Like thousands of Canadians whose travel plans were interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Adrienne Martin of Whitby was left with an airline travel voucher she wanted to use.
A trip to St. Lucia this December seemed like the perfect getaway. She booked the trip with her partner in May.
“This time we decided to upgrade the resort; after being locked in the house for so long we decided to treat ourselves,” she said.
Martin and her partner had a Sunwing voucher worth $4,130 from a previous travel package. They applied the credit to a winter holiday worth $4,650. The pair were scheduled to leave Toronto on Dec. 11 and return on Dec. 18.
The pair booked an all-inclusive vacation in a luxury junior suite with ocean view at the Royalton Saint Lucia Resort and Spa.
But on Oct. 20, Martin got bad news from Sunwing. The airline informed her the flight was cancelled and the Christmas holiday trip could not go ahead.
“We were disappointed and confused,” she said.
Martin was given two options: “change package at the current system rate, subject to availability” or “cancel for a full refund issued to the original form of payment.”
At this point, Martin became frustrated because she said she was not offered her money back — just another travel voucher from Sunwing and no alternate trip.
“When a passenger paid good money, cash essentially for their services, they have to get back cash if those services are not provided,” said Gabor Lukacs, founder of Air Passenger Rights, a group that advocates for air passengers.
Not only was a cash refund of her purchase not offered at the time she said the company was still marketing Sunwing holiday vacations to St. Lucia in December at much higher prices using American Airlines.
“That is correct,” a Sunwing agent told Martin by telephone when she inquired to find out if the company was still selling the destination. She recorded the telephone call and shared the audio with Global News.
“I can do the booking over the phone,” the Sunwing agent told Martin.
Global News made five attempts over a one-week period to obtain comment from Sunwing about Martin’s case and the St. Lucia cancellations but Sunwing did not return emails.
Sunwing’s decision to cancel holiday flights is affecting Canadians traveling to other destinations, too.
“We felt awful, it’s something we’ve looked forward to all year,” said Karie Tepper, who contacted Global News.
Tepper, her husband and two children are among a group of 20 family members and friends who were set to travel with Sunwing to Antigua for two weeks over the Christmas holiday break.
The group booked their travel plans in February and had paid for the winter holiday in full.
“It’s definitely not something we had expected,” Tepper said in an interview referring to the cancellation.
She said Sunwing was prepared to apply the value of the trip to the hotel portion of the vacation, but the group was told they would have to pay am additional “$1,200 to $2,000 per person” to buy replacement air travel on another carrier.
Tepper said it’s impossible to purchase a trip at similar prices to what was paid when they booked.
Global News contacted Sunwing about Tepper’s case but the travel company did not reply to emails.
Martin, who said she was originally told she would have to accept vouchers, took her complaint to Twitter and Global News.
As a result, Sunwing changed its stance.
“I got a response from them…and it was a total about-face. We are now going to get our refund. They acknowledged that the original form of payment is my Visa card and I’ll be getting my refund in four to six weeks,” Martin said.
But she said it shouldn’t have been so difficult.
“It’s frustrating to know that this is what the average everyday consumer has to go through to be treated with dignity and respect.”