Air Canada Introduces World’s Second Most Generous Ticket Change Policy

I just returned from my very first ‘opening up’ activity: getting my first haircut in two months. I’ve had everything delivered to the house, including groceries for two months. I walk my dogs each day, but the only things I’ve been leaving my block for are contactless restaurant pickups. I’m ready to travel again, but have been waiting to see whether relaxed restrictions in Texas cause a spike in cases, in other words to see whether it’s responsible or not.

And I’ll admit I was a little bit nervous, though that dissipated immediately. My barber, it turns out, had the virus six weeks ago. And there was only one other customer in the shop getting their haircut while I was there.

It takes a lot to get people out of the habit of staying in, and overcoming the fear that’s been built up about regular activities like haircuts, let alone travel. Six weeks ago I wrote that airlines are going to have to extend flexible booking policies or customers won’t have the confidence to buy travel in the face of uncertainty.

We’re now seeing policies become even more generous, and more flexible.

The Qatar Airways World Leader In Flexibility

Qatar Airways has, unquestionably, the most generous change policy for tickets booked to travel this year. You can change destination within 5000 miles. You can change your departure city. And there’s no fee or difference in fare. Or, take a generously-termed voucher or convert the ticket to miles at 1 cent a mile.

Up until now the next most generous policy has belonged to Emirates which, for tickets purchased by June 30 and with at least one flight segment by November 30, lets you change your travel destination within the same region and travel any time within 24 months without a change fee or even a difference in fare.

Air Canada Introduces World’s Second Most Generous Flexibility Policy

Air Canada though has just introduced a new policy that’s also really generous. And in a way that’s surprising because they’ve been one of the really bad actors refusing refunds for cancelled trips. However their aggressive new policy underscores just how much flexibility it makes sense to give customers right now, to give them confidence to make a purchase decision. People are concerned about their economic decisions, and about whether they’ll actually be able to take the trips they book as news changes so frequently.

Bookings made by June 30 can be changed without fee through June 30, 2021. In addition, if plans change then starting June 1 the functionality will be available for customers to choose:

  • Travel voucher with no expiration date that is transferable.
  • Convert to miles at 1.3 US cents per mile

What’s more, “[c]ustomers whose flights have been cancelled due to the impacts of COVID-19 and who have already received travel credit valid for 24 months, will be able to select one of the applicable options depending on their fare at beginning June 15, 2020.”

The new flexibility is offered in conjunction of an expanding summer schedule that will reach 97 destinations (still down 56% year-over-year), including resumption of some U.S. service today and will reach across to Frankfurt; London; Zurich; Tokyo; Paris; Brussels; Tel Aviv; Hong Kong; Tokyo; and Seoul, and expanding into Athens; Rome; Geneva; Munich; Lisbon; Amsterdam and Shanghai (pending government approval).

Don’t expect Air Canada to offer refunds for non-refundable tickets when they cancel the flight. For those circumstances, if you’re declined a refund, you should file a DOT complaint or file a credit card chargeback. Although honestly the ability to buy a ticket as a means of buying miles at 1.3 cents apiece is not a bad deal at all.

This Is Smart – And Other Airlines Need To Copy

Offering generous voucher policies may convince some customers entitled to a refund not to take one. More importantly these options let a customer know that as long as the airline is around that a travel credit is valid. There’s no rush to use it before you’re ready to travel. There’s no need to worry about whether the plane you want to go isn’t open yet. And you don’t need to worry if the next trip is cheaper on another carrier, you aren’t locked in because you lose the voucher unless you travel right away.

As much as the virus itself, and the severe recession, what’s keeping people away from travel is uncertainty and fear. The message that airlines are going to have to extend flexible booking policies

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The Qatar Airways policy is nowhere near as flexible as you’re making it out to be. They are maintaining a (non-public) list of destinations that they are not permitting people to reroute to. Much of Asia is off-limits. This would be very much worth your investigating to shed some light on the duplicity.

  2. Gary – does this mean I can book a midweek flight low season to Europe, and then change it at no cost to weekends high season? No fare difference?

  3. @ Gary — They must be smoking weed at Air Canada because I seriously doubt that many of the destinations listed — Frankfurt; London; Zurich; Tokyo; Paris; Brussels; Tel Aviv; Hong Kong; Tokyo; Seoul; Athens; Rome; Geneva; Munich; Lisbon; Amsterdam and Shanghai — will be open to tourists this summer.

    I am glad that you were at low risk at the barber, but you live in one of those states with stupid policies like my state, so you can be sure there will be a spike in cases in the next few weeks. We decided to try going to the (outdoor) garden shop at Lowe’s today. After we arrived to a traffic-jammed parking lot and people everywhere without masks, we went straight back home…idiots will be idiots, especially after listening to the Idiot in Chief and State News.

  4. @ Gary — Like @John, I am curious if this policy applies to revenue tickets booked prior to 5/1/20? I guess I might be willing to take a voucher that doesn’t expire over a drawn out fight with AC over a refund.

  5. Wow! My grandpa used to say, “I’m so confused, I don’t know whether to [answer my call of nature] or go bowling!” Which describes how we feel in guessing at future travel, esp. to special events which may be cancelled.
    Now the Aeroplan Bowl-O-Drome has just installed a marvelous washroom 😉 !

  6. Air Canada has flat out refused to proved a refund for flights they cancelled. I have been given every excuse in the book from DOT rules not applying to a Canadian airline to this being an act of God. I submitted a refund request on the website 6 weeks ago and nothing. I am certainly not going to buy tickets on Air Canada for a while.

  7. AC didn’t give me back my taxes that I paid on a trip that was cancelled .

  8. Air Canada travel voucher does not work like a travel credit. You need to make up the difference if the new flight is more expensive, but you won’t be given back the difference if the new flight is cheaper.

    It boils down to AC needing interest free loan that is not secured.

  9. Good luck to anyone thinking they will find aeroplan availability now. It was impossible before. My hard earned through loyalty points pretty well will be useless now. Not impressed.

  10. What if Air Canada go out of business before the voucher is spent? What insolvency insurance will there be in case they stop trading ? Who would want to use a company which has little regards for passenger rights and protection and is using passengers money as an interest free loan, not having delivered the service ?I am afraid that this scheme is not the second most generous in the world and consumer rights and protections are very poor in Canada, relative to other countries.

  11. Only after I requested a chargeback through my credit card company, did I receive a full refund. After that, I received and email reply from Air Canada customer service that they do not give refunds for cancelled flights. Nowhere in their email did they address the issue of booking a flight in April to fly in June, when where they have not received approval to fly. That’s because China’s borders are officially closed to anyone without a Chinese passport. Fraud is something I never expected from Air Canada after so many years as a customer. also did the same thing and tried to sting me with several service fees also knowing there would be no aircraft to fly from China. It is completely unreasonable that the Canadian Federal transport minister has been unwilling to address these issues. Of course Government of Canada has been very careless with the interests of Canadians. Guarantees from airlines and travel agencies are now meaningless, as are travel regulations that are unenforceable.

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