When the pandemic hit, that trip, planned for spring 2020, was cancelled, just as travel was halted for millions of people around the world at that time.
The $1,700 Winton paid FlightHub – a company she had used several times – was not refunded, but a credit for future travel on WestJet was offered.
A year later, Winton and her family still didn’t feel comfortable boarding a plane for the Sunshine State, so they didn’t book any new flights. The travel credit was set to expire Oct. 25, 2021.
“It wasn’t safe to travel,” Winton said in a television interview outside her home in Alton, Ont.
She says she tried multiple times to get an answer from FlightHub and WestJet on whether the flight credits would be extended again given the surge of Omicron cases and the federal government’s request that Canadians put off non-essential trips outside the country.
“It was a total runaround,” Winton said, referring to her efforts to get an answer from the travel companies.
The rules governing travel credits vary from province to province.
“It’s probably been the number one complaint in the pandemic,” said Richard Smart, CEO of the Travel Industry Council of Ontario, or TICO.
The organization administers the province’s travel industry act and governs about 2,400 travel wholesalers and retailers registered in Ontario.
“We put a minimimum one-year requirement on those vouchers,” Smart said, adding that some registered travel organizations have extended them to two or more years. Some travel credits had no expiration, Smart said.
“In most cases … they’ve extended those credits. It’s often in their best interest to extend the credit so that the consumer is coming back to them,” Smart said.
Although TICO has no jurisdiction to require individual airlines to extend credits for a given time, consumers who bought travel with their vacation subsidiary – like Air Canada Vacations, Sunwing Vacations, or WestJet Vacations – it’s a different story.
“If the consumer has dealt with the vacation arm for those airlines, we often facilitate those discussions and go back to the TICO agency and they work with their airlines. We have a good track record of getting their vouchers extended,” Smart said.
But TICO can’t require extensions beyond one year, Smart said, adding that extensions are made on a goodwill basis.
In Winton’s case, TICO could not intervene because FlightHub is registered in Quebec and is governed by a different provincial regulator.
When Global News contacted FlightHub, the company almost immediately agreed to extend Winton’s credit.
“The customer now has until March 31, 2022, to rebook a new trip,” the company told Global News in an email.
“We have also submitted a special request to the airline to further extend the deadline beyond this date,” wrote the spokesperson.
Winton, contacted directly by Westjet shortly after the Global News interview, said the airline assured her she could get a further 13-month extension beyond the March 31 deadline.
Consumers facing the expiration of credits are advised to write to their travel agency, tour operator, or airline to request an extension if they don’t feel comfortable travelling yet.
Smart said with high volumes of consumer calls, it’s best to avoid using the telephone and instead a travel provider’s online options.
“Yes, it will take a little bit longer to get back to them, but it’s certainly better than waiting six, seven, eight or nine hours on a call waiting to get through.”