that time, six in 10 Canadians were reasonably satisfied with the offer of vouchers and future travel credits in lieu of refunds.
Results from the survey, garnering 2,853 responses from Canadians across the country, suggest that while reaction to vouchers and FTCs is mixed, a majority of Canadians see the reasoning behind vouchers and FTCs rather than refunds for cancelled travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than half, 57%, said they had been forced to cancel travel bookings (leisure or corporate) as a result of the pandemic. Some 51% said they had received or would be receiving a voucher or future travel credit (FTC) for their cancelled booking.
Asked what statement best described their opinion when it comes to refunds versus vouchers/FTCs, some 57% said that refunds were preferable but that vouchers/FTCs were an acceptable alternative given the situation. Another 6% said vouchers/FTCs were appropriate under the circumstances. Just over one-third of respondents, 37%, said refunds were the only acceptable method of reimbursement in this or any situation.
The survey results were compiled just days before the refunds vs. vouchers/FTCs debate was reignited in the consumer media. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau waded into the refunds vs. vouchers debate at his daily COVID-19 briefing last Friday, May 21. Reporters from consumer news outlets asked if the federal government, as the regular of Canada’s airlines, will use its authority to insist on refunds.
Petitions with more than 77,000 signatures of Canadians demanding that airlines refund money for cancelled bookings have set off another wave of media coverage on the issue. Agents risk losing commissions in cases of refunds and/or credit card chargebacks, and all suppliers including airlines are losing money amid the pandemic and working to conserve any cash available.
“We’re looking to make sure that Canadians are supported financially through this time, but that also we’re going to come back with airlines that function here in Canada for the long term. Getting that balance right will be delicate but it is something that we’re working on,” said Trudeau.
Meanwhile Air Canada has updated its cancellation policies, announcing on May 22 new options along with its summer 2020 schedule.
In cases where Air Canada cancels flights due to COVID-19, passengers with refundable tickets will continue to have the option of refunds. Air Canada has refunded nearly $1 billion to customers since the start of the year.
Both customers with refundable and non-refundable tickets can opt for an Air Canada Travel Voucher for the remaining value of their ticket that has no expiry date, is fully transferable and retains any residual value, or; the ability to convert the remaining value of their ticket into Aeroplan Miles, with 65% more value versus the normal rate for buying Miles.
The new goodwill policies and cancellation options are retroactive for customers with original travel between March 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021. More details are here.
Watch for more coverage from Travelweek’s COVID-19 Consumer Survey this week in Travelweek Daily and at Travelweek.ca